There are now a large number of online shops, but very few retailers design their website to be barrier-free. For example, people with poor eyesight find it difficult to perceive content, let alone benefit from it. Many are denied e-commerce.
Christiane Manow-Le Ruyet: Your start-up Web Inclusion offers a solution that makes websites and online shops barrier-free. What difficulties are confronted with people who, for example, have red-green poor eyesight?
Oliver Greiner: The problems that people deal with on the Internet are very individual and diverse. People with visual impairments who can only see outlines, for example, find it difficult to read form fields or websites in general. This is mostly due to the low contrasts, but also when the content is displayed too small on the pages. People with motor impairments have a particularly difficult time getting along with websites. As a rule, pages can only be operated with the mouse. It is relatively easy to solve this shortcoming. It must also be possible to navigate using the keyboard. We solve precisely this problem and others with our assistance software.
To come back to the question: People with color vision deficiencies are often unable to perceive content on websites properly or not at all. This is extremely frustrating for them. Think about it, if you cannot be sure whether you are correctly recognizing something, then it is extremely unsettling. An example: If you entered something wrong in a form field, an error message is displayed – in red. But if you have a red weakness, you simply cannot read the message.
My best friend Lennart, for example, has a genetic visual disorder and as a result only has poor eyesight. It is almost impossible for him to use an ordinary website without assistance technology. When it comes to website usability, a lot of people are forgotten – especially the elderly. We found that out in our interviews that we have been conducting for several years. This is often combined with technical ignorance. However, it is mostly due to the poor contrasts and too much content. However, since the problems that people encounter when looking at websites are very individual, it is difficult to find a uniform solution to them. So we have to give users the opportunity to customize the view. That is exactly what we do with our assistance software Eye Able do – we break down the barriers on websites and in online shops.
Make your website accessible – the opportunities arise for dealers
Why is the subject of accessibility on the Internet still being neglected?
I think that is due to the lack of awareness of these people and the topic. There is a lack of sensitivity when it comes to accessibility on the Internet. Website and online shop operators have it in their own hands to make their Internet presence accessible. But we have to get away from the idea that everything has to be rebuilt in order to enable barrier-free surfing. There are many opportunities. For example, assistance software like ours can be integrated. Users can use it to activate various functions with the aim of being able to perceive and operate websites correctly.
Isn’t this target group very small and thus the explanation why so few sites are barrier-free?
We have heard that very often in the past few years. But this is not the case. Every twelfth man in Germany has a color weakness. And every second German is over 50 years old. Statistically speaking, this increases the risk of age-related loss of eyesight. It can affect each of us, more or less. However, this quickly makes it clear how large the target group that needs accessible websites is. The sales potential that is associated with it is just as great.
What new opportunities arise for online shop and website operators if they design their websites to be barrier-free?
This opens up a whole new target group with high purchasing power. If you imagine that you want to shop online as a person with visual impairment and a shop owner has made his site accessible. Then you will of course shop in this online shop, because you have no problem taking advantage of the offer. This not only brings shop owners more potential buyers, but also a positive company reputation. Because the shop operator takes a clear stance on the subject of digital inclusion. This is particularly important now, as the e-commerce market is highly competitive. It is important to set yourself apart from the competition with unique selling points. This can be achieved with digital accessibility. So it’s a good investment in the future.
When we talk about the future, it is also important to mention the European Accessibility Act, the EAA. As part of this guideline, it is planned to oblige the entire e-commerce industry to make online shops accessible – and that in the foreseeable future. In addition, Google is also upgrading accessibility to an increasingly important ranking factor. Accessible websites are not only a way to stand out from the competition, but basically offer every user, with or without restrictions, the ability to set and use websites according to their individual needs. A real plus for usability.
Which points have to be considered so that websites and shops are barrier-free? Can you please give a brief overview?
The international standard for accessibility, the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, provides a brief overview of this. They describe many requirement points. For example, information and content must be visible to everyone. However, aspects such as sufficient contrasts and font sizes must always be taken into account. In order for every user to be able to operate a website, it must also be controllable with the keyboard and not just with the mouse. For blind users, it is important that stringent alternative texts are stored. In addition, pictures and menus are to be described appropriately and in a corresponding manner. If new content is created, it is important to ensure that the points mentioned are taken into account. This is the only way for blind users to grasp the content of a website via voice output. But it should also be possible to enlarge the view of the page.
Make your website accessible without relaunch
How can existing websites and shops be made barrier-free without the need for a major relaunch?
In order to enable barrier-free access quickly and easily, assistance software like ours can be installed. The good thing about it is: The website does not have to be changed or adapted for this, so no relaunch is necessary.
Think of it like this: As a restricted person, you click on an online shop and you now have the option of setting the contrast, font size and website content so that they are legible and usable. My friend Lennart, for example, would set the entire page to black and white contrast, enlarge the view by 1000 percent and generally hide images.
Our assistance software can be easily integrated into any website – using a single line of code that is integrated into the header. It enables the user, regardless of the device, a wide range of functionalities that we have developed together with people with disabilities over the past four years.
But in general, the integration of Eye-Able works like this: The customer decides which icon to use for the software and which colors the tool should have. We adapt the software to the page accordingly and transmit the code. This process usually takes no more than three working days. If desired, the software can also be hosted on its own server. It is important to mention at this point that our assistance software does not affect the performance of the site and we do not track any user data. The range of functions itself can also be completely customized.
What does your solution cost?
Eye-Able costs between € 149.90 and € 449.90 per year, updates and maintenance are included. Here we differentiate according to the average monthly traffic, because the higher the traffic, the higher the data consumption and thus our server costs. It is always important to me to emphasize that, in addition to the assistance software, we are available to our customers as a contact person on the subject of accessibility on the Internet. We are in constant contact with accessibility institutes and provide information about new developments, also with regard to future legislation.
“It is up to us to break down barriers and ensure everyone has access to digital offers”
As a start-up, why are you addressing the issue of accessibility? How come?
It started in my childhood. Together with my friend Lennart, I went to elementary school and then to grammar school. Normal sighted people probably never think that someone might not be able to read the writing on the blackboard. But that was the case with Lennart. So I read him the contents on the blackboard. However, these analogue barriers are also reflected digitally. That is why it was important to me to work with people like Lennart to create a solution that would enable them to participate. Because just because it is difficult for us “normal sighted” to understand that these barriers exist, it does not mean that they do not exist. And even less does that mean not having to do anything about it.
Anyone who empathizes with Lennart quickly understands how important accessibility is in order to be able to lead an independent life and not feel left out. Through my studies in the field of e-commerce, I realized early on that website operators often do not have the time to deal intensively with the topic. But it is up to us to change something in order to enable digital participation.
That is why we started as a team four years ago to conduct interviews with people with various disabilities. The problems that occurred when using the website formed the basis for our assistance software. The user is the focus of all developments. With every interview that we conducted, we became aware of how important it is to implement accessibility on a large scale. With our solution we want to give all users access to digital offers by making it easy for website operators to implement barrier-free accessibility on their sites.
Just like I helped Lennart to overcome barriers at school, we want to make this possible in the digital world too. It is up to us to break down barriers and ensure everyone has access to digital offers.
Also read: Digital Accessibility – Most online retailers still make this mistake.