#143: Making Websites Accessible for People with Disabilities: What you Need to Know
This episode of the Ecommerce Coffee Break Podcast features a conversation with Bet Hannon, CEO & Founder of accessicart.com. Join us as we delve into the crucial topic of website accessibility for people with disabilities. We'll be exploring the key considerations and providing an overview of the laws and tools available to make sure everyone can access your website.
On the Show Today You’ll Learn:
- How to make websites accessible for people with disabilities
- How to optimize Shopify stores for accessibility
- Website accessibility laws: what you need to know
- Examples of accessibility tools
Links & Resources
About Our Podcast Guests: Bet Hannon
Bet grew up in a retail family, learning to make change for customers at age 6 in her grandparent's corner grocery. She founded a digital services agency in 2008, and over the last five years, she and her team have increasingly specialized in website accessibility and eCommerce. They rebranded as AccessiCart last year, and they delight in helping merchants of all sizes find ways to make their websites work better for people with disabilities.
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Claus Lauter: Hello, welcome to another episode of the E-Commerce Coffee Break. Did you know that one of four adults in North American Europe have a disability that impacts major daily activities in the us disposable income for adults? With disabilities is about 485 billion a year. In 20 22, 70 7% of all web accessibility lawsuits e-commerce sites.
So you already see web accessibility can be complex. It's a huge topic, not enough. E-commerce store owners look into this topic and you should know about it because it can also involve fines or even you can be sued if you're not doing this right way. So this is a topic we wanna talk about today with me on the show.
As an expert, I have Bet Hannon. Bet grew up in a retail family, learning to make change to customers at age six. In her Grandparents' Corner Grocery, she founded a digital service agency in 2008, and over the last five years, she and her team have increasingly specialized [00:02:00] in website accessibility and e-commerce.
They rebranded the Accessor card last year and they delight in helping merchants of all sizes find ways to make their websites work better for people with disabilities. So let's welcome back to the show. Hey, pat, Howk.
Bet Hannon: Hila. Good to be with you.
Claus Lauter: Pat, we are talking about a very important topic here today, and I want to just get a bit of , a basic overview that listeners understand what actually is the problematic part of this.
Bet Hannon: Sometimes people just don't even think about, folks with disabilities using websites. And we wanna make sure that, , if people have a disability, that they're able to use your website. There's a lot of, Laws in various countries around, , human rights laws, , around, , making your website accessible.
So for instance, if a person is blind, they might use a tool called a screen reader that will read out loud to them, not just the text that's on the page, , but sort of some of the code and things that are behind the images. For example, it'll describe the images and the link text. , if a person has, [00:03:00] mobility disabilities, so they can't use a mouse, most people can, , they would use keyboard navigation.
, they might have an accessibility device, so like Steven Hawking, when he was most paralyzed, had a little sensor on his glasses that, , he could move his cheek and he could just navigate through websites with that. So those are just two, but we begin to talk about, , things. , colorblindness, you know, if you're using colors in ways that, , , make it difficult for people or if you're using.
People with reading disabilities , and at a certain point we begin to optimize even for things like, , people who have anxiety and depression. Right? Is your checkout process so convoluted that it might make people anxious and they leave, , and abandon the cart? So, , all kinds of ways that we can begin to talk about optimizing your website.
The nice thing is, you know, when you begin to optimize , and you begin to consider users that have disabilities, you really make the experience better for everybody, right? , it's not just the person that has the [00:04:00] disabilities, but then, you know, you make it better for the person who has a wiggly baby on their hip while they're checking out or the person on their phone and bright sunlight.
All of those things can begin to impact, , be improved. When you talk about accessibility.
Claus Lauter: Yeah, we already see that's a huge, percentage of the population. We're talking about millions and millions of people and people with disposable income, so people who go online who shop, and some of them it's the only way to shop.
Yes. , but we wanna make it as easy as possible. now, that's right. Talking about Shopify, about online merchants. I will say, but I have a theme, I have a template that I'm using. What can I do? Because I'm limited. And I think there's a lot of different angles that you can approach this
Bet Hannon: topic, some of the things that you , , have to do with things.
