Making Shopify E-commerce Accessible

Making Shopify E-commerce Accessible

5 min read

It's the right thing to do... and a legal imperative!

The digital landscape is rapidly evolving, and e-commerce has become a dominant force in retail. While this provides incredible convenience and choice for consumers, it can leave behind those who face challenges navigating online stores due to disabilities. This is where accessibility comes in – ensuring a user-friendly experience for everyone, regardless of ability.

The Social Responsibility and Why Accessibility Matters

Accessibility isn't just a legal requirement; it's a social responsibility and here's why:

1. Inclusion of the Disabled

Over 1 billion people globally experience some form of disability. By prioritizing accessibility, businesses tap into a vast, diverse customer base often overlooked.

2. Your Brand Image

Demonstrating a commitment to accessibility creates a positive brand image, fostering trust and loyalty from customers who value inclusivity.

3. Improved User Experience

Accessible design principles often benefit everyone, not just those with disabilities. For example, clear labeling and keyboard navigation can enhance the experience for all users.

The Legal Landscape and Navigating Compliance

While the social responsibility case for accessibility is strong, there's a legal dimension as well. Many countries have regulations mandating varying levels of accessibility for online platforms. Understanding these regulations is crucial for e-commerce businesses.

🇺🇸 North America

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) doesn't explicitly cover websites, but courts have increasingly interpreted it to apply to online businesses. The Department of Justice (DOJ) offers non-binding guidelines on web accessibility.

The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) provides international standards for web accessibility.

🇪🇺 Europe

The European Accessibility Act (EAA) requires websites and mobile apps of public sector bodies to meet WCAG 2.1 AA standards. EU member states are also encouraged to adopt similar legislation for the private sector.

🇬🇧 United Kingdom

The Equality Act 2010 requires reasonable adjustments to be made to avoid discrimination against disabled users. The government also encourages following WCAG standards.

It Goes Beyond Accessibility Overlays - Embracing Best Practices

Overlay solutions like accessiBe can address some accessibility issues. Although these tools can pose some compatibility issues with assistive technologies, they do create a superficial layer of accessibility with the real accessibility coming from best practices.

True accessibility comes from building practices into the development process from the very beginning. This includes:

Keyboard Navigation: Ensuring all interactive elements (menus, buttons, forms) can be navigated and activated using a keyboard only is essential for users with motor impairments.

Screen Reader Compatibility: Content needs to be structured and presented clearly so screen readers can accurately interpret and convey information to users who are blind or visually impaired.

Alternative Text Descriptions: Images should have clear and concise "alt text" descriptions that convey the image's content to users who rely on screen readers.

Color Contrast: Color combinations with sufficient contrast are essential for users with visual impairments, including those with color blindness.

Clear and Concise Language: Using plain language and avoiding jargon ensures users with cognitive disabilities can understand product descriptions and instructions.

Building an Accessible Culture

Accessibility isn't just a technical hurdle; it's a cultural shift. Here's how businesses can foster accessibility:

  1. Accessibility Training
    Educate developers, designers, and content creators on accessibility best practices and relevant regulations.
  2. User Testing
    Include users with disabilities in the testing process to identify and address accessibility issues early on.
  3. Regular Monitoring
    Continuously evaluate the website and mobile app for accessibility and address new issues as they arise.
  4. Commitment from Leadership
    Strong leadership buy-in is crucial for allocating resources and building a culture of accessibility within the organization.

    Accessibility Overlays - The Potential Benefits and Limitations

    Overlay solutions like accessiBe can play a role in an accessibility strategy, but it's important to understand their limitations. Here's a balanced view:

    Potential Benefits:

    1. Quick Fixes
      Overlays can address some common accessibility issues like adding alt text and improving color contrast, offering a faster route to partial compliance.
    2. Legal Protection
      accessiBe claims their service can help mitigate legal risk by demonstrating a good faith effort towards accessibility. They also offer guidance on remediation and prevention of legal issues, which can be valuable for businesses.

