Contact with customer service often inaccessible for people with disabilities

Contact with customer service often inaccessible for people with disabilities

Article

Contact with customer service often inaccessible for people with disabilities

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27% of the European population has a physical or cognitive disability. In the Netherlands, that number is 32%. Our webshop research shows that it is often difficult or even impossible for people with disabilities to contact a webshop’s customer service.

“We see that in half of the online shops, it is very difficult or even impossible to contact customer service. Many online shops use chatbots to make the first contact as fast as possible. Unfortunately, these chat functions often work very poorly, or not at all, with the keyboard or screen reader. We also see contact details hidden within a ‘frequently asked questions’ page. If this page is not easily accessible, you cannot always reach those details.”

Caitlin de Rooij
Accessibility Consultant

Unable to ask for help

Being able to get help through customer service is not obvious if you have a disability. Many companies choose to use only one contact method, which is often difficult or not usable at all for people with disabilities.

Chatbots, for example, are not always keyboard accessible, which means that visually or motorically impaired people who cannot use a mouse aren’t able to use them. For people who are blind, these chatbots cannot be used at all.

Companies that you can only contact by calling a telephone number are not an option for people with auditory disabilities. Moreover, there may be costs associated with these helplines.

Kim Denie (25) has been visually impaired for six months due to an eye disease. Therefore, shopping is a challenge. Visiting the shop physically brings obstacles, so she prefers to go online. This leads to a lot of frustration. Kim: “If a website is very inaccessible, but I really need something, I prefer to call the online shop. Sometimes they even charge extra for that, because it has to be arranged over the phone. So in that case I even have to pay extra to purchase the product.”

A contact form for submitting questions is also a common customer contact tool, but this form is often difficult or even impossible to use without a mouse. Often the forms contain radio buttons, selection dropdowns and checkboxes. These elements are often formatted incorrectly in the code, making them impossible to control with the keyboard.

European Accessibility Act

In June 2025, the European Accessibility Act (EAA) will come into force. This Digital Accessibility Act requires e-commerce companies to make their services digitally accessible so that more Europeans can access online services and products. In concrete terms, this means that online shops will also have to comply with accessibility guidelines (WCAG AA).

Research methodology

We examined the 15 largest online shops in the Netherlands to see how accessible they are for people with disabilities. For each online shop, 18 steps were examined, including the step “Can I ask for help via the website?”. These steps were tested with the keyboard and with the screen reader.

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