Creating an Inclusive Shopping Experience: E-Commerce Accessibility for the Visually Impaired

2023-11-19 | By Justin Lubomirsky

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Accessible Online Shopping: Guide for Visual Impairment | OrCam

Defining Accessibility in the Digital Shopping Realm

Accessibility in the context of e-commerce is about removing barriers that can prevent interaction with, or access to, websites by people with disabilities. When your e-commerce site is accessible, it supports features such as screen readers and alternative keyboard navigation, ensuring that all customers have equal access to your goods and services.

When considering accessibility in e-commerce, it's important to look at websites that exemplify best practices in this area. These websites not only comply with accessibility guidelines but also ensure a seamless shopping experience for all users, including those with disabilities. Here are a few examples:

  1. Amazon: Amazon's website is a prime example of accessibility in e-commerce. They provide screen reader-friendly content, keyboard navigation, and have a dedicated team to ensure their site remains accessible. This makes it easier for users with visual impairments or other disabilities to navigate and shop.

  2. Apple: Apple's website is known for its high standards in design and accessibility. They offer a range of accessibility features including VoiceOver support, which is a screen reader for the visually impaired, and alternative navigation options.

  3. Target: Target's website is another great example of an accessible e-commerce site. It includes features like large, easy-to-read text, keyboard navigation, and well-structured content that is friendly for screen readers.

  4. Etsy: Etsy's platform, known for selling handmade and vintage items, also focuses on accessibility. They provide clear and concise product descriptions and images, making it easier for people with cognitive disabilities to understand and purchase products.

  5. Zappos: Zappos, an online shoe and clothing retailer, excels in providing an accessible shopping experience. Their website is designed with features like text resizing, high contrast options, and screen reader compatibility, making it more inclusive for customers with various disabilities.

These websites exemplify how incorporating accessibility features can create an inclusive shopping environment, allowing individuals with disabilities to have equal access to products and services. This approach not only benefits users with disabilities but also enhances the overall user experience, reflecting positively on the brand's reputation and potentially increasing customer loyalty.

Legal Compliance: Adhering to ADA and WCAG Guidelines

Adherence to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) isn't just about avoiding legal repercussions; it’s about corporate social responsibility and ethical business practices. These guidelines offer a framework for making your content more accessible to individuals with disabilities, including detailed recommendations for making web content more accessible to people with a wide range of disabilities.

Accessible Online Shopping

Accessible Online Shopping Diagram

What Makes a Website Accessible?

Visually impaired shoppers find that an accessible online store is one that is easy to navigate and interact with. This includes having a user-friendly interface, text that is easy to read or hear through screen readers, and clear navigation that doesn't require a mouse. These features help them understand, navigate, and use the website effectively.

Understanding Website Images Through Alt Text

When shopping online, visually impaired users rely heavily on alt text for understanding images. This text, read aloud by screen readers, describes the content of an image. Clear and contextual descriptions in the alt text are essential, as they help visually impaired shoppers understand the visual content, thereby enhancing their overall shopping experience.

Accessibility Testing: Keeping Online Stores Inclusive

To ensure that an online store is accessible to visually impaired individuals, it's important to utilize accessibility testing tools. These tools evaluate whether a website is easily usable by people with visual impairments. Conducting regular checks with these tools is essential in maintaining the website's accessibility, ensuring it provides a smooth shopping experience for all users, regardless of their abilities.

Navigation and Usability for Visually Impaired Shoppers

Enabling Keyboard Navigation for Ease of Use

For many visually impaired individuals, using a mouse to navigate a website is not practical. Enabling keyboard navigation allows them to tab through elements such as links, buttons, and forms. Properly implemented, keyboard navigation should provide a logical and intuitive flow through the website's content, making it as easy as possible for users to find what they are looking for.

Keyboard navigation, in simple terms, is a way to use a website using only the keyboard, without a mouse. This is especially helpful for people who find it difficult to use a mouse due to disabilities. By pressing keys like 'Tab', 'Enter', and arrow keys, you can move around a webpage, click links, fill out forms, and more. It's like navigating a website using a remote control, making the internet more accessible for everyone.