Color contrast, right? So you're choosing colors that are a part of your theme and you wanna make sure that they're, , one of the accessibility, , compliance pieces has to do with enough contrast between the text on a button and the button background color, right? That it needs to be readable and, I won't make too many [00:05:00] assumptions, but you and I, , have , a little bit of gray in our hair, right?
And looking at things or the small print is starting to be harder to read. You can certainly deal with some color contrast. , you are right, there are some limitations about how you can do that. You can make some better choices , on Shopify.
Than others. And, , we try to, , help the Shopify platform when we can, , know that there are issues and help them sort of make those better for folks. But a lot of it has to do with choices of colors, choices of fonts, making sure your fonts are large enough. , making sure that you are, , putting things in, a semantic way, right?
So that if you have a long product, , description page, for example, that you're putting in your headings, right? You're using H tags in a proper way, and it's not just to pick, bigger text or different type of text or a bolded text, right? It's not so much about the style of the text. For example, a blind person, , when they're navigating a page, they have, , a tool that , they use the keyboard and they might say, read me all the H two tags on this [00:06:00] page so that they can get a big overview of what's on the page or all the H three tags.
And so you wanna make sure you're nesting those properly and you don't. Right. So you have H one is always the page title, and then you have H two is all the major points, and then the H three is underneath, and the H four is so you don't skip from an H two to an H four. those kinds of things are really in the ballpark for the person who's creating the website.
Claus Lauter: , me as an old digital nomad and e-commerce entrepreneur, I already see that there is some advantages for SEO and search angel results in there. Cause if you're using your h text, probably you get , an additional benefit there. Yeah. Now
Bet Hannon: and things like alt text on your images, right. And making sure that you are describing the images.
, there's some kind of specialization around this in terms of your product images. So for example, you don't wanna just simply put the same alt text on every view of the product, you would wanna make sure that you're describing things a little differently and all of that's gonna [00:07:00] help boost your SEO as well.
Claus Lauter: I see also some similarities there with conversion rate optimization, what I call RIC Load, when you say, how do I navigate a website I can imagine that for bigger corporations or bigger companies, now there is a brand manager. They say, oh, that doesn't work with our ci, with our ux, with our design language, or whatever they have.
, what would be the best way to approach a existing store and then really dissect it and get a sort of an audit or assessment to find out where they need to work on?
Bet Hannon: Right. So some of it is that you're going to need to like, get buy-in from folks, right? You, you mentioned someone who said, oh, it's not gonna work with our, what we have going already.
So you, you really do need to get some buy-in from your development team, from your design team, from your, you know, your content managers. Everybody's gonna have to, make a commitment to do this. , and there are some ways that you can get folks some education, right? There are some. Pieces that people can do.
There's a ton of, webinars that [00:08:00] are out there. A lot of them are free. You can find them. Getting people to buy in and start doing some education. Sometimes the, merchant will hire a team like ours to come alongside of their team for a while and then offer, , so for instance, one of the things we offer is kind of.
bucket of retainer hours that can be, , used to help train your team to offer some assessments and consulting along the way. How can you sort of make a plan to phase in some of these improvements over time? There are also, , audits that you can do. So you can hire a team like ours and we're not the only ones out there doing that, right?
There's, also other folks that you can do, , and an audit is really just an assessment of the, , accessibility on your site. we offer a check, an audit of your checkout process , cuz that's often a place where people might. Find an issue, right? If the blind person can't figure out how to put in their payment card, you've got a problem.
And so, , the checkout process is often a place where we might see something. So we do a mini audit on, checkouts, and then typically folks do not get an audit of their entire site [00:09:00] because of the, cost just becomes prohibitive. So what they might get is a sample audit. So your sample audit might be, 10 or 20 or 30 URLs on your site, and then you're going to extrapolate from there, right?
If you have problems with alt text on these few pages, you're probably going to have them on other pages, and then you just need to make a plan for how you're going to over time. , get those issues fixed, right? And so some things may be easier for Shopify owners to fix than others. for instance, we know that there is one checkout option where you have like a two column option for checking out.
