There are plenty of tools for users with disabilities built into operating systems themselves. Here are some tips on how to access and use them.
In-person shopping can be difficult and stressful for people with disabilities for many reasons, from tall checkout counters to non-navigable spaces, but meanwhile, Americans with disabilities are more likely to never use the Internet compared to the total population. About 23% of the population with disabilities say that they never go online, and only about two-thirds of people with disabilities ages 18 to 64 actually have a desktop or laptop computer. It seems like the online shopping experience would be a great help, but a lack of accessibility and training has put that online "counter" out of reach, just like the brick-and-mortar ones. For this reason, we've gathered some website accessibility tools for shoppers with disabilities as well as tips, tricks, and methods for talking to Web developers about specific needs. It doesn't need to be a struggle, and you can have a lot of fun searching for bargains online!
Tips On Computer Accessibility For Users with Disabilities
The Internet for shoppers with any kind of disability can be a little bit chaotic, with some websites doing an excellent job at being clean and easy to navigate and others having tiny fonts, strange rules, badly optimized images, or poor usability. But many of these problems can be alleviated on the shopper's end - your end! It's just a matter of making sure your computer's settings are working optimally.
Setting Up Your Operating System For Accessibility
If you don't have a computer yet, consider a Mac. Apple often gets a lot of praise for its inclusive, free accessibility tools that are built into its operating systems, like the VoiceOver, Dark Mode, Siri, Switch Control, and Text-to-Speech applications.
- How to Turn These Features On: In the Apple Menu (which is typically at the top left), select "System Preferences" and then hit the blue accessibility icon to turn on the system's best features.
Some Helpful Keyboard Commands: Here are a few tips for low-vision users.
- Option + Command + F5: Pull up the accessibility options window.
- Option + Command + 8: Turn on Zoom.
- Control + Option + L: Read the current line.
- Control + Option + B: Read the current window or document from the beginning.
- Control + Option + M: Access the Menu bar.
- Control + Option + F2: Describe the window you're in currently.
- Hold down Command: Talk to Siri.
- Getting in Touch With Customer Service: Email email@example.com or call 877-204-3930. Try checking their website for answers to your questions first.
The Microsoft team works hard at making the industry's best accessibility tools.
How to Turn These Features On: Select the Start button, go to Settings, then click "Ease of Access." That's where you'll find most Microsoft accessibility features.
- From here, you can turn on displaying audio alerts visually, turning on closed captions, and turn on mono audio.
- A great tool that not a lot of people know about in Windows is the simplification and personalization of notifications, eliminating distractions and clutter.
Some Helpful Keyboard Commands: There are different helpful shortcuts for Windows 10, Windows 8.1, and Windows 7.
- Windows Key + Plus sign (+): Turn Magnifier on.
- Windows Key + Esc: Turn Magnifier off.
- Ctrl + Mouse wheel: Zoom in and out with the mouse.
- Ctrl + Alt + I: Invert colors.
- Windows Key + Ctrl + Enter: Start or stop the Narrator.
- Windows Key + U: Open the East of Access center.
- Shift (five times): Turn Sticky Keys on.
- Windows Key + Plus sign (+): Turn Magnifier on.
- Getting in Touch With Customer Service: Chat or find answers via the Disability Answer Desk, call 1-800-936-5900, or video call 1-503-427-1234
Note that you also could be running KDE on Linux. Linux works very differently than the other two main operating systems, though it does have major tools like sticky keys, magnifiers, and screen readers already installed if you use GNOME. Linux is by its nature customizable, so you may need to find specialized open-source programs for it.
How to Turn These Features On: If you're using GNOME, press F1 to access the help page.
- To get really good tools, you may want to use some different distributions (or "distros").
- GNOME also has a screen reader named Orca already set up; here's how to turn it on.
- BRLTTY is a background process for Linux using a Braille display.
Customizing The Web Browser For Easier Navigation
Hit the three-bar icon at the top right of the window or choose "Tools" in the menu bar, choose "Options," and then chose "General" in the tabs. There are a handful of accessibility features there.
- Zoom in and out of pages with Ctrl + Plus sign (+) and Ctrl + Minus sign (-).
- You can also zoom in on text by clicking "View" in the menu bar, picking "Zoom," and then choosing "Zoom text only."
- You can do a lot more to override page fonts and page colors, including setting minimums and standards. There are detailed instructions on how to change fonts and colors to the exact ones you'd prefer.