The Role of Voice Navigation in Assisting the Visually Impaired

Voice navigation can significantly enhance the online shopping experience for visually impaired users. By using voice commands, shoppers can search for products, add items to their cart, and check out without the need for traditional navigation methods. This technology not only provides convenience but also empowers users with greater control and autonomy.

Utilizing Screen Magnification Software for Better Visibility

Screen magnification software, much like the capabilities of OrCam Read 3, is crucial for visually impaired users to enhance their web experience. It allows users to enlarge text, images, and other content on e-commerce websites, making it more visible. For effective compatibility with tools like OrCam Read 3, it's important that websites maintain clarity and functionality even when content is magnified. This ensures that visually impaired shoppers can navigate, browse, and make purchases with confidence and ease.

Shopping Solutions: Enhancing the User Experience

Using an Accessible Shopping Cart as a Visually Impaired Shopper

For me, as a visually impaired user, having an accessible shopping cart is essential. It allows me to easily review items, change quantities, and remove products. I appreciate a cart design that integrates well with assistive technologies, giving me audio feedback as I interact with it and clear instructions for updating my cart or proceeding to checkout.

Understanding Online Shopping Through Descriptive Link Text

When shopping online, it's important that the links on a website tell me exactly where they'll lead. Descriptive link text is a big help, as it allows me to understand the purpose of each link without needing extra information. This clear guidance is crucial for a safe and enjoyable shopping experience, helping me to navigate the site confidently.

Experiencing Independence with Voice-Activated Shopping

For visually impaired shoppers, voice-activated shopping systems are incredibly valuable. These systems enable them to perform shopping tasks through voice commands, offering a hands-free experience. This technology not only simplifies the shopping process but also enhances their independence and autonomy, allowing them to make purchases simply by speaking.

Inclusive Shopping Experience for Low Vision

Technological Aids and Shopping Assistance for the Visually Impaired

Innovative Use of Voice-Activated Assistants in E-Commerce

Voice-activated assistants are revolutionizing the way visually impaired people interact with e-commerce websites. They can help users to search for products, read product descriptions, and make purchases, all through simple voice commands. Devices such as Alexa or the Amazon Echo answer questions and guide users through the website, making the shopping process more intuitive and less reliant on visual cues.

Shopping Online with Screen Readers

As a visually impaired user, screen readers are essential for online shopping. They convert the text and information on a screen into speech or braille, making it possible to understand and navigate websites. For you to have a smooth shopping experience, it's crucial that websites are fully compatible with screen readers. This compatibility allows you to shop online independently and maintain your privacy.

Empowering Yourself Through Various Assistive Technologies While Shopping

Your online shopping experience can be greatly enhanced by a range of assistive technologies, not just screen readers and voice assistants. These technologies include text-to-speech software, alternative input devices like specialized keyboards or braille displays, and the ability to customize user settings to suit your needs. By using these tools, you can gain more control over your shopping experience, which is empowering and supports your self-sufficiency.

The Importance of Inclusive Web Design

Inclusive web design is crucial for visually impaired users like us. It ensures websites are created to be accessible to everyone, regardless of how we access the web. This approach involves considering a variety of user abilities from the beginning, making sure web content is adaptable to our diverse needs and preferences.

Essential Accessibility Features for Online Shopping

For online stores, certain accessibility features are indispensable for visually impaired users. These include text descriptions for images, captions for videos, and presenting content in various ways without losing its meaning or structure. We also need enough time to read and interact with content, and it's important that the content doesn't trigger seizures. Incorporating these features makes online shopping accessible and enjoyable for us.

Continual Enhancement of Accessibility in Online Stores

For us, accessibility in online shopping is an ongoing need. Online stores should continuously review and update their sites to keep up with new technologies and emerging accessibility requirements. This means regular website audits, seeking feedback from users like us, and staying updated with the latest in accessibility guidelines and assistive technologies. This ongoing commitment to inclusivity makes a significant difference in our shopping experience.

Challenges and Solutions in Accessible E-Commerce

Common Obstacles for the Visually Impaired in Online Shopping

Visually impaired users often face several challenges when shopping online, such as navigating cluttered interfaces, interpreting ambiguous link text, and dealing with images that lack proper descriptions. These obstacles can make it difficult for them to find products, understand information, and complete purchases, leading to frustration and potential abandonment of the shopping process.

