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Making Your eCommerce Store ADA Compliant: A Guide to Inclusivity and Avoiding Legal Risk

eCommerce stores share much of the same DNA as bricks-and-mortar stores in the sense that they are open and accessible to everyone, regardless of physical ability.  However, unlike the local corner store, many eCommerce stores and websites often provide barriers for those with disabilities.  Today, it’s more important than ever to make web accessibility an essential aspect of modern business. Ensuring eCommerce stores are ADA compliant is not only a matter of legal necessity, but also a step towards inclusive customer service and broadening market reach. This article dives into the importance of ADA compliance for eCommerce websites, outlining some steps and measures necessary to achieve and maintain compliance.

Before going any further, it’s important to note that this article is not intended as legal advice. Please consult with a qualified legal professional for specific legal guidance regarding ADA compliance.

What is Web Accessibility and Why is it Important?

Web accessibility refers to the inclusive practice of removing barriers that prevent interaction with, or access to websites, by people with disabilities. When a website is correctly designed, developed, and edited, all users have equal access to information and functionality. This includes individuals with disabilities affecting their hearing, movement, sight, and cognitive ability.

The importance of web accessibility cannot be overstated. It is a bridge that connects businesses with a wider audience, including the millions of people worldwide who have disabilities. Beyond inclusivity, web accessibility is crucial for businesses seeking to maximize their market reach. Additionally, web accessibility improves overall site usability, potentially boosting SEO rankings and enhancing user experience for all visitors.

Do All Websites Need to Be ADA Compliant?

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) mandates that all public entities and “places of public accommodation” are accessible to people with disabilities, which has been interpreted to include the websites of businesses that fall under this category. While not all websites are legally required to be ADA compliant, it is a best practice for all online entities, especially eCommerce stores, to strive for accessibility. The broad interpretation of the ADA in recent legal trends suggests that any business operating a website could potentially be subject to ADA compliance requirements, especially if it significantly impacts interstate commerce or operates alongside a physical business location.

What Happens if You’re Not Compliant

Non-compliance with ADA web accessibility guidelines can lead to serious consequences, including lawsuits and financial liabilities. Several high-profile legal cases have set precedents for ADA compliance on the web, leading to increased legal risks for businesses that fail to make their websites accessible. The cost of defending against these lawsuits can be substantial, not to mention the potential for court-ordered compliance and payment of damages.

Using Overlays Such as AccessiBe and UserWay to Make Your Site Compliant

In response to the growing need for web accessibility solutions, tools like AccessiBe and UserWay offer overlay technologies that promise to automatically make websites ADA compliant. These tools work by scanning and modifying a website’s front end to improve accessibility without altering the underlying codebase significantly. While they can provide a quick fix by addressing some accessibility issues, they may not cover all compliance requirements, particularly those related to complex interactions or dynamic content. Over-reliance on overlays without understanding their limitations can give a false sense of security regarding ADA compliance.

The Only Real Way to Make Your Site Compliant

Achieving genuine ADA compliance requires a more comprehensive approach than just applying an automated overlay. A thorough ADA audit conducted by a compliance specialist with experience in ADA-compliant websites is essential. This process involves real users with disabilities testing the website to identify accessibility barriers that automated tools might miss. A detailed audit provides a roadmap of remediation work needed to make the site fully compliant. This work often includes technical adjustments, content modifications, and sometimes a redesign of certain website elements to meet accessibility standards.

Post-Audit Steps: Accessibility Statement and Ongoing Audits

Once the audit and remediation work are completed, it is crucial to publish an accessibility statement on your website. This statement should outline your commitment to accessibility, detail the accessibility features of your site, and provide contact information for feedback on accessibility issues. However, achieving compliance is not a one-time task. Websites are dynamic, and new content or features can introduce new accessibility challenges. Regular audits, ideally each quarter, are necessary to identify and remediate any new issues that arise, ensuring ongoing compliance and demonstrating a continuous commitment to accessibility.

How Your Store Wizards Can Help with ADA Compliance

For eCommerce store owners looking to navigate the complexities of web accessibility, engaging with an experienced partner like Your Store Wizards can be invaluable. We have partners who are experts in conducting full ADA audits, offering detailed assessments and remediation plans tailored to your specific eCommerce store. Testing done by real users and compliance specialists ensures that your eCommerce store not only meets legal requirements but also offers an inclusive shopping experience for all customers. Additionally, we can provide ongoing support, conducting quarterly audits to help maintain ADA compliance as your online store evolves.

Making eCommerce stores ADA compliant is an essential step towards creating an inclusive digital marketplace. It requires a commitment to understanding and implementing web accessibility standards, a process that goes beyond quick fixes and demands a strategic approach. By conducting thorough ADA audits, implementing remediation work, and engaging in continuous compliance efforts, eCommerce businesses can ensure their sites are accessible to all users. Engaging with experts like Your Store Wizards can streamline this process, offering the expertise and support necessary to achieve and maintain web accessibility standards.

For more information on our ADA compliance service and ongoing audits, please contact us at support@yourstorewizards.com for a consultation.

Note: This article is not intended as legal advice. Please consult with a qualified legal professional for specific legal guidance regarding ADA compliance.

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