We all have moments when we know that we need to part ways with a process, a software, a website/email/social media platform… something that we’ve used to help get our business done, but that is no longer working for us.

This past weekend I completed converting to a new e-commerce platform for Big Gay Media, which is the publishing imprint for me and my husband. I’d used the previous platform for more than a year, but over the past few months I’ve been migrating because the site had some significant accessibility issues and the company wasn’t in a hurry to fix them.

The Problem

Back in January, I sent a detailed email to the e-commerce platform about the accessibility issues I found. My list was relatively short since I’m not a developer. I reported things I could identify with a screen reader.

Here are some highlights I provided to them so you can understand the barriers someone interacting with the site could have:

  • Book links: In the product listing on the homepage, visually there was an image of the book cover with the title under it. The cover and title both linked to the book’s detail page. Instead of reading out the title of the book, a screen reader user heard a five letter code, such as “jREyp.” That’s not meaningful at all. Imagine a page with a dozen books and all the links reading out that way. While there are ways the screen reader user could further investigate the page to understand what book went with a link, they should not have spend the extra time or energy to figure it out.
  • Alternative text for images: I couldn’t enter alternative text for the images I uploaded. For a screen reader user accessing an image list, they received long filenames, such as “o_1f71cin8tt2f179s1ed51dlg136lr.png” instead of something meaningful. Since I was uploading only book covers, what I wanted was the option to leave the alternative text empty since the covers would be decorative. Instead, screen reader users had to listen to gibberish for the images I uploaded and presented with products.
  • Social media icon links: These were links in the header, one to Facebook and one to Twitter. Each link presented to the screen reader as “WriterJeffAdams,” which is my handle on both platforms. To make these meaningful, they should read out this way “WriterJeffAdams on Twitter” and “WriterJeffAdams on Facebook.” For the screen reader user, even if they understood “WriterJeffAdams” to be a social media handle, they wouldn’t know which platform it related to.
  • Headings: The platform did not organize headings on the homepage correctly. There was no Heading 1. A Heading 2 was present, which was the banner at the top of the home page: “Welcome to Jeff’s Store.” Each of the books listed on the home page had the titles set to Heading 4. There was no way for me to designate Headings. This isn’t necessarily a barrier for someone, but it’s not good formatting and might lead to customers wondering if something’s missing.

The Response

When I discovered these issues, and knew I couldn’t fix them through the settings I had access to, I emailed the company. While they appreciated the information, they would not fix the issues anytime soon. They said, “We’re a small team and things unfortunately tend to take longer than we’d like so not quite sure when we’ll be able to release these updates. Will get back to you in future as soon as we’ve finished. Apologies for the delay, wish I had better news.”

Sadly, this time of response is all too common. Many consider accessibility as something to be done later. If someone interacting visually with the site encountered five letter codes instead of product names, they would report it as a bug and it would get fixed immediately. They shouldn’t treat the bug differently because of who it impacts.

The Solution

The only way to solve the problem was to switch platforms. I picked Shopify because I know accessibility is important to them. Not only does Shopify have an extensive accessibility policy on its site, I’m also familiar with them through my work with UsableNet.

I set the initial store up before Content for Everyone published because I could not sell a book about accessibility on an inaccessible site. From there, it took about six weeks to get the rest of my books loaded to the site. I also had to set up the integration with BookFunnel, which is the service that delivers the ebooks and audiobooks. You can see the result at the new Big Gay Media store.

Your Next Step

It’s important for creatives to be aware of how the platforms they use manage accessibility. You don’t want your customers running into barriers when they’re purchasing from you, interacting with a social media post, checking out your website, or reading your email newsletter.

In Content for Everyone, we tell you how to check the accessibility of the tools and platforms you use, while also keeping in mind that you may not be technical. It’s an excellent skill to have, and easy enough to do once you know how. That way you can be sure you’re serving your customers, and potential customers, with the best experience possible.

One last note: I went back and forth as I wrote this about stating which e-commerce platform I left. I decided not to. I will say this: If you’re looking for an e-commerce provider, or any other platform to use for your business, always check for the company’s accessibility statement. If they don’t have one, I’d recommend not working with them. While having one doesn’t necessarily mean the site/tools will be accessible, not having the statement is always a red flag.