What Steps Can UK Businesses Take to Become More Disability-Friendly in E-Commerce?

March 26, 2024

In an ever-increasing digital world, it’s imperative for businesses to guarantee that their online platforms are accessible to all. With an estimated 13.9 million people living with a disability in the UK, businesses cannot afford to overlook this significant demographic. By making their websites more accessible, businesses open their doors to a wider customer base, leading to an increase in potential revenue and greater customer satisfaction. This article will provide insight into the steps UK businesses can take to make their e-commerce platforms more disability-friendly.

Making Your Website Accessible

The first step businesses need to take to become more disability-friendly is to make their website accessible. An accessible website is one that can be used by all people, regardless of their physical or mental capabilities. It should be easy to navigate, readable, and understandable.

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Why is this important? A website that is not accessible can deter potential customers. For example, a visually impaired person might struggle to navigate a website that lacks alt text for images, or a person with mobility issues might have difficulty clicking on small, closely spaced links.

Businesses should aim to comply with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), a set of recommendations designed to make web content more accessible. These guidelines cover a range of elements, from providing text alternatives for non-text content to ensuring that pages appear and operate in predictable ways.

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Building a More Inclusive Online Shopping Experience

Once you’ve ensured that your website is accessible, you can focus on creating an inclusive online shopping experience. By making your website easy to use for people with disabilities, you are not only complying with the law, but you’re also showing that you value all your customers.

For instance, businesses could offer multiple ways for customers to complete transactions. Some customers might prefer to use a keyboard rather than a mouse, so ensuring that all functionalities can be accessed via keyboard is essential. Additionally, providing alternatives to time-limited tasks can benefit users who require more time to complete certain actions.

Another crucial factor to consider is the language used on the website. The content should be clear and straightforward to understand. People with cognitive disabilities or those who use English as a second language will appreciate simple, jargon-free text.

Enabling Accessible Customer Service

A truly inclusive e-commerce platform also extends to customer service. The service you provide should be as accessible as your website. This means offering various ways for customers to contact you, such as email, phone, live chat, and even text messages.

It’s also worth considering offering video relay services for deaf or hard of hearing customers, or services like Browsealoud for those with reading difficulties. Training your customer service team to understand and cater to the needs of disabled customers is also crucial. This could involve anything from knowing how to communicate effectively with customers who have speech impairments, to understanding how to guide visually impaired users through your website.

Proactively Seeking Feedback and Making Improvements

It’s important to remember that becoming more disability-friendly is an ongoing process. Businesses should seek feedback from their disabled customers to understand what works well and what could be improved. This could involve conducting surveys, forming focus groups, or even employing user testing with people who have disabilities.

This will not only help you make your website more inclusive, but it will also demonstrate to your customers that you value their feedback and are committed to improving your services. Remember, implementing accessibility should not be a one-time action, but a continuous effort towards inclusivity.

Creating Disability Awareness and Inclusion in Business Culture

Finally, fostering a culture of disability awareness and inclusion within the business is fundamental. If your employees understand and value the importance of accessibility, this will shine through in the services you provide. This might involve running regular training sessions or workshops, or even inviting disability advocates to speak to your team.

Inclusion should be a core value within your business, not only in your customer-facing services but also in your hiring practices. By hiring people with disabilities, you’re not just supporting diversity and inclusion. You’re also gaining unique perspectives that can help you improve your services.

In conclusion, becoming more disability-friendly is a commitment that requires continuous effort. But by making your website accessible, creating an inclusive shopping experience, offering accessible customer services, seeking feedback, and fostering a culture of inclusivity, you can make your e-commerce platform a place where everyone feels welcomed and valued.

Implementing Web Accessibility Standards and Regulations

To make an e-commerce website accessible, businesses need to adhere to the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). Developed by the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI), these guidelines provide guidance on making web content more accessible to disabled users.

Upholding these standards is not only a matter of inclusivity but also a legal requirement. In the UK, the public sector, including local and national government organisations, is legally obliged to make their websites accessible under the Public Sector Bodies (Websites and Mobile Applications) Accessibility Regulations 2018. Although this regulation does not cover the private sector, it is still good practice to adhere to the same standards. Plus, under the Equality Act 2010, all service providers, including e-commerce businesses, are required to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ for disabled people. This includes making adjustments to a business property and a business’s digital presence such as their website and mobile applications.

It’s crucial that businesses publish an accessibility statement on their website. This statement should explain the measures the business has taken to meet the accessibility requirements, any parts of the website that are not accessible, and how users can get accessible versions of non-accessible content. Although this is a legal requirement for public sector bodies in England, Scotland and Wales, it’s considered good practice for all businesses. In Northern Ireland, sector bodies are required to have an equality scheme which covers website accessibility.

Accessibility and Tax Considerations

As a UK business, it’s also worth consulting with tax advisers regarding potential benefits for making your e-commerce platform disability-friendly. The government offers a variety of tax reliefs that could be applicable to businesses seeking to improve their website accessibility.

For example, the Access to Work scheme could cover certain costs related to providing a more accessible workplace, which might include costs linked to improving web accessibility. Businesses may also be able to claim capital allowances on the cost of providing assistive technology or making other adjustments to their business property to make it more accessible.

Conclusion: Towards a More Inclusive E-commerce Experience

There is no doubt that the digital world has opened up new possibilities for businesses. Nevertheless, it has also highlighted the importance of building an inclusive environment where everyone can participate equally. For UK businesses, becoming more disability-friendly in e-commerce isn’t just a nice-to-have; it’s a legal requirement and a commercial necessity that can lead to increased customer satisfaction and revenue growth.

By improving web accessibility, businesses can ensure that they are not excluding any potential customers. This involves everything from adhering to the WCAG guidelines and accessibility regulations to making reasonable adjustments and publishing an accessibility statement.

Moreover, businesses can foster a culture of inclusivity from the inside out, starting with their staff and flowing through to their customers. This can range from regular training sessions and workshops to hiring disabled employees.

Finally, businesses should view this as an ongoing commitment, continuously looking for ways to improve and adapt. This could involve seeking feedback from disabled users and making proactive improvements based on their input. Ultimately, the goal is to make the e-commerce experience as enjoyable and seamless for disabled people as it is for everyone else.