Blind spot: Top retailers are fingered for flawed sites

angry laptopHalfords, Carphone Warehouse, Wilko and New Look have been exposed as having the least accessible UK websites for those who suffer from visual impairments – up to 5 million Brits – in a new analysis of 50 of the most popular UK retail sites.

Over 2 million people in the UK suffer from vision loss – with an additional 3 million people suffering from colour blindness – which can make the simplest online tasks a challenge.

Carried out by web hosting provider LCN, the analysis shows clothing retailer H&M’s homepage topped the table for accessible websites, registering a perfect score of 100 on Google Lighthouse – the only site to cater for all types of visual impairments.

H&M was followed closely by Laura Ashely (99), Beauty Bay and B&Q (both 98) and Sainsbury’s (96).
At the other end of the table, motoring retailer Halfords’ homepage scored the lowest, at 49 overall, despite other sites posting worse scores across specific impairment categories.

Each homepage studied was also assessed for which type of impairment they may be neglecting. Most of Halfords’ homepage issues were related to accessibility problems for screen reader and colour-blind users. According to Wave by WebAim, there were a total of 51 homepage issues for screen reader users and 32 colour contrast issues.

Even more concerning, other sites such as Superdrug (193 colour contrast issues) and Boots (177 screen reader issues) performed worse for these visual impairment categories.

The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) are designed to help websites meet accessibility standards for colour blind users. These state web pages should strive for a contrast ratio of 4:5:1 for normal text and 3:1 for large text to pass level AA. To pass level AAA there needs to be a 7:1 contrast ratio for normal text and 4:5:1 for large text. For graphics, the ratio should be 3:1.

For screen reader users, problems occur when the site is improperly coded. Missing, empty or duplicate attributes in the site’s code mean certain elements cannot be read aloud. Broken ARIA attributes (which help streamline a site into assistive screen reader technology) also cause problems.

A final visual impairment to consider is those with partial vision, who may struggle reading small or low-resolution text. The current guidelines recommend having website text sized at a minimum of 10 pixels. Carphone Warehouse ranks as the worst homepage performer in this category, with 32 instances of text lower than 10 pixels.

Across all sites, it seems screen readers are the most neglected accessibility consideration, with an average of 26.3 issues per homepage. This is closely followed by issues for colour blind users (15.8 contrast issues per homepage) and partially sighted users (4.3 small text scenarios per homepage).

If these issues are not immediately addressed, these sites will be left only partially accessible to those with visual impairments, ultimately leaving millions frustrated and confused.

The Covid-19 pandemic has put online shopping at the forefront of retail due to store closures, with its market share reaching 35.2% in January 2021. Yet not all shoppers have an equal opportunity to reap its benefits, with many sites lacking when it comes to accessibility for the visually impaired.

LCN front-end web developer Phil Dunsford said: “Moving forward, accessibility for disabled users should be at the forefront of any web designers’ goals. Beyond the obvious moral responsibility and emphasis on equality, it is in a retail business’ best interests to make their site accessible to all.

“Five million people in the UK have some sort of visual impairment that impacts their ability to use and buy products on the web. This is a significant customer base to be neglecting. Especially as many of these changes can be made quickly and easily by developers.”

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