, right now that's a limitation of the platform. if you just choose to [00:10:00] do, a regular one page checkout instead of the , two column, right? A one column checkout, then you've solved that problem. Sometimes, you know, you can make different choices in the platform that will help you be more accessible.
Claus Lauter: Okay. I wanna take one step back [00:11:00] because we mentioned in the beginning that you can be sued or fined It's a little bit where you are in the world. , can you talk me through how that starts? , what's happening there?
Bet Hannon: Yeah. So lots of places in the, , more developed world, industrialized world have, , laws on the books.
, so if you live in the eu, if you live in the uk, if you live in. , Japan, , Australia, New Zealand, those places have laws that you, , need to comply and they typically are a part of more broad human rights laws, but they include digital accessibility as a part of that. those are gonna vary widely, and some of them are really just coming on board.
So, for example, we've worked with a number of folks in Canada and there's not a ton of enforce. Quite yet, but that's coming. We know that that's coming in 20 24, 20 25, , it's a little bit different in the US There's not really any explicit digital accessibility law.
, what happens is that we have the Americans with Disabilities Act, , that was signed in [00:12:00] 1990. So way before websites were really a part of everyday life. But that law. Intended to, keep evolving as you know, the world evolves. , and what has happened for us over the last 10 to 15 years is increasingly, , we get lawsuits.
We, Americans are , much more litigious about these things, right? So the government, hasn. Really said, until this last year that, ADA, a, the Americans with Disabilities Act applies to websites. , they did say that this last year, but we've had these lawsuits that have had a little bit of mixed results.
But generally speaking, the entire kind of movement is. Yes, it applies to websites. , if you are government, if you have anything to do with, any level of government, everything from federal, down to the tiniest little town, your website has to be accessible. If you get any money from the federal government, , your website has to be accessible if you get any money from the federal government, any grants, any federal [00:13:00] programs. So we've, for instance, worked with an organization that got a grant from the Centers for Disease Control, right? They had to be accessible as a part of their, , contract. then when you move into things like e-commerce , and anytime there's interactivity, right?
Somebody's creating an account, you get public, , things like banks and , other things, clearly those have to be accessible. We start getting a little more gray area if it's really just a brochure website. For a Hess control service that just has a phone number, right, or an email address, it's a little less clear whether that has to be accessible.
But clearly the movement is toward everything needs to be accessible. And there's just a ton of lawsuits. They've been going up every year. There were more than 4,000 last year in the us, , and 77% of those. As you mentioned in the intro, right? , e-commerce sites. So e-commerce, where there's a lot of user interaction, , do require, that there's some accessibility.
So it's just really smart. , now that does not [00:14:00] even count the very first thing that might happen to someone in the us. Is that they might get what's called a demand letter. And this is just a letter from an attorney that says, , my plaintiff is going to sue you. And they can look really spammy and not very professional sometimes, and it's really easy to just chuck them in the garbage because you think they're a kind of a junk male thing.
And what happens is that if you don't reply to that letter, , the next step is that you get a summons to go to. so that 4,000 really does not count all of the people that got a demand letter and settled before they went to court. So it's a. Broader kind of issue that I think merchants really need to start paying attention to and, start taking some steps because it's gonna take a while.
what you don't wanna have happen is that you don't want to just sort of ignore it until you get sued because if, , as a part of that, you will have to make your site accessible. As a part of a settlement or a lawsuit, and that's gonna cost a lot more [00:15:00] because you're gonna have to do it in a short amount of time that's gonna make it a lot more expensive.
While it's not always cheap to make your website accessible, you the audits can be expensive and the remediation work can be expensive. but it's gonna be a lot more expensive if you get sued, even if you settle out of court and you can get sued more than, Sometimes by the same plaintiff, It's not like you get sued once and it goes away, It really is an investment in a longer term, kind of keeping those costs under control realistically, , avoiding a lawsuit or avoiding a fine motivates a lot of folks to get interested in exploring it, but then they discover the SEO benefits and expanding your audience and, e-commerce sites that are not accessible or losing 6.9 billion in revenue to other e-commerce sites that are accessible.