Case Studies: Successful Accessible E-Commerce Platforms

Analyzing case studies of successful accessible e-commerce platforms can provide valuable insights into best practices and innovative approaches to inclusivity. These platforms demonstrate the effective implementation of accessibility features, such as alternative text for images and compatibility with assistive technologies, which have proven to enhance the user experience for visually impaired customers.


A notable case study in the realm of accessible e-commerce is the transformation of, a leading online shoe and clothing retailer.

Background and Challenge: Zappos, known for its vast inventory and exceptional customer service, faced the challenge of making their online store accessible to all customers, including those with visual impairments. They aimed to create a shopping experience that was inclusive, efficient, and enjoyable for everyone.


  1. Alternative Text for Images: Zappos invested in providing detailed alt text for every product image. This ensured that visually impaired customers using screen readers could 'hear' what was in the images, helping them make informed decisions about products.
  2. Website Design and Navigation: The website was redesigned to be keyboard navigable, allowing users who can't use a mouse to easily move through pages. They also implemented ARIA (Accessible Rich Internet Applications) landmarks to help screen readers understand page layouts.
  3. Screen Reader Compatibility: Zappos optimized their website to be fully compatible with popular screen readers. They regularly tested their site with different screen readers to ensure a smooth experience.
  4. Customer Feedback Loop: Zappos established a feedback system where visually impaired customers could provide insights and suggestions on the website's accessibility. This feedback was crucial in making continuous improvements.


  • Increased Customer Satisfaction: Visually impaired customers reported a significantly improved shopping experience, leading to increased customer loyalty and positive word-of-mouth.
  • Broader Reach and Inclusivity: The accessibility improvements not only benefited visually impaired customers but also enhanced the overall user experience, attracting a broader customer base.
  • Recognition and Awards: Zappos received acclaim for their commitment to accessibility, setting a standard in the e-commerce industry.

Conclusion: Zappos' case study demonstrates that prioritizing accessibility in e-commerce is not just a moral obligation but a business imperative. By investing in accessible features and continually seeking feedback from visually impaired customers, Zappos enhanced its user experience, expanded its customer base, and reinforced its reputation as a customer-centric brand.

Future of E-Commerce: Predictions and Trends in Accessibility

Emerging Technologies Shaping the Future of Accessible E-Commerce

As technology evolves, so do the possibilities for accessible e-commerce. Innovations like artificial intelligence, augmented reality, and machine learning are poised to further remove barriers for visually impaired shoppers. These technologies can provide personalized shopping experiences, improve product discovery, and create more intuitive navigation methods.


In the digital marketplace, the role of e-commerce accessibility stands out as a key component of inclusive business practices. As visually impaired customers, we find that having online shopping platforms that are easily navigable and user-friendly isn’t just a benefit — it’s a necessity. This approach is not only a moral imperative but also a legal requirement, showing a brand’s commitment to inclusivity and social responsibility.

Accessibility is an ongoing commitment. It requires continuous evaluation, testing, and the incorporation of feedback from users like us. Keeping up with emerging technologies and evolving standards is crucial. By doing so, e-commerce platforms can set a positive example in the digital age, creating an environment where online shopping is a viable option for all, including those with visual impairments.

Enhanced Key Takeaways:

  • Descriptive Alt Text: Essential for helping us understand product visuals.
  • Screen Reader Compatibility: Vital for navigating and understanding site content.
  • Intuitive Keyboard Navigation: Key for those who can't use a mouse.
  • Legible Design: High contrast and large fonts improve site readability.
  • Voice-Activated Features: Enhance our independence in online shopping.
  • Legal Compliance: Following ADA and WCAG guidelines is crucial.
  • Accessibility Testing: Regular assessments ensure ongoing usability.
  • User-Friendly Shopping Carts: Simplify the process of reviewing and modifying purchases.
  • Responsive Improvement: Adjusting features based on our direct feedback.
  • Accessible Customer Support: Ensuring we get the help we need.

Incorporating these elements and maintaining a focus on inclusivity not only improves our shopping experience but also enhances the platform's appeal to a broader audience, fostering loyalty and advocacy among all customers.

Incorporating these elements makes e-commerce platforms not only suitable for visually impaired customers like us but also enhances the overall user experience, fostering loyalty and advocacy among a wider customer base.