Our UX researcher Sarah started her journey with Kaufland e-commerce as a working student. The company supported her in every way possible by sponsoring her master thesis about web accessibility. Because this is a topic which is highly relevant not only for our online marketplace but also for everyone being active online. We asked her a couple of questions about her thesis.
Hi Sarah, what was the topic of your master thesis?
The topic of the thesis I wrote for graduating my UX design master was about web accessibility and how UX design can improve the experience of visually impaired people on online marketplaces.
Why did you choose this topic for your master thesis?
The first time I had a closer look at the topic of web accessibility was when the COVID-19 pandemic started. There were several global restrictions and regional lockdowns, the internet offered one of the few options to gather information, buy essential products and stay in touch with your loved ones. But for some people it wasn’t possible to do those things due to the lacking accessibility of websites and online services. From this time on, I couldn’t stop thinking about how unfair and excluding the internet is, even though the idea of the world wide web was to enable everyone access to it.
Accessibility is a recognized issue in public spaces: There are accessible sidewalks, traffic lights, or ramps in front of public institutions. However, accessibility online is often not considered, even though the internet is referred to as a public space. The internet in 2021 (when I wrote my master thesis) was still a relatively inaccessible environment. In order to find out the current state of web accessibility and how user experience design could improve it, I decided to write my thesis about this topic. One big part of it was the case study of Kaufland.de and how accessible our online marketplace was for users with visual impairments.
Since I decided to work fulltime for Kaufland e-commerce after I got my master’s degree, I chose to include the case study and to use it as a starting point to push this topic within the company and continue working on the accessibility of Kaufland.de in my role as a UX Researcher.
Why is this topic so important?
Being able to access information technologies and systems is a declared human right. However, still more than 70 percent of websites are not accessible to everyone (Wettemann&White, 2019). Around 2,2 billion people worldwide have a visual impairment, and the rate is constantly rising, mostly due to the increasing age of our population (World Health Organization, 2018). Having visual impairments is just one out of many factors that can impact the ability to effortlessly move around the web. However, web accessibility does not only affect the experience of people with disabilities. I like the example of comparing web accessibility to a low curb, which was invented to enable people with wheelchairs to cross a street, but also cyclists, parents pushing a stroller or delivery persons with hand trucks benefit from it. If we improve the accessibility in our environment, no matter if online of offline, everyone will profit from those changes.
What is our vision for the topic when it comes to our online marketplace?
After presenting my master thesis about web accessibility at Kaufland e-commerce, the feedback was great. A lot of colleagues who followed along my presentation were motivated to apply accessibility standards to their daily work. Since all online shops and marketplaces need to be fully accessible by law in 2025, Kaufland e-commerce has decided to take a more systematical approach on fulfilling accessibility standards across all areas of the company. We are currently setting up an initiative that will concentrate on making Kaufland.de accessible for everyone.
How would customers and we as a company benefit from this?
Like mentioned above, everyone benefits from an accessible environment. Generally, there are three different types of disabilities:
- The situational disability, for example when you’re holding a baby,
- the temporary disability, for example when having an arm injury,
- and the permanent disability, for example when missing an arm.
Web accessibility caters the needs of all those types of disabilities and enables everyone the access to a service or platform. Additionally, web accessibility standards and usability standards have a lot in common, which means, if we improve web accessibility, the usability of a product will automatically be improved as well.
Do you want to say anything else?
For me accessibility is not about following certain guidelines only. It is about understanding how people with disabilities use the internet, being more sensitive and inclusive as well as understanding my own barriers and prejudices and acting upon those.
While writing my thesis, I always had a quote of Regine M. Gilbert in mind, who is a user experience designer and passionate about accessibility:
Barriers are not just physical. Attitudes found in society, based on prejudice or stereotypes […], also disable people from having equal opportunities to be part of society.