    Limitation of Overlays - A Superficial Solution
    Overlays often provide a band-aid solution, masking underlying accessibility issues within the website's code. This can lead to compatibility problems and a less than optimal user experience for people with disabilities

    Making Your Shopify Store Accessible

    Shopify offers a robust platform for building e-commerce stores, but achieving accessibility requires a proactive approach beyond the platform's basic functionalities. Here's a breakdown of how Shopify store owners can make their stores accessible:

    Leveraging Shopify's Built-in Features:

    Shopify offers some built-in features that can be utilized to enhance accessibility:

    1. Theme Customization
      Most Shopify themes allow for some level of customization, including color contrast adjustments and font size modifications. Utilize these options to ensure your chosen theme adheres to accessibility guidelines.
    2. Alternative Text
      Shopify allows adding alt text descriptions to product images and other visuals directly within the admin panel. This is crucial for screen reader users.
    3. Heading Structure
      Utilize the built-in heading hierarchy options (H1, H2, etc.) to properly structure your content. This improves navigation for screen reader users and enhances overall website organization.
    4. Automated Image Descriptions
      Shopify offers apps that utilize AI to generate automatic alt text descriptions for product images. While not a perfect solution, it can provide a starting point and save time.

      Beyond the Built-ins - Essential Accessibility Practices for Shopify Stores

      Here's where you move beyond Shopify's basic features and embrace best practices:

      1. Keyboard Navigation
        Ensure all interactive elements (menus, buttons, forms) can be navigated and activated using only the keyboard. Test your store thoroughly using keyboard navigation alone.
      2. Focus States
        Implement clear focus states that indicate which element is currently in focus when using the keyboard. This helps users with motor impairments understand where their interaction will occur.
      3. Error Messages
        Provide clear and actionable error messages for form submissions and other user interactions. These messages should be easily understandable by users with cognitive disabilities.
      4. Logical Layout
        Organize your store's layout logically, with clear navigation menus and a consistent structure across all pages. This makes it easier for users with cognitive disabilities to navigate the website.
      5. Mobile Responsiveness
        Ensure your Shopify store is fully responsive and adapts seamlessly to different screen sizes and devices. This caters to users who rely on assistive technologies like screen readers on mobile devices.

        Utilizing Accessibility Tools and Resources:

        Several tools and resources can aid Shopify store owners in achieving accessibility:

        1. Shopify Accessibility Checklist: accessiBe provides a helpful accessibility checklist that outlines key areas to focus on.
        2. WCAG Compliance Tools: Tools like WAVE or the AChecker extension for web browsers can scan your Shopify store and identify potential accessibility issues.
        3. Accessibility Audits: Consider professional accessibility audits conducted by specialists who can provide a comprehensive evaluation and remediation plan.

          Remember: Accessibility is an ongoing process. Regularly test your store with assistive technologies and involve users with disabilities in the testing process to identify and address any lingering issues.

          The Business Case for Accessibility on Shopify

          By making your Shopify store accessible, you unlock a wider customer base and gain a competitive edge. Here's a breakdown of the benefits:

          1. Increased Sales
            A significant portion of the population experiences some form of disability. By catering to this audience, you open doors to a larger pool of potential customers.
          2. Enhanced Brand Reputation
            Demonstrating a commitment to accessibility portrays your brand in a positive light, fostering trust and loyalty from customers who value inclusivity.
          3. Improved SEO
            Accessible websites often rank higher in search engine results pages (SERPs) as search engines consider accessibility a factor.
          4. Reduced Legal Risk
            While not a guaranteed shield, taking steps towards accessibility can help mitigate legal risks associated with accessibility lawsuits.


            Making your Shopify store accessible is not only the right thing to do, but also a smart business decision. By following the steps outlined above and embracing a culture of accessibility, you can create an inclusive shopping experience that benefits everyone. Remember, accessibility is a journey, not a destination. Continuously evaluate and improve your store to ensure everyone has a convenient and enjoyable shopping experience on your Shopify platform.

            If you need assistance with the accessibility of your e-commerce store, reach out to us here or simply email us.

            Cover Photo by charlesdeluvio.

            Ross Allchorn
            Ross Allchorn

            Hi, I'm Ross, an entrepreneur and a specialist in e-commerce. I founded ShopCreatify in 2015 and loving every second of working with our great ecommerce merchant clients.