It is illegal for online retailers to prevent disabled customers from accessing their services. But a report has found that some online retailers remain no-go areas for disabled customers.
Participants in the Abilitynet online shopping report with a range of disabilities were asked to buy a turkey, Christmas pudding and a dozen crackers using the websites and mobile apps of five supermarkets: Sainsbury’s, Morrisons (which is yet to offer online shopping), Asda, Tesco and Ocado – only the Tesco site met minimum access requirements.
It took some of the participants more than an hour to buy anything while others gave up after becoming frustrated at being unable to add goods to their baskets or navigating the checkout process.
Apps fared slightly better overall with Tesco’s and Ocado’s meeting minimum requirements.
The websites and apps were tested with the most commonly encountered access technologies (such as magnification and screen reading software) and their accessibility via a keyboard rather than a mouse.
Robin Christopherson, Head of Digital Inclusion at AbilityNet, which campaigns to make digital technology more accessible and who is himself blind, said that the report revealed a range of accessibility and usability problems for all disabled people.
One of the participants, who uses screen magnification software and who tested the Asda site said: “It would be useful to get a response when clicking on icons so I am aware something is happening. When I clicked on ‘Christmas pudding’ I didn’t notice the information appeared below which left me waiting and not sure what to do next. Eventually I moved my mouse around and I saw pictures of Christmas puddings and figured out what had happened.”
A keyboard user who tested all the sites said that it was often difficult to see links on the page which made it difficult to keep track of what was going on.
One participant who uses a screen reader and who tested Asda’s app said: “I had real difficulties with unlabelled buttons and adding things to my trolley as the add button didn’t seem to work. It was really confusing. I wasn’t able to view the contents of my trolley and couldn’t choose a timeslot for delivery and I gave up.”
Although a screen magnification user who tested the Tesco app found it efficient, they said that they had trouble finding the crackers which they didn’t expect to be in the grocery section.
According to Christopherson, the mixed picture of supermarket websites and mobile apps is ‘on a parr’ with the situation in e-commerce more generally.
He said: “Even once achieved, accessibility is like a daily challenge to maintain because sites are refreshed and more content is added all the time. Although not perfect, Amazon is one of the more accessible online retail websites.”
He added that the law is clear about the obligations of online retailers when it comes to accessibility.
“It is just as illegal to bar disabled visitors from accessing your goods and services online as it would be to keep them out of your building in the real world. The legal protection is there, it’s about enforcement. The Equality and Human Rights Commission, for example, could readily check the accessibility of the websites and apps of high street retailers and issue a warning to all those that don’t meet a base level of accessibility. If issues haven’t been addressed three months later, then they could impose a fine. Ideally we’d see a concerted effort in enforcement as this would have a radical impact upon companies’ diligence when it comes to fully including disabled customers.”