While some of the best features of this browser are actually extensions, Google has created several tools for better Web accessibility for people with disabilities.
- TalkBack: You can get spoken feedback using the Chrome browser. Turn it on easily by pressing both volume keys for three seconds.
- Low-Vision Support: Zoom, set fonts, and use high-contrast themes.
- Check out the list of Google's official accessibility extensions.
- Watch this video series to learn how to take advantage of all the tools.
Microsoft's browsers allow you to customize a preferred zoom level and assign fonts and colors.
Safari has quite a few tools in conjunction with Apple's MacOS features.
- Turn on Safari Reader mode to get rid of visual clutter.
- Make Safari read a page out loud to you.
- Magnify text and change fonts and colors as with other browsers.
Browser Extensions That Help Online Shoppers with Disabilities
Change and/or invert color schemes of websites.
Automatically check spelling and grammar as you enter text.
Have website content read to you.
Change the colors of text and fonts.
Browse without the use of a mouse.
This is a screen reader built for Chrome.
Eliminate distractions by controlling what you see.
Make your toolbar buttons bigger.
Add sounds to events such as opening a new tab.
Customize the way you view images.
This open-source font enhances readability for readers with dyslexia.
Get subtitles and closed captions for online videos for multiple platforms at once.
Physical Computer Devices For Shoppers with Disabilities
There are also physical magnifiers available
Get a keyboard with bigger keys that's easier to see and use. Other options are available via Nanopac.
This helps typists who are blind judge the distance between keys with a plastic or gel guard.
For amputees with a prosthesis, this digital wristband reads muscle movements to create cursor movements.
For amputees with a prosthesis, this digital wristband reads muscle movements to create cursor movements.
Support your arms while reaching for the mouse or keyboard.
Apple has developed tactile interfaces for their computers and mobile devices.
Other Programs and Resources
Here are some other useful tools to check out. Also, for more cool software for users with disabilities, check out our list of educational tools and resources for college students.Software
is a popular screen reader program that works with Windows.
is another popular free screen reader for Windows.
is a software tool for people with colorblindness.
can be very helpful to those with dysgraphia and other forms of learning disabilities.
takes text and turns it into symbols that are easier to communicate for people with certain types of learning disabilities.
Tips For Browsing and Shopping Online With Disabilities
Armed with better operating system and browser features, website disability access is a lot easier to get, but it also depends in part on the usability of the site, the site features, and the checkout process. Online shopping for users with disabilities doesn't have to be complicated, but sometimes, bad design can make it just as difficult to shop online as in person. It's been estimated that roughly half of online stores have poor accessibility due to odd ADA loopholes and a lack of understanding of how screen readers work. We have some information on the website accessibility of users with disabilities that's common now as well as ways to improve one's overall experience.
Common Online Shopping Problems to Look Out For
Here are some Web-surfing tips and things to be aware of while you're shopping around or designing a site of your own.
- A lack of alt text for images can be awful for shoppers with visual impairments like low-vision disabilities or people with colorblindness. Alternative text describes images on Web pages in the page code so that screen readers can describe them and search engines can find them. Good alt text can help the website and users, so why is it so rare?
- Detailed, homogeneous descriptions can be difficult to find on some sites. According to surveys, only 49% of people with disabilities feel they have even some of the information needed or wanted while making purchasing decisions
- Rarely can you see what clothing looks like on people sitting down. There's the website, but what about the products themselves? For people who use wheelchairs, it can be hard to tell if clothing they see online would be comfortable or flattering in a wheelchair
- Flash animations can be bad for both users who are visually impaired and learning-disabled, creating overstimulation. Sometimes, there's not much to be done for ads, but sites themselves can be overstimulating, too
- Subtitles and closed captions are a small thing to add to videos but sometimes ignored. Be sure to turn on closed captions on YouTube, as most websites use YouTube to host their videos.
- Plain links called "links" or "click here" are not helpful to those who use screen readers. Luckily, labeling a link with the text "click here" is falling out of fashion
Popular E-Commerce Websites and Their Accessibility Features
While a lot get it wrong, many websites have built their own disability tools for online shopping. Also, there's the fact that many third-party websites use accessible payment systems for people with visual impairments, like PayPal. Here's a list of some of the more popular online retailers and their features.
