Practical Ecommerce

Websites For The Visually Impaired

You put a lot of effort into making your website successful. You implement a strong design, you add features such as wish lists, coupon modules, gift certificates and perhaps even Flash and JavaScript functionality to attract customers and provide them an enjoyable shopping experience. But have you given thought to what that experience entails for a blind or visually-impaired person? Did you even know it’s possible the blind could shop online?

Don’t be embarrassed if you answered “No.” If you weren’t aware of the 10 million visually impaired users who utilize Assistive Technology (A.T.), it’s time to tap that expanding — and under serviced — market. A.T. enables non-traditional web users to participate in the online experience. Using screen readers (software which reads aloud on-screen content) visitors can navigate your site using keyboard commands. While the programs are sophisticated, site builders need to pay particular attention to how pages are coded.

As Target Corp. learned when sued over’s being allegedly inaccessible (thus violating the Americans with Disabilities Act), there is dual-purpose in making your site accessible. To be sure, no e-tailer wants to run afoul of ADA legislation. But perhaps more importantly, to you as a business owner, is the goal of opening up your online store to all possible consumers. What proprietor wouldn’t want to expand his clientele, after all?

Keep in mind that it isn’t only the visually impaired community which utilizes assistive technology. Don’t assume you’re only catering to the blind. Users with motor-coordination impairments, dyslexics and those with mild learning disabilities or other conditions use A.T. to surf the web as well. That’s a broad audience. While making a site user-friendly for those with disabilities might seem daunting — and costly — rest assured that it is not. In future columns we’ll explore ways to make your site compliant, including such methods as using descriptive Alt Tags, coding buttons in Flash presentations, implementing easy-search functionality and more.

Remember, non-traditional users understand that sometimes a ladder is needed to retrieve an item from a high shelf. When it comes to your website, providing virtual ladders so your products are accessible benefits everyone.

Joseph Monks

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  1. Legacy User December 18, 2007 Reply

    Great article, Joe. It was good to see you.

    — *Fran*

  2. Legacy User December 17, 2007 Reply

    Great article, Joe! I'm looking forward to hearing more about this. I'm extremely interested in what the law defines for this subject, and how website owners are supposed to know (or can find out) if they are required to meet any requirements for accessibility.

    — *Brian Getting*

  3. Legacy User December 18, 2007 Reply

    I'm thrilled you've taken this important subject on. A couple of years ago, I read an article that described how CSS vs. Tables, helped to make a site more accessible, which inspired me to learn and use it in my designs. I look forward to finding other ways to make my sites easier to use by the disabled.

    — *Carrie McDouall*

  4. Legacy User December 18, 2007 Reply

    This is a fabulous idea. I wouldn't have considered this option, but now that I know that it is feasible I eagerly await the details on how to create the possibility of a user friendly site for those with disabilities. Thanks kindly.

    — *Raina*

  5. Legacy User December 19, 2007 Reply

    Building a website that is accessible for visually impaired users has many benefits, mainly opening up your website / service /products to all users and to search robots. If a user can easily navigate and extract content from your site so can search bot's which is usually a good thing.

    Although building accessible websites does present numerous challenges, such as; what guidelines / best practices should you follow or adhere to e.g should you develop the site according to Section 508 or W3C, do you include a high contrast style sheet – some accessibility experts say yes, others say no.

    Once there is a common agreement formed regarding online accessibility, it will hopefully make the building and online experience more enjoyable for all.

    — *Webber*

  6. Legacy User December 20, 2007 Reply

    That brings up an interesting point. I'm also curious about how the ADA fits in. Does a website need to only meet Section 508 requirements in order to meet ADA compliance? Or does the ADA require that they meet the W3C recommendations, and if so, what level of compliance (A, AA, AAA)?

    It would be really nice to have a resource where developers could look to in order to find out what requirements their client's need to meet. Does anyone know how to determine if a company needs to be ADA compliant, and if so what web accessibility standards then apply to them?

    — *Brian Getting*

  7. Legacy User December 27, 2007 Reply

    Check out for more info.

    — *Sean Collins*