December 02, 2009
by Joseph C. Dolson
Ecommerce merchants spend a lot of time thinking about statistics. They try to gauge who is visiting their website, what products consumers are most interested in, and how consumers are finding those products. Without knowing about their audience, merchants have a difficult time marketing their site and products.
The physical disabilities of a merchant’s visitors are a factor that he or she should consider.
I often hear business owners claim that their sites aren’t used by people with disabilities, so they don’t need to pay attention to web accessibility. But there’s no basis for such claims because the merchant can’t possibly know this information. The tracked profile of a user with a disability, via a typical analytics package, is identical to anybody else using that browser.
General statistics about disabilities, however, are extensive. Ecommerce merchants would be well-served to consider these statistics as they work to better understand their audience of potential customers.
Disability in the United States
According to a 2005 report from the United States Census Bureau, there were approximately 54 million people with disabilities in the U.S. at that time, constituting 18.7 percent of the total population. All disabilities are included in this figure, some of which have no impact on your website. Leg amputations and paraplegia, for example, would be irrelevant to website accessibility. There are statistics, however, which focus on more specific problems.
The most commonly discussed disabilities affecting website accessibility are sight and hearing impairments. These specific impairments encompass 6.8 percent of the population age 15 years and older – and climb to encompass 21.3 percent of the population when you look specifically at the population over 65, according to the 2005 report. Eight-point-two percent of this same population is listed as having difficulty grasping objects– which affects the use of a mouse.
The Baby Boomer generation, born between 1945 and 1964 (according to the U.S. Census Bureau,) is going to cross that 65-year barrier in 2010. Keep in mind that Baby Boomers created the Internet, for the most part. This is a web-savvy generation and it represents one of the largest single demographics in the United States.
Disabled Consumers Outside the United States
There are resources available to determine disabled users outside of the U.S., too. One principal source for international disability statistics is available from the United Nations. Many countries also maintain their own online databases for statistical disability information. The United Kingdom and Australia are examples of this.
Countries assemble statistics in a variety of ways, so drawing correlations between one country and another is not usually possible. Different countries use different definitions of disability and measurement methodologies also vary.
What Disabled Consumers Mean to Your Ecommerce Business
Merchants that don’t take make web accessibility a priority may assume that they’re ignoring a tiny minority of the population. But even a conservative estimate reveals there are 15.5 million potential customers with hearing or sight impairments.
“People with disabilities” may include those who were your customers last month but–due to deteriorating eye sight, for example– may go somewhere else next time they need your products. It’s a group of people with the financial resources and knowledge to be a major buying force on the web – whether they buy for themselves or purchase gifts for their children and grandchildren.