Accessible e-Commerce Tips

June 25, 2007

Topics: Accessibility, Web Development.

Juicy Studio generally publishes some of the best and most thorough articles on web accessibility you’ll find. Gez Lemon and others who supply articles at Juicy Studio do great work. The latest addition to their article line-up is a very long and very thorough walk-through on accessible e-commerce by Roberto Scano: “E-shop accessibility: from theory to reality.”

You may be guessing from my tone, that my take on this article isn’t entirely positive. I’m struggling to balance how to voice this article. Roberto Scano‘s article is very well-written and very accurate. If you want to read through a detailed plan for building an accessible site for e-commerce, it’s a great place to go. But no, I’m really not that excited about it.

Fundamentally, the article appears to suggest that an e-commerce site is somehow fundamentally different from any other website. This is a concept that I feel like I read or hear frequently: the needs of an e-commerce site are different from those of a blog, which are different from those of a brochure site, etc.

There are definitely ways in which e-commerce differs significantly from any other website. The complexity of the site, the need for financial transactions, etc. The marketing needs are definitely different. The way content should be structured has it’s own unique character. But accessibility? I’d say that e-commerce has the same needs for accessibility that any other site has. Simply put: the content and functionality needs to be usable by individuals with disabilities. Period.

But that’s not to say that this document isn’t incredibly valuable: e-commerce sites are incredibly complex, and the existence of a document which just goes step-by-step through the accessibility issues for e-commerce is still valuable.

Roberto does conclude his article with the following paragraph:

It could be easy, following WCAG (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines) guidelines, to develop accessible e-services, as everything we see in a web browser is web content, and all web content can be made accessible following the WCAG guidelines.

That’s the essential element which is at issue: all web content can be made accessible. This article does a great job of highlighting the particular issues of e-commerce; but over-emphasizes the idea that e-commerce is somehow “different” as a web accessibility issue.

One of the great things about this article — and an issue frequently raised at Juicy Studio — is the aspect of web management accessibility. The accessibility of the administrative end of the e-commerce CMS (Content Management System) (content management system) is discussed at length. This is one of the weakest areas of accessibility for many content management systems. Even those few which are highly conscientious about their output tend to fail to account for disabilities on the administrative end.

It’s not a safe choice to assume that site administrators have no disabilities. You may imagine that website administrators will be hot-shot college kids, but that doesn’t mean that they have great vision, that they can distinguish color, or that they are able to use a mouse. Disabilities aren’t exclusive to non-technical people. Really.

Have something to contribute?

« Read my Comment Policy

7 Comments on “Accessible e-Commerce Tips”

  1. Hi, Rick – I’m afraid I have no familiarity at all with Softiculous, so I really don’t have any useful advice to offer on that topic. I hope you have good look finding what you need!

  2. Not gonna weigh in here on the differences in requirements or whether or not they should be required, but I was wondering if anyone could recommend a good Softiculous-based E-Commerce solution. I am completely blind and use NVDA ( as my screen reader of choice. I need a solution that is both accessible on the customer end as well as on the administrative end. I offer both static and configurable products as well as services. I have a number of E-Commerce/shopping cart options available via Softiculous in my cPanel and have already ruled out TomatoCart as an option. Does anyone have any ideas or suggestions? You can also hit me up on Twitter, where I’m @BlindSarcasm. Thanks!

  3. The guidelines are helpful.However not all the accessibilities can work well.

  4. Yeah – it’s not that it wasn’t an accurate and worthwhile article, it was just that whole “specific to e-commerce” issue that didn’t quite come out.

  5. I agree that Roberto’s article had substantial information, but didn’t quite hit the nail on the head. The article contains a lot of accessibility tips, but only one section (Payment Gateway) seemed to relate it directly to e-commerce issues.

  6. I’m not really sure that that’s precisely the problem. I don’t think Roberto believes that the rules for accessible e-commerce are actually different from any other accessibility guidelines — it’s the principal of segregating content types which I protest.

    Regardless, thanks for your thoughts, Jermayn.

  7. Totally agree, I am reading the original article now but am amazed that they think you need separate rules…