The Americans with Disabilities Act was originally passed in 1990, though interpretations of its requirements have substantially changed over the past few decades. While originally the law was directed towards making physical changes to brick-and-mortar businesses, such as installing ramps for wheelchairs, the law is now being applied to the digital environment as well. All businesses need to heed the importance of bringing their websites into compliance with ADA guidelines and ensuring websites are Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) compliant. The good news is that performing an ADA compliant website test is reasonable and mitigation does not have to be difficult if you are proactive.
The trickiest part about making websites ADA compliant is that there are no explicit legal guidelines for what is required. Despite this lack of guidance, this has not stopped several complainants from bringing lawsuits against major companies for failing to live up to the spirit of the law. If you want to steer clear of any trouble and strive to provide your customers with an online experience that works for them, then knowing the best practices for website ADA compliance is a must.
The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG)
The web content accessibility guidelines cover a number of recommendations for making web content more accessible and WCAG compliant. Adhering to these guidelines will ensure that your content will be accessible to more people with disabilities such as:
- Blindness and low vision
- Deafness and hearing loss
- Learning disabilities
- Cognitive limitations
- Limited movement
- Speech Disabilities
To assess whether a website is accessible to people with any one or a combination of the disabilities listed above, U.S courts are using the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines as the standard requirement for ADA compliance. There are 38 requirements in total that must be satisfied for your website to be deemed accessible and ADA compliant. With this in mind, let’s look at what goes into making an ADA compliant website.
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How To Assess What Needs To Be Done For Your Website To Be WCAG Compliant
First, start by auditing your website to see how you are currently doing when it comes to ADA compliance. Using a screen reader program and various online tools will allow you to get an idea of where you stand in terms of accessibility. Knowing where your website is lacking will also allow you to budget your time and resources depending on how substantial the changes that you need to make are.
However, you will also need to have an intuitive understanding of what some practical ADA recommendations are. The best place to find this information are:
- The ADA website.
- The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) are also an invaluable resource for understanding what is required.
ADA Compliant Website Checklist
Generally speaking, the guidelines fall into four categories. Remember that these are simply guidelines and there are no explicit legal rules yet developed for ADA compliance for websites. However, your business website will need to be:
Looking at these characteristics may seem a little vague to a lot of business owners. Trying to decipher the legal definitions and implications of these characteristics also does little to provide clarity. However, we will explore these options a little more closely and look at some actionable steps you can take to make the necessary changes.
Making Your Website Perceivable
To be perceivable, your website needs to be accessible to as many senses of your users as possible. Or to put it another way, it cannot be invisible to all of a user’s senses.
Include Non-Text Content
One of the specific things that need to be considered in this regard is the inclusion of non-text content on your page. For all non-text content that you have on your page, it is vital to have an Alt text that describes the image which will make this content accessible to more users. This can include Alt Text for images, transcripts for audio and video clips, or closed captioning for video clips.
Use Of Color
Best practices for perceivability also include using color effectively in your website design. Color should not be the only means you use to transmit information on your website just as it should not be used to prompt a response. Using the right contrast ratio is also important and large and readable text is a must to ensure your website is compliant.
Choice Of Fonts
It’s also worth noting that fonts also need to be chosen with care. While it may suit the style of your website to have a particular hard-to-read font, it is best to stick to easy reading fonts to improve accessibility.
Ensure Your Website Is Operable
Operability refers to your users being able to handle the interface of your website with ease. Your website interface cannot require interactions that a user is incapable of completing.
Avoid The Mouse
One of the most important rules to follow to keep your website operable is to make everything workable with the use of a keyboard only. The use of a mouse should not be required to interact with your website. Many Americans are not able to use a mouse with ease, or at all, and you will need to make your site open to these individuals as well.
No Time Limits
Some content on business pages incorporates a time limit, such as a checkout timer on some sites, for example. However, ADA compliant websites must have an option to turn off a time limit unless the limit is essential to the overall functioning of your website.
Minimize Flashing Images
It is also important to keep flashing or blinking images on your site to a minimum to accommodate individuals with epilepsy. In particular, if graphics blink more than three times per second, this is not considered ADA compliant. If they are important to the design of your site, then there must be an option to turn them off or hide them. However, be sure to include a helpful description of the image if you want all of your users to be able to enjoy your content in the way you intended.
To ensure ADA compliance in terms of operability, it is advisable to ensure your website is easy to navigable as well. Include bypass options to allow users to move around the site as required, such as a skip navigation link, which directs users to the main content of your page immediately.
