The Importance of Making Digital Receipts Accessible

We’ve all been there: a beloved piece of furniture, or a crucial part of our home office set-up, suddenly breaks or stops working. You go to your computer to search for a replacement or to find your receipt. Maybe it’s buried in your inbox, or if you’re lucky, the manufacturer has an easy way to find your order on their website or mobile app.

Identifying and utilizing a digital receipt isn’t seamless to begin with. For people with disabilities, however, it can be outright impossible without proper digital accessibility.

Digital receipts are the new norm, increasing at a staggering rate thanks to the adoption of retail shopping applications and websites, increasing use of food purchase applications, and rising preferences for online shopping.

The same essential principles for website accessibility apply to digital receipts. Without full implementation of these principles across each stage of customer touchpoints, the vast audience of consumers with disabilities can’t properly engage with your business.

An inaccessible digital receipt makes it difficult to impossible for a person who is blind to keep important financial records. This means they will likely have a negative experience interacting with your company.

In this article, we’ll introduce accessible digital receipts and how to ensure they’re usable and compliant.

What is a Digital Receipt?

Let’s go back to basics for a moment: a digital receipt is the equivalent of a paper receipt but sent as an email, including the price, what you purchased, where you purchased it from, and tax. Digital receipts are often a bit “fancier” and include graphics, decoration, and social media links.

In theory, digital receipts have benefits for both the sender and the recipients.

For the sender, the vendor who is providing a proof of purchase to their customer, digital receipts are cheap (no paper or postage costs), efficient (no printing), easy to generate and send (typically as part of an ecommerce or accounting system) and convenient to store (digital filing).

Most of those are benefits for the recipient, too: no paper to fiddle with, easy to receive by email, and easy to store. However, if the customer has a disability, it’s imperative that digital receipts are fully accessible. Otherwise, like the receipt our chair buyer received, they are useless.

It’s important to remember that receipts are legal documents. They are the customer’s proof of purchase and may have to be produced in a variety of circumstances, from claiming tax deductions, to cancelling subscriptions to requesting product refunds and exchanges.

So, let’s look at why digital receipts might not be accessible and how they can be made accessible.

Making Digital Receipts Accessible

There are three main formats for digital receipts, and they each have potential accessibility traps: PDF documents, word processor documents and emails.

The PDF is the most prevalent format for issuing digital receipts and there are good reasons for this. The look of PDFs is always consistent, regardless of the device and operating system they are presented on. In fact, it’s in the name. That’s the main point of using PDFs—they are a Portable Document Format designed to look the same everywhere.

The other big advantage is that digital receipts can be easily printed out. So, if your personal records still rely on paper, you can print your digital receipt and store it with your other documents.

However, digital receipts are often inaccessible because they are primarily in PDF format. Developed by Adobe in 1992 mainly for desktop publishing, PDFs are great for using different text fonts, and embedding images, web links, form fields and digital signatures. Because they use vector graphics, text and images can be enlarged without becoming pixelated, and they can even contain multimedia.

PDFs were not, however, designed to be accessible to blind users. People who are blind or with low-vision rely on assistive technology like screen readers to translate a PDF receipt into an audible format. In order for screen reader users to understand the PDF receipt, the content in the PDF must be well structured: tagged and organized with proper headings. These steps allow the content to be read out loud in the right order. The structure of a digital receipt’s content is crucial, especially since the content is often formatted in columns and tables.

In addition, informative images must be given alt text, the language of the document must be defined, page navigation and focus must be consistent and meaningful, and the security measures that control how the document can be displayed or edited must allow screen reader access.

Often, PDFs are generated from another format such as word processing documents like MS Word, and then converted to PDF before being sent as an email. In those cases, it’s important that the original document is made as accessible as possible.

However, accounting and ecommerce systems often skip this step and generate digital receipts directly in PDF format. In these cases, it’s incumbent on that software to make the PDFs accessible. Some applications are better at this than others. Vendors should test and look for software that is aware of accessibility and generates accessible digital receipts.

If you’re using proprietary software like Acrobat, you can draw on the very good accessibility tools available in that application to ensure the digital receipts are accessible.

If the accounting or ecommerce software uses a more generic PDF maker, it can often be difficult or impossible to make the system’s digital receipts accessible.

For more information about making PDFs accessible, see Adobe’s web page on the topic, and the W3C’s page on specific techniques.

For information about making digital receipts in MS Word format accessible, either before they are converted to PDF or before they are sent direct to the customer, take a look at the relevant Microsoft web page.

Some digital receipts are sent as email content, and there are also guidelines on how to make emails accessible.

The bottom line is that digital receipts are important legal documents, and they must be made accessible to people with disabilities.

To learn more about the nitty-gritty of PDF accessibility, check out our PDF Remediation training courses.

Categories: Accessibility Strategy, World of Accessibility
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