Why eCommerce Owners Can’t Afford the Cost of Free Accessibility Plugins

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Online shopping is vital for the 61 million Americans who live with a disability. For those with physical disabilities, motor disabilities, and visual impairments, eCommerce sites remove the need to push through crowds who could jostle them painfully. Shoppers with cognitive impairments or other disabilities can take their time examining products and making choices in your online store, without feeling rushed or hassled.

But non-accessible e-commerce sites shut off this option, which is part of the reason why web accessibility should be high on the list of concerns for e-commerce business owners. It’s hard to believe, but fully 98% of online stores fail to meet web accessibility requirements cutting off millions of shoppers from making purchases online.

For online stores, web accessibility is a business issue

Running an accessible e-commerce site should be a no-brainer. The e-commerce space is competitive and profit margins are slim. Running an accessible online store is an important way for sellers to differentiate themselves from the competition.

People with disabilities represent a market worth around $490 billion. To put that in context, the African American and Hispanic markets are worth similar amounts, and no online vendor would dream of preventing them from making purchases. But when you field a non-accessible site, you effectively shut your e-commerce doors to millions of customers who are eager to buy your wares. Users with disabilities who encounter an obstacle will decamp for an accessible e-store, and they’ll warn friends to avoid your site as well.

That’s not to mention expensive lawsuits. E-commerce sites have long been a popular target of accessibility lawsuits, which cost around $20,000 to settle out of court. Lawyer demand letters and lawsuits against online sellers have skyrocketed in the last few years, with disability activists and frustrated shoppers getting tired of waiting for things to improve.

To be fair, most e-commerce business owners want to run an accessible site, expand their market, and avoid lawsuits. But they are let down by a web of confusing requirements, and the mirage of free accessibility plugins.

Web accessibility can be a minefield for online vendors

Web accessibility is a murky issue for the average e-seller, who is usually running their business on a shoestring and managing a DIY site alone, without much expertise in either web accessibility law or web development.

The problem is compounded by the fact that there’s no legal definition of web accessibility, although most judges refer to WCAG 2.0 requirements to decide whether an online store is accessible.

A few of the areas that web accessibility covers include:

  • Texts that are easy for everyone to read, including people with low vision, color blindness, or other visual impairments.
  • Simple and clear language that users with cognitive disabilities can understand at a glance.
  • Intuitive website hierarchies that lead users through the purchase journey;
  • Icons and buttons are easy to click.
  • Support for assistive technologies like screen readers, which are used by blind Internet users to browse the web.
  • Full keyboard navigability, so that anyone who cannot use a mouse, for any reason, can move through the website, fill out forms, close popups, and complete a purchase.

As you can see, your e-commerce site has to address a long and sometimes complicated list of issues. You may think you have everything covered, but if a customer can’t complete their purchase then your business is still wide open for a lawsuit. It’s a problem that’s only exacerbated by free accessibility plugins that claim, but fail, to solve these issues.

When accessibility plugins let e-commerce owners down

It’s easy to find free and low-cost accessibility plugins, apps, tools, and accessible themes on almost every DIY website builder and hosting platform. It’s hard to blame online sellers who grasp offerings like UserWay, and WP Accessibility, believing that they solve all their accessibility problems in one click.

Unfortunately, that’s rarely the case. Most accessibility plugins do a good job of addressing basic usability and design issues for online stores. These include such as adjusting the size, spacing, contrast ratio, color, and fonts of web texts so that they are easier to read. They can enlarge the cursor and expand the clickable field around text and buttons. This will help users with motor weaknesses to click on the right area.

These plugins consistently fail to resolve the bulk of serious web accessibility problems, including:

  • Supporting screen readers like NVDA and JAWS are used by most blind internet users. UserWay, for example, offers its own screen reader, but most blind users want support for their preferred tools.
  • Adding image descriptions, form labels, ARIA attributes, and other tags that make a website comprehensible to blind users.
  • Halting animations and flashing GIFs that can cause a seizure in visitors with photo-sensitive epilepsy, which isn’t achieved by any existing plugin.
  • Shifting focus correctly within forms, popups, checkout fields, and other screens so that keyboard-only users can navigate through your store. Most plugins take steps towards keyboard navigability without fully achieving it.
  • Simplifying jargon, instructions, and text so that visitors with cognitive disabilities can understand your products and the purchase journey.
  • Correcting links so that keyboard-only users can access dropdown menus.

As a result, all too many online vendors believe that their online storefront is accessible to visitors with any kind of disability and that they are protected from ADA title III lawsuits when in reality they are sitting ducks for disability activists, frustrated shoppers, and lawyers looking for easy pickings.

Free accessibility plugins are a mirage for online vendors

Web accessibility is a serious issue for online sellers, but the minefield of accessibility law isn’t easy for the average e-commerce business owner to navigate alone. Free and low-cost accessibility plugins only make matters worse by leading online vendors to believe that they’ve covered their backs while leaving them wide open to lawsuits and loss of income from disappointed visitors with disabilities who are tired of being turned away from online stores.


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