Where is Shopify’s Social Activism When It Comes to Accessibility?

It’s been several months since I’ve looked at Shopify’s web website for accessibility information. And with Shopify playing such a central role in ADA website litigation, I wanted to see if there were any updates. Most of my prospective client calls are with Shopify website owners, so I went back and I’ve gone through and looked at their website and I don’t see any advancement in terms of accessibility.

Currently I am sharing the screen of the Shopify homepage and I’m down at the footer and there is no accessibility statement. There is nothing on accessibility. There is a section labeled Global Impact and there are links for sustainability Social Impact, Build Black, Build Native and Research but nothing on accessibility. And wouldn’t you think you would have a Build Accessible link or something to that effect on there?

But I’m going to go ahead and click the Social Impact link and it says entrepreneurship is an opportunity for everyone. The future becomes reality by advocating for underrepresented communities globally, making our company and industry reflect, etc. Then it says removing barriers to entrepreneurship. Commerce is a powerful force in the world. We remove barriers to entrepreneurship so that anyone can leverage its power to create and we go on and on.

Another section says fostering a diverse tech ecosystem. The technology industry needs more voices. We are focused on creating equitable access to education and career opportunities that support people who will power the future of global commerce. And then it says making resources available to all. To increase entrepreneurship, we have to ensure that all tools and support needed to succeed are accessible to anyone.

So I’m going to click on the link that says explore our learning initiatives. And then it says access to learning opportunities is essential for entrepreneurs. Our focus is on maximizing any entrepreneur’s chance of success by opening access to as many resources as possible, saying all the keywords that would lead to talking about digital accessibility, except for that’s not what these pages are about. They’re about entrepreneurship and this general feel-good social cause. They’re saying a lot, but they’re also saying a little because there’s just not much of substance on these pages.

And so they’ve got this open learning program. They’re working with colleges and universities to develop digital learning experiences, but nothing on. I don’t see anything specifically on accessibility, although they’ve mentioned access many of times. Nothing on accessibility. So nothing from their homepages, no links. I continue to look around and there is an Accessibility Best Practices for Shopify themes. So I have this document pulled up. So this is some documentation on how to increase accessibility. And there’s some good information on there. It’s not extensive, but there is some good information.

They also have an accessibility policy. And so this policy, it looks like it’s a result of a requirement of the Ontarians for Disabilities Act. And it says feedback process. Shopify welcomes any feedback as we use to provide services to persons with disabilities. And then it says accessibility team. And the country is Ontario. So this is about AODA compliance, right? Because number twelve, the number twelve heading says Request for AODA Compliance documents. I don’t know if this is there’s another page on accessibility for themes. So there’s some information on accessibility for themes. It’s not as extensive as the other page, but that appears to be it.

And then we have the Shopify App Store, which still houses a number of overlay widgets that are in this case, I think they’d be called apps or plugins. And so there are any number of overlay widgets on here. But this gives the idea, the false impression that these overlay widgets can make a Shopify website accessible, that they can make it ADA compliant, WCAG conformant, when if you’re watching this channel, you know that that is not the case.

So there are all these apps, but they give Shopify website owners, Shopify customers this impression that they can make a website accessible, ADA compliant with these overlay widgets. And in fact, I have a tweet pulled up, and this tweet thread is from Austen Allred. And so Austen and I’m just going to click hover over his name. Austen is the co-founder and CEO of Bloom Tech, the school that invests in you. So he has 282.4 thousand followers. And on January 27, 2022, he wrote, my sister’s small business got a letter saying someone is suing her for her Shopify site not being compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Her lawyer is telling her to pay the $10,000 settlement.

And then he also replies to his tweet, it was not a lawsuit, just a letter. There are only a couple of employees. It’s all fixed now. And then he writes, it was fixed by installing a Shopify extension plugin. Whatever Shopify calls them, took 30 seconds. And then someone else says, shouldn’t Shopify be able to help with making her website accessible? So this is someone who is tech-savvy. They went with the overlay option, and presumably in part because Shopify is putting these plugins on their App Store and they’re giving them credibility.

And so this is what’s happening right now. And I’m recording this on June 20, 2023. And Shopify, their customers have been sued so many times for accessibility. So many times. Shopify website owners might be the most targeted defendants in website accessibility litigation. I have talked to so many of them. And so for Shopify, really, what the response should be is to make their website builder platform so that you can make a website as accessible as possible outside, out of the box.

And primarily this refers to I’m referring to interactive elements, making sure that those interactive elements have appropriate name, state roles and or values where applicable. Right? But it goes beyond that. It really goes into making sure your platform is as accessible as possible, and then prompting website owners where additional accessibility or accessibility could be involved with specific things that they upload, add, edit, etc. As a website builder platform, you want to do all you can. It’s understandable.

And everybody should know that because someone can customize a website and they’re going to upload content that we can’t. As a platform, you can’t do everything to make sure that website is accessible. Part of this is on the website owner, right? But then also a significant part is on these website builders, which have tremendous resources. They’re very tech-savvy. They have the developers, they have the money. I looked and the last reported revenue on Google is $2.93 billion. Shopify is a publicly traded company and we’re still at this point where their website owners are being sued.

And then the downstream effect is that people with disabilities are harmed because all of these websites, right, all of these popular e-commerce websites, are still missing basic accessibility considerations. With the lack of those considerations, it is either impeding access altogether or it’s causing a significant degradation of experience, or it’s just a stacking inconveniences, whether they be minor or mild or fair or significant. The point being is that these websites can be made more accessible and we can improve access to people with disabilities.

I’m not saying that Shopify must do everything, but they need to take stronger action and they definitely need to have an accessibility statement on their website. So this is the state of Shopify and accessibility. At least outwardly obvious, right? We can’t know much more than what is made public, but so far, with these pages and the resources provided, Shopify still has a lot of work to do. And really it should have been done a long time ago, because this has been a problem that has been ongoing for years.

And I think Shopify, if they really want to, they have these links that are for social programs, social causes, making sure there is access. I’m perplexed. I don’t know why they haven’t done more for accessibility.