So, you know, get your slice of the pie and, , work on that.
Claus Lauter: Hundred percent agree. We don't wanna scare the hell out of people here.
Bet Hannon: I, , I really don't like the fear. Ideally, , we love working with folks that really are just see the value [00:16:00] in, Really working at not just sort of compliance, but like, how can I make this better?
It's more of a user experience optimization, right? When you begin to think about it that way, when you say, that all my users have no disabilities, or all my users are this age group, but , really starting to think about, well, I have users that , might have some disabilities, and how can we begin to optimize for that?
Claus Lauter: I think dis disabilities start with, as you said, with gray hair and having reading glasses , then things become difficult. Then you fall under there. Exactly. So if the font is too small or you have a light gray font on a, , gray background, which looks fancy, but it's just not readable. That's the basic entry when it comes to accessibility , of a website, of an online store.
And obviously as you said, there is a lot of lawyers out there , it's their business model to reach out. , and not only in the US that's also in Europe, and one step ahead of them, so you don't want to be a
Bet Hannon: victim for them. Yeah. And you know, the unfortunate thing is there are, in the US there are these, what, it's almost like a predatory thing, right?
There'll be one [00:17:00] attorney and one plaintiff, typically a blind person. , but they'll sue hundreds of. People. Right? And so they just see it as a business model. And that's unfortunate, but it is what's driving the concern for accessibility as really trying to deal with those lawsuits that are coming from every angle.
Claus Lauter: Yeah. I think by now , we should have convinced our listeners and, viewers , that this is a very important topic. If somebody now looks at the website and say, oh, dear, I have some work to do what would be the first step for them, kind of homework? To get into the process and then potentially reaching out to your guys and to get professional help.
Bet Hannon: There are two or three things that are really basic low hanging fruit for accessibility. One is color contrast, like you mentioned, we have some great posts on our email@example.com about. , some of these basic check kind of things are how to do things, kind of DIY items.
So checking your color contrast, that's an easy kind of low hanging fruit. Making sure you've got that semantic H T M L and making sure you've got alt text on your images. If you do those three things, you've got a great start and [00:18:00] then, frankly, we encourage folks to have done at least some of that or started to work on that before they try to do an audit.
Then your audit can really work on more of the significant issues. , in terms of, moving forward, continuing to move forward. And it's not to imply that , those three things are the only things you need to do, but, that's about 80% of most kinds of issues.
It's just a good start to do. One thing we haven't talked about Clause that, , might be really important for your listeners to know, AI is a big topic right now. There's a lot of AI stuff going on, over the last two years, there are tons and tons of advertisements for what are called overlay plugins that, are a little bit of ai.
So They're using that AI that we talked about for the testing. But the important thing to know is that they only will help you fix about 30% of your issues. You can certainly pay for those services and do that, but you just need to know they're not going to solve all of your accessibility problems.
And we actually are seeing some anecdotally, more and more evidence that [00:19:00] because people can analyze the tech stack you're using, that you're actually getting targeted. For being sued because then the lawsuit , knows that you knew you were supposed to do something, but you're not fixing all the issues.
Just know that if you're using one of those, tools where you're putting a little script of code into your website theme, , that's actually something that could, first of all, not fix all your problems, but also make it more likely to get you
Claus Lauter: sued. It's an interesting and a very important information that can actually backfire on you.
So yeah, you should think twice if you wanna put
Bet Hannon: that in. Those overlay plugins. , you can go to overlay fact sheet.com, can read a little bit more about how they work, why they're a problem? One of the problems with them is that they often conflict with the existing tools that, disabled people have on their, machines, right?
I have a disability and I require a tool, 99% of the other websites out there, I'm already gonna have those tools installed. But the overlay conflicts with them and means, neither tool can be used. So a lot of disabled people install browser extensions to [00:20:00] block the tools, which is really fascinating.
, like the people that you're trying to help are blocking your help. , but the other big issue, especially for people in the EU is that there's some concern about privacy with these tools. So if you open the little widget that it creates, you have to basically give it your information about your disability.
to use the particular little tools that are there. , the companies that provide the widgets are storing that information theoretically so when the person with the visual disability goes to the next website that uses that tool, it's already there, but huge privacy law violations, right?
