Is your online presence failing people with disabilities?

Too few of New Zealand’s e-commerce sites meet even the basic accessibility standards for internet users with disabilities, says a local ecommerce specialist.

Managing director of ecommerce integration specialists, Convergence, Mark Presnell, says in a statement that making the customer journey easier for people with disabilities is not only the right thing to do, but also good business.

“The lack of movement on disabled customer needs is a potential blind spot for local companies since about one-in-four Kiwis are limited by a physical, sensory, learning, mental health or other impairment,” he says.

WebAIM, a non-profit measuring web accessibility, found last year 96.8 percent of all home pages did not meet Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, which is what it recommends for making websites truly accessible to individuals with impairments.
Presnell says that in his experience there is very little focus on making the customer journey easier for people with disabilities.

“The issue of accessibility just doesn’t come up when retailers are building e-commerce sites. We feel that is a worrying issue that should be considered more often.”

He says that creating a better overall experience makes business sense.

“It can attract more customers and, given how only three percent of websites are classed as fully accessible, those with disabilities are sure to have tremendous brand loyalty once they find a site that takes their needs seriously,” Presnell says.
According to the 2021 Disability Equality Index, a corporate benchmarking tool for disability inclusion, 82 percent of businesses had a commitment to making digital content accessible to users with disabilities.

However, only 59 percent of respondents had implemented a requirement to ensure their sites were accessible and usable by people with disabilities. Presnell says this is a blindspot for many businesses which otherwise show intense focus on improving their diversity and inclusion policies.

“Accessibility is an area where a lot of companies have struggled and often don’t know what to do. Companies tend to concentrate on the low-hanging fruit of the non-impaired customer segment. But in my opinion, they are leaving money on the table and making life harder for impaired Kiwis by not building easy-to-use websites,” Presnell says.

His tips for companies willing to create simpler systems for customers and employees:

Include sensory options: Someone who struggles with impaired eyesight may appreciate navigating an e-commerce website through the use of sound files that “read out” a product description that creates a more visual or rich description of the content in the reader’s mind.

“This is as opposed to the standard text-to-speech conversion that is robotic and cold and does nothing to enhance the experience,” Presnell says.

Any rich audio descriptions of products could be managed and maintained in a PIM (product information management) software alongside other product enrichment attributes.

Baby steps first: Improving the accessibility of a website isn’t something that can be achieved by flicking a switch. It is a journey that requires small, incremental changes over time that lead to a more inclusive online experience for all customers.
“If website accessibility was an easy option for e-commerce companies, we wouldn’t be having this conversation. But when something makes business sense and improves people’s lives, that’s got to be worth putting effort into,” Presnell says.
Improving accessibility is also crucial outside of the e-commerce space.

 If a company hopes to be more inclusive in its hiring practices and a potential candidate struggles to use the company’s website, then they may also not be able to fill out a job application or learn about the company before deciding if they want to work there.

“Web accessibility is not just about buying products and services. For online sellers, the easier it is for customers to find and compare options, the higher the chances of winning that first impression. Since a good chunk of business is now done online, accessibility is crucial for employees along with customers,” Presnell says.

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