EBU E-commerce accessibility contest results

Earlier this year, EBU launched a contest within its network to promote good practices in e-commerce Accessibility. The EBU Jury composed of Jakob ROSIN (EE) Jan URBANEK (CZ) and Peter TEPLICKÝ (SK) met in October 2023 and decided to grant an equal financial reward of 2000 EUR to 3 different initiatives presented by our member associations from Lithuania, Montenegro and Ireland.

Each practice has distinct qualities that were highlighted by the jury as a good example to be encouraged and shared:

1.Always work with experts and end users.

As per the good practice presented by the Lithuanian Association of the Blind and Partially Sighted (LASS)

The collaboration between the Lithuanian Association of the Blind and Partially Sighted (LASS) and Lithuanian Railways emerged from the inaccessibility of the existing train ticketing system for individuals with visual impairments. Upon LASS's appeal to the responsible authority (IVPK), an assurance was received that a new, universally accessible train ticketing website was in development. Subsequently, Lithuanian Railways sought LASS's expertise in ensuring accessibility for the blind and partially sighted. LASS conducted a thorough examination of the demo version, identifying numerous accessibility issues in the initial stages and proposing solutions. A prolonged exchange followed, involving corrections, re-evaluations, and clarifications on Web Content Accessibility Guidelines compatibility. Through remote meetings and extensive communication over four months, the collaborative effort with Lithuanian Railways' programmers resulted in the successful resolution of deficiencies, achieving full accessibility compliance for the visually impaired on the entire website.

The importance of involving both experts and end users in the development of accessible websites and mobile apps is emphasised in the context of Lithuania's approach. Recognising that one-size-fits-all solutions could be ineffective in accessibility, this example underscores the need for understanding how individuals with disabilities interact with technology. Accessibility experts, with profound knowledge of assistive technologies, play a crucial role in addressing technical challenges and ensuring user-friendly solutions. Lithuania is praised for its collaboration with people with disabilities and accessibility specialists, showcasing the value of early involvement in the development process, being part of the project before it was published. The contribution suggests that Lithuania's success in beta testing could have been even more significant if accessibility considerations were integrated from the project's outset, emphasising the cost-effectiveness and efficiency of addressing accessibility issues early in the development phase. The overall message is that prioritising accessibility from the beginning leads to better outcomes and more cost-effective solutions, highlighting the ongoing need for awareness and education among developers.

2.Use a standardised approach

As per the good practice presented by the Union of the Blind of Montenegro

For nearly a decade, the Union of the Blind of Montenegro has actively addressed e-accessibility issues, collaborating with the Ministry of Public Administration. In 2017, guidelines for creating accessible e-documents in line with web accessibility standards were established, primarily targeting government employees. A 2019 Memorandum of Cooperation outlined joint efforts through the Open Partnership Programme to enhance e-accessibility for visually impaired individuals. In 2020, monitoring of guidelines application led to the creation of e-accessibility standards regulations by the Ministry of Public Administration. These regulations mandate compliance for public sector bodies, government agencies, and others, emphasising accessibility for individuals with disabilities. According to Union of the Blind of Montenegro the Government of Montenegro's website is now fully accessible for the blind and partially sighted. The Union's active involvement in website development set an example of good practice, prompting other institutions to seek information on digital accessibility training courses. The Union's monitoring extended to local self-governments, healthcare institutions, judicial authorities, and more, resulting in positive adaptations by entities like Montenegro's airports and the University. Ongoing efforts include the State Election Commission's website improvement, marking significant progress towards full inclusion for the visually impaired, thanks to the Union of the Blind's impactful initiatives.

The entry from Montenegro emphasises the importance of adopting a standardised approach in creating accessible websites and apps, paralleling the creative aspects of design with the meticulous attention required for accessibility. This standardised approach ensures compatibility with various assistive technologies, expanding usability for a wide range of users and promoting equal access. Despite the focus on governmental sites in Montenegro's contribution, it suggests the need for broader coverage, including commercial websites, to enhance independence for individuals with visual impairments. The positive collaboration between the NGO sector, government, and private companies in Montenegro is noted, emphasising the value of guidelines as a foundation for accessibility improvements and the consideration of both blind and partially sighted individuals as distinct customer groups.