They're not being notified. They have no way to remove it. Lots of concerns around the privacy pieces around those tools.
Claus Lauter: Yeah, a hundred percent. So you are helping there. you mentioned the audit. , gimme an idea , on the pricing or what kind of service model do you offer there?
Bet Hannon: We offer a mini checkout, , a mini audit of your checkout.
, and that's currently priced at, $2,750. But it's a fairly limited audit. So we, help you pick one product and we [00:21:00] put the one product in the cart. We make sure that's workable. Ideally, it's something that has. Variations or different colors or something that, , we can change, right?
We can test whether people can change those things, and then we kind of move through the checkout process to let you know if there are issues there. But if you're looking at more of a larger audit, you can go to people and they will, , sometimes people will offer you a free audit.
And when they're offering you a free audit, what they're doing is running you through some automated checker and just printing out that report. , you can do those kinds of checks for yourself. , what we often find though is that there are so, False positives and false negatives, right, in those reports.
And so sometimes it's a little difficult to kind of get a sense just because the automated checker says you have zero issues doesn't necessarily mean you're home free. Making sure you understand that and understanding that ai, those automated reports are using ai, , those can only find about 30% of issues.
So, [00:22:00] for instance, they can tell you whether you have color contrast issues or , whether you're missing alt text. They can't tell you whether your alt text is good alt text, and they can't tell you whether your menu is keyboard nav. where people can navigate through your website because they're not navigating through the website.
There are certainly things that require some human testing, things that people can begin to learn to do for themselves some, but when they come to a professional, , you're looking for not just the testing and looking at those broader issues beyond people who are, , blind or have mobility issues, but some of the broader issues.
but also you're looking to the professional to help you, , sort through the false positives and false negatives, but also help you prioritize them. What is preventing, especially when you're talking about e-commerce, right? Our ideal is thinking about how can we help more people check out?
How can we help more people complete their purchases? When you're talking about prioritizing those, [00:23:00] that's what a professional, , service can do for you is helping you sort through that. So we offer, , generally our, , sampling audits come in. We are looking at specific numbers of URLs. , minimum would be around 10, 20 or 30.
, when you're starting to look at 10 and, , through the checkout process, you're probably looking at somewhere between nine and $10,000 for that lowest and one, they're not cheap, but they're, , very labor intensive because you of the human testing that's involved. , generally speaking, , a service like ours would help you identify those 10 or 20 or 30 URLs. They would do the testing, provide you with an extensive written report, , telling you not just what failed, but how it was tested and what was tested cuz you got that documentation. And then we provide an hour of consultation and so a lot of.
Folks will bring their regular development team so that we can answer technical questions or we can demo the issue for them so that they can see how it doesn't work. then, we are [00:24:00] available then to work with your developers or your designers or your content people afterwards.
, in terms of answering some questions that kind of keep going or, you know, later doing additional checks if you fix things or things like that. So,
Claus Lauter: Yeah, makes perfect sense. People should see that investment in their business, and not only as a cost that they have, because I mean, you're winning from two sides.
The one side is you have higher conversion rates. You open a new part of the market that at this point you might not being able to address. And then obviously it's an investment for not being sued because that's money that's definitely going through
Bet Hannon: People who have disabilities, , , are incredibly loyal when sites work well for them, Because so many things don't work well for them, or they have issues, right? , they tend to be very loyal customers and very, big advocates, right? They'll share with other people. They know that this site is working well for me, I'm more
Claus Lauter: yeah, I love that. Very, very important point there.
Yeah. But where can people find more about you and what.
Bet Hannon: Our website is accessi card [00:25:00] a acc, C i s S I C A R t.com. Accessi card. I
Claus Lauter: will put it in the, , show notes as always. Then you just one click. There's a lot of gold nuggets there, I think. , all listeners need to listen twice to this episode to get all the info outs that they need to get started there.
But thanks so much for giving us all this insights. I really appreciate that. And have a great day. Love.
Bet Hannon: Thanks. Bye-bye
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