Amazon's Accessibility Features: Luckily, America's biggest online retailer also happens to be rather excellent and frequently praised for its accessible services, from its online shopping to Echo functions to the captions on its video service. It's great at "cleaning up the clutter" for screen reader users. Be sure to look at reviews, too!
- See the American Foundation for the Blind's writeup: Amazon Shopping for People With Visual Impairments
- JCPenney's Assistive View: JCPenney has created a version of their website that's much easier to read with a screen reader. You can also call 1-800-322-1189 if you need help placing an order.
EBay for Users With Special Needs Access: In addition to creating a pretty easy-to-navigate site overall, the eBay team has built in keyboard shortcuts to navigate the site better:
- Tab: Move to the next link or interactive item.
- Shift + Tab: Move to the prior interactive item
- Enter: Interact with items on the page.
- Arrow Keys: Navigate within the page components
- Best Buy Accessibility: Best Buy's site has fairly accessible menus, including skip links.
- Target.com's Horrible Accessibility: Target's website has been historically and notoriously inaccessible, though executives have promised to make a more inclusive experience. At one point, the company paid $6 million in damages and $3.7 million in legal fees due to their site's poor accessibility.
- Etsy's Features: Etsy has so many different shops and images out there, and their search function is a lifeline. But good alt text and descriptions really depend on individual shops.
- Macy's ESSENTIAL Accessibility App: Despite the fact that Macy's was one of the first businesses to go to trial over ADA and accessibility issues, Macy's now has a pretty good app for online shoppers with disabilities.
Staying Within Your Budget
Whether you're saving up to go to college, buying cool stuff for your retirement, or just hoping to get nicer clothing online, going on a spending spree is really easy to do online. But stick to your budget! Shoppers with disabilities can use coupons from CouponFollow.com and Cently to help them save a lot of money online.
Users' Rights: What The ADA Says About Web Accessibility
While websites weren't exactly a factor when the ADA was passed, courts have made fairly consistent decisions that require compliance in the online world. Most websites use, or should aim to use, the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 to help reach ADA compliance. This set of rules is cited frequently by the U.S. Department of Justice. These guidelines require the following:
The site needs to be usable with screen readers.
The site's text needs to have a minimum contrast ratio of 4.5:1.
The site must be navigable using only the keyboard.
The site must be easy to navigate; for instance, the navigation bar should always stay in the same location.
New guidelines are being worked on and added, and the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1 adds more zoom requirements, key shortcuts, accidental activation requirements, and target size rules, among other things.
Can you really sue for a bad website experience? So far, judges have been fairly consistent that ADA compliance includes Web accessibility, and they've slapped the wrists of several major companies, including Target as well as H&R Block. Making inaccessible online employment listings is taken particularly seriously.
Of course, usually, it's in the company's best interest to make a site easier to navigate and more search-engine-friendly to begin with. Start by communicating with the website itself and keeping everything in writing.
Some Notes On Web Accessibility Standards and Contacting Webmasters
There may be times where you come in contact with a website that has accessibility issues and you'll need to communicate with the web designer or webmaster. Explaining your experience to them sometimes may turn out to be more difficult a task than anticipated.
First, you can browse these notes from the Web Accessibility Imitative about contacting organizations and websites.
We've also gathered some other resources together for you to send below:
- The Bureau of Internet Accessibility's Official Website Accessibility Checklist: A Web developer can download this checklist for free.
- Free Review of Compliance for E-Commerce Websites: This is also offered by the BOIA.
- Screen Reader Simulation: Have the Web developer experience what you're experiencing directly.
- NoCoffee Extension for Chrome: A Web developer can simulate what it's like to be visually impaired with this.
- Accessibility Developer Tools From Google: Download the official tools from Google for creating an accessible site on the Chrome browser.
- Accessibility Developer Tools From Mozilla: Mozilla offers tutorials and tools for creating accessible sites on the Firefox browser.
- WAVE Tools: Get your site evaluated for its accessibility.
- Stories of Web Users: The Web Accessibility Initiative has written up examples of poor online experiences and solutions.
- The Benefits of an Accessible E-Commerce Site: Answer the "why should I care?" question before it's asked with these facts.
All in all, it's important to not only offer problems but quick and easy solutions, most of which are fairly cheap to do on the company's side. Hopefully, you'll have a positive enough experience to not need to get to the point of contacting webmasters.
Take your time, try some new online tools built for users with disabilities, and enjoy shopping online!