Tips For Online Shopping With Disabilities: A Website Accessibility Guide

In-person shopping can be difficult and stressful for disabled people for many reasons, from tall checkout counters to non-navigable spaces, but meanwhile, disabled Americans are more likely to never use the Internet compared to the total population. About 23% of the disabled population say that they never go online, and only about two-thirds of disabled people 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 disabled shoppers 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 Disabled Users Tips On Computer Accessibility For Disabled Users

The Internet for disabled shoppers 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

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.

MacOS Accessibility (For Apple Computers):

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.
    • A great example is the "Type to Siri" feature, when you don't want to talk to her.
    • The Accessibility Keyboard is an on-screen keyboard; there are also sticky keys and many other features for enhancing the interface.
  • 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 accessibility@apple.com or call 877-204-3930. Try checking their website for answers to your questions first.

Microsoft Windows

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.
  • 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.
  • 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

Linux (GNOME/Ubuntu)

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.

Customizing The Web Browser For Easier Navigation

Most Web browsers allows users to make customizations to the browsing experience. For instance, many allow you to change automatic settings for colors and fonts or use a speech feature, and they may have their own shortcuts for zooming in and out.

Mozilla Firefox

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.

Google Chrome

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.

Internet Explorer and Edge

Microsoft's browsers allow you to customize a preferred zoom level and assign fonts and colors.

Apple Safari

Safari has quite a few tools in conjunction with Apple's MacOS features.

Browser Extensions That Help Disabled Online Shoppers

One of the cooler aspects of browsers is that they're pretty easy to tweak with extensions or add-ons. Check out our list of some of the more noteworthy ones, but also be sure to check out the full list of disability extensions for Chrome and add-ons for Firefox.

High Contrast for Chrome

Change and/or invert color schemes of websites.

Ginger for Chrome

Automatically check spelling and grammar as you enter text.

SpeakIt! for Chrome

Have website content read to you.

Color Enhancer for Chrome

Change the colors of text and fonts.

Caret Browsing for Chrome

Browse without the use of a mouse.

ChromeVox for Chrome

This is a screen reader built for Chrome.

uBlock for Chrome, Firefox, and Opera

Eliminate distractions by controlling what you see.

Big Buttons for Firefox

Make your toolbar buttons bigger.

Noise for Firefox

Add sounds to events such as opening a new tab.

ImageTweak for Firefox

Customize the way you view images.

OpenDyslexic Font for Chrome

This open-source font enhances readability for readers with dyslexia.

Substital for Chrome

Get subtitles and closed captions for online videos for multiple platforms at once.

Physical Computer Devices For Disabled Shoppers

Sometimes, the key issues facing persons with disabilities while shopping online have more to do with the way users are expected to interact with the computer rather than software issues. If you have trouble playing with a mouse and keyboard, for instance, software isn't going to help as much as a keyboard with big keys or a mouse with a trackball. Here's a quick overview of some of the things available to help disabled online shoppers:

Physical LCD Screen Magnifiers

There are also physical magnifiers available

Big-Key Keyboards

Get a keyboard with bigger keys that's easier to see and use. Other options are available via Nanopac.

Keyguards

This helps blind typists judge the distance between keys with a plastic or gel guard.

Shortcut Digital Prosthesis

For amputees with a prosthesis, this digital wristband reads muscle movements to create cursor movements.

Digit Grip

For amputees with a prosthesis, this digital wristband reads muscle movements to create cursor movements.

Ergorest Arm Support

Support your arms while reaching for the mouse or keyboard.

Kensington Orbit Trackball and Logitech mice

can help users as well.

Apple Switch Control Devices

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 disabled users, check out our list of educational tools and resources for disabled college students.

Software

The JAWS Screen Reader

is a popular screen reader program that works with Windows.

The NV Access Screen Reader

is another popular free screen reader for Windows.

Visolve

is a software tool for colorblind people.

DwellClick (for Mac) and Dwell Clicker 2 (for Windows)

let you use a mouse without having to click.

Dragon Speech-to-Text Software

can be very helpful to those with dysgraphia and other forms of learning disabilities.

Widgit

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 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 disabled users 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 disabled users 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 blind and low-vision shoppers. 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 disabled people 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 visually impaired and learning-disabled users, 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.

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! Disabled shoppers 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 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 a more difficult task then anticipate.

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:

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 disabled users, and enjoy shopping online!