Make Your Website Understandable
In essence, understandability means that both the content and the operation of your website must be constructed so that it can be readily understood by your users. This does not mean that the actual words that you use in your content need to be readily understood. If you operate a pharmaceutical company, for example, your website will not be deemed to be non-compliant simply because the content it contains is complex or difficult to understand.
But, in that case, what does understandability mean? It might seem vague, though there are some essential principles that will steer you in the right direction. Most of these techniques are generally standard in good website design strategies, so it will benefit your site to follow general website design best practices, such as:
- Adding page titles and descriptive headings and labels to your pages.
- Ensuring that your page has a logical ordering that can be navigated sequentially.
- Including a navigation bar, to allow users to easily find around to the content they are looking for.
- Having an option to set the language for your website. (As an added bonus, this can expand your market and bring in new business.)
A Robust Website
Robust websites are readily understood by many different users and assistive technologies. As time goes on, there are an increasing number of different assistive technologies that will need to be accounted for. Robustness also refers to the enduring accessibility of your website. In other words, the ability of your website to remain accessible as technologies change and user demands evolve.
Robustness requires a bit more technical savvy than some of the other elements outlined above. Having a robust website requires designing your website in a particular way and needs the skills of an experienced web designer who understands the requirements of ADA compliance.
Stay Up To Date With Compliance Developments
ADA compliance legislation has only come into effect quite recently. This means that the details of what is required to be in good standing in the eyes of the law, and those of your customers, are still being worked out. Keep an eye on the latest news of changes in this area as time goes on. This will give you the peace of mind that you are doing everything you can to accommodate the needs of millions of Americans with disabilities.
To keep ahead of the curve, it is beneficial to explore new avenues and emerging technologies that can make your website more interactive and readable for those with disabilities. Being proactive with ADA compliance is the best practice to follow to keep your website in line with the regulations.
If In Doubt, Seek Expert Advice
Always be wary of anyone who offers to evaluate your website without taking a detailed and manual look at it, as a comprehensive assessment is necessary to determine what will be required. If you need assistance with ADA compliance for your website, or if you want to receive informed advice about what to do about your particular website, then get in touch with one of our accessibility experts at Mikesell Digital to get the advice that you need.
Some Useful Tips To Remember
Make An Effort With ADA Compliance
It can be helpful to remember that businesses have some flexibility when it comes to making their websites ADA compliant. This means that as long as you are working to bring all aspects of your site to as wide of an audience, with a wide range of disabilities, as possible, you will likely be able to justify yourself if you ever find yourself up against a legal battle. With that being said, the effort that you put in needs to be meaningful. Conduct your ADA compliance implementation in good faith to avoid potential problems down the line.
Avoid Automated Compliance Programs
Be wary of automated ADA compliance programs offered by some online vendors. The nature of ADA compliance is inherently subjective and cannot be properly assessed by a computer. If you want to be sure that your website is fully ADA compliant, then invest in getting it manually reviewed by one of our accessibility experts at Mikesell Digital. With the right information, you will save money, time and hassle down the line by avoiding potential legal issues.
Take ADA Compliance Seriously
It can also be useful to know some of the legal precedents involved in ADA compliance. Approximately two thousand ADA-related lawsuits were filed in 2018 and the number is projected to increase in 2020. These lawsuits were launched for a variety of different reasons. Some involved websites that were not accessible with e-reader technology or screen readers. These lawsuits have affected both small and large companies, so it is important for every business to take them seriously.
Moving Forward With ADA Compliance Websites
Now is the time to start shifting your website into ADA compliance. Remember that the process is not as straightforward as simply deciding to make it happen and getting the job done in one day. It requires considerable reflection on what your website is designed to do and what potential problems a wide variety of users may encounter when they use it.
Invest some serious time and effort into revamping your pages to bring them in line with existing best practices. It is not a process that can be completed quickly. To do it right, expect to go through several checklists, along with the steps outlined above to ensure that you have not missed anything.
When you are in line with the ADA legislation, you will be able to provide your customers with a better user experience and also avoid potentially costly lawsuits. The process essentially provides you with a great opportunity to reflect on the design of your website and to repair some of the issues that may have been plaguing it for years. All of this makes ADA compliance a win-win for everyone.
Contact Our Accessibility Experts At Mikesell Digital
Get in touch today to schedule a call with one of our accessibility experts at Mikesell Digital and let us help you take the first steps towards ADA compliance and ensuring your content is WCAG compliant.