3.Use training

As per the good practice presented by Vision Ireland

Vision Ireland and Inclusion & Accessibility Labs have collaborated with over 180 clients, including prominent eCommerce entities in Ireland such as Dublin Airport Authority, Ryanair, SuperValu, and others. Their services encompass Digital Accessibility Consultancy, Manual Accessibility Audits, and comprehensive accessibility training sessions aimed at fostering disability awareness among website developers. Their advocacy for the European Accessibility Act has led to invitations to the Irish Oireachtas, where they provided accessibility training not only to the Irish Government but also to visiting delegations from Wales and Scotland. As a result of their influence in the Irish and European accessibility sector, they are consistently sought after by eCommerce organisations looking to achieve Web Content Accessibility Guidelines compliance under the European Accessibility Act requirements. The Guinness Storehouse, acknowledging a legal deadline of 2025, has embraced their services due to the advocacy of Vision Ireland and IA Labs for disability rights. Many organisations, becoming more inclusive, have experienced increased market share by offering barrier-free access to their services. Vision Ireland and Inclusion & Accessibility Labs are committed to expanding their impact and assisting more eCommerce entities in achieving inclusivity.

The Irish example underscores the significance of training teams in accessibility practices to create genuinely user-friendly digital products. Through training, developers, designers, testers, and content creators gain the knowledge and skills to understand diverse user needs and overcome accessibility barriers, fostering empathy and enhancing the user experience for individuals of all abilities. Ireland's approach involves extending accessibility training beyond the government to include private companies. The text emphasises the importance of making accessibility integral to the design and development process, cultivating a culture of inclusivity. While the contribution may lack specific details transferable as know-how, Ireland's success lies in voluntary engagement from both government and commercial clients, highlighting the efficacy of awareness-raising efforts for long-term impact on accessibility.

To go beyond these three valuable examples provided by EBU members, here are a few more insights on best practices in e-commerce accessibility:

  1. Prioritise Mobile Apps: Recognise the increasing importance of mobile apps over traditional websites. Ensure that your mobile app is not only technically accessible but also provides a seamless user experience, particularly focusing on efficient navigation for users with visual impairments.
  2. Consider Downloadable Documents: Acknowledge the role of downloadable documents in overall accessibility. Ensure that any documents provided are accessible, catering to various disabilities and enhancing the overall inclusivity of your e-commerce platform.
  3. Reevaluate Public vs. Private Classification: Instead of distinguishing between public and private sectors, consider the impact of your business. Use company size as a criterion, recognising that even private companies providing essential services may fall under public sector obligations in specific cases, such as healthcare or public transport.
  4. Align Accessibility with User Experience (UX): Understand that accessibility and good UX go hand in hand. Simply meeting technical accessibility standards may not suffice. Prioritise a user-friendly design that considers the ease of navigation and information retrieval, ensuring a positive experience for all users.
  5. Learn from Technical Notes: Emphasise the importance of technical notes, which highlight the necessity of combining accessibility with good user experience. Avoid overcomplicating interfaces, even if they are technically accessible, and focus on making the interaction smooth and efficient.
  6. Address Specific User Challenges: Examine specific user challenges. Address issues like the need for repetitive swiping, ensuring a streamlined experience, especially for users with disabilities.
  7. Promote European Accessibility Act Adoption: Emphasise the adoption of the European Accessibility Act and inform e-commerce owners about key dates and directives. Make it clear how compliance with European Accessibility Act can positively impact the accessibility of digital products and enhance the user experience.
  8. Integrate Accessibility Throughout Development: Prioritising accessibility from the start leads to better outcomes and more cost-effective solutions than retrofitting systems. Stress that accessibility is an ongoing process integrated into all phases of web and mobile app development. Avoid treating accessibility as a separate entity; instead, make it an integral part of every process to ensure sustained inclusivity.
  9. Engage Organisations of People with Disabilities: Recognise the invaluable role of organisations representing people with disabilities. Collaborate with these organisations as they possess both knowledge and end users, contributing to the transformation of your digital products into truly accessible ones.
  10. Verify Expert Certifications: When working with accessibility experts, ensure they hold certifications validating their knowledge. Additionally, confirm that their expertise covers a broad spectrum of disabilities, ensuring comprehensive accessibility solutions.
  11. Highlight Benefits Beyond Compliance: Communicate the broader benefits of accessibility integration, including improved SEO, a larger customer base among older demographics, a better overall user experience, and an enhanced company reputation in the eyes of all customers.

Incorporating these practices into e-commerce strategy not only ensures compliance with accessibility standards but also contributes to a more inclusive, user-friendly, and successful digital presence.