Online shops need to ramp up disabled access
You’d think that online shopping would be a boon to the disabled and a great leveler. But no, in an odd way people with disabilities are more discriminated against online than in a bricks and mortar shop.
Perhaps it’s because the iniquities of access are more obvious in a shop. Even the worst tax-avoiding corporations are sociable (or legally compliant) enough to provide ramps and parking spaces. But in cyberspace, nobody can see you discriminate. Unless they are familiar with the Equality Act of 2010. This act has been in force since 2011 but there are still many retailers whose shopping technology does not comply with it.
For example, Section 20.1.1 legislates that online shops have to provide easily legible text so that the visually impaired are not handicapped in the race to bag online bargains. And yet patterned backgrounds are remarkably common on e-tail sites.
Online shops could do a lot more to help the visually impaired without too much work. Speech synthesisers, that read out text, cost practically nothing. If you take the trouble to attribute text to describe images, this can be read out to the online shopper. Descriptive hyperlinks don’t take a massive amount of effort.
It might be the case that the shopper doesn’t want everyone to hear what they are thinking of buying, which is going to happen if their computer reads out a description of everything their mouse hovers over. But that only affects people who shop online when they’re at work.
There are methods of tagging that can ensure you provide all the descriptive information that can be translated and broadcast through a Braille keyboard.
The Equality Act legislation came in two years ago and so far no big cases have come to court where a company was shamed for its discriminatory procedures. The Royal National Institute for the Blind (RNIB) has already pursued two cases which were settled out of court and resulted in the remodeling of the offending e-tailer’s web sites. But it could only be a matter of time before there is a high profile test case.
The RNIB even runs a scheme, Ability Net, to help companies test their programmes before they launch their ecommerce sites. A cynic might argue that this alone was worth going through, as it gives a company a nice badge it can put on its web site, which is great branding for hardly any effort.
So, ethical shoppers, how do you reward an ethical site with your patronage – and how you spot a company that needs boycotting into compliance?
The BBC sets a good example. Note how it gives plenty of visual options and offers simple text. It makes sense to load uploads of descriptions anyway, if you want search engines to find your site). The uncomplicated design makes for faster downloading too. Which brings us to the unfriendly sites.
Any site based on Flash is going to be questionable. Few sites with Flash-based video content will be disabled user friendly. Look out for companies that skimp on the descriptive text.
“The legislation is two years old and as lawyers we’d say [vendors] should have this on [their] radar,” says Natalie Salunke, head of legal at ecommerce company Venda. ‘The irony is that retail technology should help the disabled, but they’re actually marginalised.”Tagged in: Ability Net, Braille keyboard, disabled access, Equality Act, Equality Act of 2010, online disabled access, online shopping, RNIB, Royal National Institute for the Blind
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