Cyber Monday has become one of the busiest — and most lucrative — online shopping days of the year. The National Retail Federation estimates that almost 64 million people will be looking for deals today.
But for shoppers with disabilities, it can be a lot harder to take advantage of sales and promotions online.
A significant number of the biggest retail websites are not compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act or Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, which lay out best practices to help make sites easier to navigate by people who are, for example, blind or hearing-impaired.
Marketplace’s Kimberly Adams spoke with Josh Basile, community relations manager at tech accessibility company accessiBe — and a quadriplegic who uses assistive devices to help him navigate the internet — about how these accessibility issues impact him when he shops online.
The following is an edited transcript of their conversation.
Josh Basile: When I go on a site, I kind of want to learn first what that site’s about and how to navigate it. So I usually go, scroll through the homepage from top to bottom, then I like to dive through the menus and drop-down menus. But a lot of time, if a website is not accessible, I can’t access that menu and get to the drop-down menu and click and go through the site. I’m kind of stuck on the homepage, which can be a really frustrating experience. And during checkout, a lot of times my voice dictation software, I can’t even type in my name or my credit card information.
Kimberly Adams: How do you think that affects how much you shop online compared to how much you would like to shop online?
Basile: So I’m going to shop online no matter what because it’s really my only option with the world we live in, with the pandemic. And having a significant disability, I just end up going back to the same places that have accessibility built in. So if they’ve welcomed me and opened the doors, I come back as a repeat customer. And that’s what we found with people with disabilities. The most brand-loyal customers when they’re taken care of, they come back again and again and again.
Adams: You mentioned some of the struggles that you face on online shopping websites and other websites because of mobility issues. But I’m thinking about people who have low vision or other disabilities. What are some of the common barriers that people run into when they’re shopping online?
Basile: Absolutely. So if you have a vision disability, or are blind, and you go into a site, oftentimes you need to have a screen reader or you need some ability to zoom in and have different text, be a certain font size or a certain type of font to make it easier for you to see. And if you don’t have a website that’s built with accessibility in mind, those assistive technologies that you have can have difficulties being able to work the way that they’re designed.
Adams: Can you talk about the size of the market that we’re talking about in terms of the purchasing power of people with disabilities?
Basile: Absolutely. In the U.S. alone, one-quarter of the U.S., for adults, are considered to be living with a disability. And with that being said, in 2020 that was $1.28 trillion in disposable income. And that’s just people with disabilities. But if you look at the disability community — the friends, the family — we’re looking at $7.1 trillion, over 149 million people across the country. If you’re able to bring accessibility into your website, into your stores, you’re just opening the door to so many people to be a part of that journey with you. And I just, I can’t stress enough for businesses to just really make sure that you allow all customers, all abilities to be a part of your business journey.
Adams: What does the law say about what kinds of accessibility features these sites are supposed to have?
Basile: Well, the [Department of Justice], for a second time, came out this summer saying that websites online fall under the Americans with Disabilities Act. The courts have been split across the country, are here and there, but it’s one of those things that, web accessibility is a smart business practice. It should be done based on the DOJ for compliance purposes. But at the end of the day, it’s the right thing to do, to be able to make sure that all your customers have a good experience and have an option to make accessibility and usability for them to actually have a good experience.
Adams: Do you have a sense of what compliance is like online by some of the biggest retailers in the United States?
Basile: It’s a different mindset. So some businesses, and some of the biggest businesses, they think of accessibility just as a checkbox. I want it to be something that’s built in for reason, for purpose, because it’s a long game. It’s something that once you build accessibility in and have the right conversations, you’re transforming your business and building accessibility into the DNA of your business, which makes it an easier and a more fluid conversation as your business grows. There’s so many benefits of making sure that accessibility is part of the equation, especially inclusion, diversity, equity, all these things strengthen businesses that do it right and make sure that it’s part of their business model going forward.
Adams: It’s Cyber Monday. And so many of these big retailers are offering these big deals, there’s a ton of ads, marketing, all of these new products and technology and gadgets. And I wonder how it feels to see all of these promotions, knowing what you know about what the back end of these sites is like in terms of accessibility.
Basile: Companies are spending so much money to bring as many people as possible to Cyber Monday and to draw people into their sites. Now they’re drawing in people with disabilities and then, at the door, the doors are being closed. So it’s just so important, not only for Cyber Monday, for every day of the year — if you invest in accessibility, making sure that it’s both the best short-term and long-term investment for you to make sure that you have accessibility built in and you’re bringing in this audience with disabilities, they’re gonna come back again and again as repeat customers, not just one day a year, but all the days of the year, because they had a good experience on the site. So it’s just such smart business to make sure you welcome everyone and anyone at any moment.
The website ToolTester compiled a list of the most — and least — accessible websites, using standards from the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines.
According to ToolTester’s research, Amazon ranks the best on the e-commerce list, with less than 1% of the site inaccessible.
The in-person shopping experience for disabled consumers can be a challenge as well. A recent Wall Street Journal story on automated self-checkout machines notes that they’re becoming more common, but can be difficult or impossible to use for shoppers who are blind, deaf or use a wheelchair.