What Web Accessibility and ADA Compliance Mean for Your Shopify Store

Reading a laptop screen together.

In recent weeks it seems like ADA Compliance is on the mind of everyone in the e-commerce world, and for good reason.

On October 7, the Supreme Court denied a petition by Domino’s Pizza to hear a case in which Domino’s was sued by Guillermo Robles, a blind customer who argued that he could not place an order on their website even with the assistance of screen-reading software.

In the original case, a panel of judges from the Court of Appeals sided with Guillermo Robles and supported his right to sue Domino’s. Robles’ attorneys cited the Americans with Disabilities Act and its requirement that brick and mortar business make both their physical locations and digital properties (websites, apps, etc.) accessible.

The Supreme Court’s decision to not hear Domino’s case sends a clear signal: make your website accessible or you can be sued.

We might add, you probably will be sued -- according to UsableNet, lawsuits related to web accessibility more than doubled between 2017 and 2018.

ADA web accessibility-related lawsuits exploded with a 181% increase in 2018 over 2017.

Source: UsableNet

What is an “accessible” website?

So now that you’re nice and worried about ADA compliance, let’s get down to what it means to make your website accessible.

Let’s start by saying, it’s not so simple.

A big part of the reason that Domino’s (along with the National Retail Federation and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, both of which came out in support of Domino’s petition) tried to fight the decision, is that the guidelines around how the ADA applies to websites are pretty unclear.

The ADA became law in 1990, a time where the internet as we know it today was in its infancy. As a result, the rules and regulations contained in the ADA are all with regards to physical spaces or “places of public accommodation.” 

In both Robles v. Domino’s Pizza and another case, Gil v. Winn Dixie (the first high-profile web accessibility case to go to trial), the prosecutors argued that because the defendants’ businesses were “places of public accommodation” and were required to make their physical locations accessible to customers with disabilities, those same requirements should extend to their digital properties.

As a result of the court siding with the plaintiff in Gil v. Winn Dixie, the company (a supermarket chain) was ordered to implement the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) to its website.

Since that case, when we (and most designers and lawyers alike) think “web accessibility” and “ADA compliance” for websites, we reference the WCAG. 

Understanding the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG)

First things first, if you want to pour through the guidelines yourself you can find them here.

The WCAG are broken up into four parts:

  1. Perceivable
  2. Operable
  3. Understandable
  4. Robust

Perceivable: These guidelines deal with making text, audio, and video accessible to users with disabilities that impair vision or hearing. Implementing text alternatives and including captions for all for photos and video are examples of actions you should take to meet the Perceivable guidelines.

Here’s a great article from Shopify’s UX team on alt text and why it’s important and beneficial for all Shopify merchants to implement.

Adding alt text to all of your images and videos is straightforward and can provide SEO benefits in addition to making your Shopify site more accessible.

Operable: These guidelines are all about making it easy to navigate and interact with a website across a number of different devices and inputs. Making all of a site’s buttons usable with only a keyboard (no clicking a mouse) and ensuring that users have enough time to interact with all pieces of content are examples you should take to meet the Operable guidelines.

Understandable: These guidelines focus on making all of the text and interactions on a site readable, understandable, and predictable. This means providing definitions to unusual words and taking steps to provide text summaries in the cases where the copy on your site is of an advanced reading level.

Robust: These guidelines are meant to ensure that your site is compatible with all of the different assistive technologies, such as the screen-reading software at the center of Robles v. Domino’s Pizza.

How do I check if my Shopify store is accessible and ADA compliant?

The WCAG provides a laundry list of different tools (some free, others paid) all designed to check different elements of your site for accessibility and compliance: The List

Yes, there’s a lot there. One of our favorite tools that anyone can use to check a site for accessibility (as well as performance and SEO)  is Google Lighthouse. If you’re using Chrome, go to “View” → “Developer” → “Developer Tools” and on the right side of your screen under the “Audit” tab you’ll see a lighthouse.

In the Google Chrome toolbar: click "View," then "Developer," then "Developer Tools."

On the right-hand side of the screen will be the developer toolbox. From the "Audit" tab you can run the Lighthouse tool by clicking "Run Audit."

From there, just click the “Run Audit” button and Google will run your site through a series of tests and give you a report card that looks like this:


 The audit will result in four scores, one of which is specific to Accessibility.

The results will have different suggestions from immediate actions you can take to improve your score.

We’re ADA Compliance experts

We realize that all of this sounds like a lot of work, and it is. But making your Shopify store compliant and accessible is a necessity for any responsible business owner. Web accessibility is extremely important and we’re proud that we’ve helped many of our clients make their site accessible and ADA compliant.

If you want a hand in making your Shopify store accessible, give us a ring (or probably an email).

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