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 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) 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.