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 Target.com’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.