Did you get a letter from an attorney about your website's ADA compliance? Or, maybe you've just realized the importance and value of making your website more accessible for your customers and prospective customers.
The American's with Disabilities Act (ADA) was initially created with only guidelines and requirements for physical building layouts and features but has since expanded to include accessibility for digital properties as well, although the requirements are somewhat vague.
Here's a breakdown of what you need to know about ADA compliance for websites and how to make your website ADA compliant.
What Businesses Need ADA Compliant Websites?
All commercial websites that are available for the public to access. This is due to the Title III of the ADA.
What Are Possible Punishments For Non-Compliance?
Title III of the ADA prohibits any discrimination on the basis of disability in places of public access. As technology has progressed, websites have fallen under the umbrella of public places and access since anyone can access them at any time. While the law doesn’t explicitly specify websites, the Department of Justice and U.S. courts have interpreted Title III to be applicable to websites. All of this said, legal actions are by discretion of plaintiffs who seek it, and not by law enforcement agencies. Depending on the outcome of the court’s findings, the punishments are usually financial settlements, attorney fees, and loss of the defendant's time.
What is an ADA compliant website?
An ADA compliant website is one that adheres to the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) and ADA guidelines. These guidelines are published by the World Wide Web Consortium, also known as W3C. The WCAG explains how to properly design websites to be more accessible to those with disabilities. In addition, these are the guidelines and discrepancies that the court system will review, if there are grounds for a legal case as a result of ADA noncompliance. It should be duly noted that ADA is the law and WCAG are simply guidelines to assist in abiding said laws.
Why do I need a compliant website?
Many website designers make the mistake of building websites with the mentality that everyone will access the website the same way. Just as buildings with poorly designed layouts that make it difficult or inaccessible for those with disabilities to enter, the same is applicable to a poorly designed website. Websites that are not compatible with screen readers, vision impaired assistive technologies, and so on are examples of websites that are noncompliant. Properly designed ADA compliant websites acknowledge these potential situations and proactively accommodate for assistive technology programs, devices, and their users. However, it should be said, making a website accessible should not be done just to avoid legal troubles, but to offer accessibility to all because it’s the right thing to do.
How do I make my website ADA compliant?
The first few questions or so to ask yourself or your webmaster are: Do the photographs on my site have alt tags? Do the videos have captions? Are there PDFs for download? These are to be discussed first since they are usually the first barriers when it comes to ADA noncompliance. The reason for this is because screen readers and other assistive technologies, such as refreshable braille displays, have trouble viewing this type of content. They cannot discern what the information is, even if there is text within the image.
Video & Multimedia
Therefore, all images and photographs need to have alternative text to help those with vision impairments to better understand the content they are accessing. For example, if there is a picture of a woman working at a computer, the alternative text should say, “business woman sitting at her desk and working on her computer.” The alternative text should be brief yet informative.
All videos should have captions for those who are hard of hearing. In addition to captions, videos should be transcribed to have audio descriptions for those who have low vision or are blind.
Alternative solutions for PDF is to also include Rich Text Formats (RTF) since they are most compatible with assistive technologies.
Color and Text Size
When it comes to aesthetics for a website, the default preferences in color, layout, and size can be an issue for many with visual disabilities. It is important to design websites in a way that will allow users with visual impairments and disabilities to easily access and interact with your website with their computer’s default settings. In addition to assistive technologies, there are plugins, if you are utilizing WordPress, that can be installed to ensure visitors can change the contrast, color, and text size to their liking.
- Include a “skip navigation” link at the top of webpages that allows people who use screen readers to ignore navigation links and skip directly to webpage content;
- Minimize blinking, flashing, or other distracting features;
- If they must be included, ensure that moving, blinking, or auto-updating objects or pages may be paused or stopped;
- Design online forms to include descriptive HTML tags that provide persons with disabilities the information they need to complete and submit the forms;
- Include visual notification and transcripts if sounds automatically play;
- Provide a second, static copy of pages that are auto-refreshing or that require a timed-response;
- Use titles, context, and other heading structures to help users navigate complex pages or elements (such as webpages that use frames).
Developing a Plan
Now knowing the types of content barriers and the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, it’s time to put an action plan in place. If you are building a new website, closely develop and implement these new practices to make your website is accessible as possible. If you are making an existing website more accessible, be sure to carefully review all html, images, and content. In the meantime, display on a public and accessible page your plan and how you are working to make your website more accessible. Let them know the timeframe of your updates and the accessibility guidelines you will be updating. Lastly, if updating your site to be ADA compliant is going to take some time, prioritize your website's high traffic pages first.