The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 positively impacted millions of disabled people’s lives, providing greater accessibility to public areas. The act also has enabled disabled persons to pursue opportunities in education and employment, which were once unobtainable. However, many do not realize that the ADA also extends to website accessibility to provide suitable online content accommodations. Section 508 (access-board.gov/ict.html) of the
Rehabilitation Act further addressed this issue and created standards and accessibility guidelines.
Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (w3.org/WAI/standards-guidelines/wcag/), developed by a community global experts community, listed 14 guidelines, and checkpoints to make content accessible in compliance with Section 508 in 1999. However, in 2008, they released WCAG 2.0, which was updated to meet evolving web technologies and make the websites perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust.
Why We Need ADA-Compliant Websites
Before delving into how to make websites ADA compliant, it is important to clarify why this law requires compliance and who it affects.
Accessing information from the web uses several human senses to interact with content. These senses may include auditory, cognitive, neurological, physical, speech, and visual aspects. However, disabled persons with impairments in these areas are left out of the visual and auditory components of web content, creating an obstacle to receiving vital information.
Not only are users with permanent disabilities up against these obstacles, but the same applies to those who may have temporary disabilities, environmental constraints such as lighting changes and noise, and those with limited bandwidth who cannot access the full content.
Requirements For Accessibility
WCAG provides a list of criteria (w3.org/TR/2006/WD-WCAG20-20060427/appendixB.html) to meet the legal
requirements for accessibility. A summary of these are as follows:
1. Keyboard-Friendly Format
Many disabled individuals use adaptive keyboards to access online content. As a result, creating a site that can be easily navigated by keyboard in a non-timed manner must be included.
2. Accommodations for Images and Multimedia
Individuals using screen readers cannot view images on the website. Incorporating Alt-Text to describe the image allows the screen reader to capture the text and read it aloud. Alt-Text is also used for multimedia, live audio-only, and live video-only events. The text also facilitates search engine indexing. Additionally, automatic media and navigational components interfere with the audio from the screen readers and should be omitted.
3. Audio Transcripts
Audio provides a means for those with hearing and visual impairments to access website content. Those with visual
disabilities can access the content through Braille devices.
4. User-Controlled Time Limits
In this case, users need the choice to deactivate the time-out requirement or adjust it as long as ten times the length of the default setting.
5. Input Error Detection and Easy Correction
Error detection is essential when completing forms or other web content that requires different types of user input. Any errors detected must be described in the text so screen readers can pick up on them. Suggestions for correction are to be provided to the user. Any legal or financial transaction errors must enable reversible action and permit the user to review and confirm information before submission.
6. Headings For Accessibility
Bolding and enlarging font alone does not increase accessibility. Instead, appropriate markup headings to
organize content for screen readers and other technology must be present. Headings should use tags (e.g., H1, H2, etc.) in HTML and not skip levels.
Benefits Of Compliance
Companies that fail to comply with the ADA regulations for website accessibility may face legal action. In 2018, a record high 10,163 lawsuits (adatitleiii.com/2019/01/number-of-ada-title-iii-lawsuits-filed-in-2018-tops-10000/) were filed in federal court for noncompliance with this law.
Aside from avoiding legal action against them, there are benefits for companies to follow the regulations.
1. Companies that do not follow the guidelines are locking out visitors who are potential customers. With 15% of the world’s population living with disabilities
(who.int/teams/noncommunicable-diseases/disability-and-rehabilitation/world-report-on-disability), businesses cannot afford to leave them out. Consideration of an aging population who find non-compliant websites hard to navigate is also a reason to follow the ADA standards.
2. Following WCAG guidelines can improve search engine optimization. Since the sites use additional text for screen readers, they are recognizable by search engines. Developers should harness this advantage by incorporating more meta-tagging and transcripts.
3. New customers who have successful experiences with ADA compliant websites will recommend them to others
increasing traffic and enhancing the company’s reputation.
4. Finally, ADA compliant sites are, by nature, easier to navigate and comprehend. Visitors can locate what they need quickly and easily thanks to the better organization of web
Verify That Your Website is Compliant
As an online business, it's essential to verify the website is ADA compliant. WCAG 2.0 (w3.org/WAI/WCAG21/quickref/) published three levels of conformance requirements. These requirements are based on the level of impact on the design elements of the pages.
1. Level A
Level A is the minimum level of compliance. At this level, some users with disabilities can access content, but the site may pose some difficulties for others. This level requires keyboard navigation as well as alternative text and video
2. Level AA
This level is acceptable compliance, ensuring the website can be accessed and used by most disabled persons. This level has a color contrast requirement for easier readability, consistent navigation elements, headings in a logical order, and additional screen reader capabilities.
3. Level AAA
The highest level of compliance ensures that the website is accessible to the most disabled users. However, this level of use is difficult for many companies to achieve due to the stricter criteria.
According to W3C WAI (w3.org/WAI/about/), the first step in assessing ADA compliance on a website is to conduct the Easy Checks overview covering the primary issues. While a website may pass this first test, there may remain many accessibility problems, and additional auditing should be done.
WCAG has also published a set of website evaluation tools (w3.org/WAI/ER/tools/). These include color contrast
validators, HTML Markup code compliance, and many other tools to further assist in this process.
For a more comprehensive assessment, it may be in the company’s best interest to have a consultant audit the website to ensure it meets ADA standards.
Ensuring that a business website is ADA-compliant is a crucial step for all companies. By taking the above-described measures, business owners can rest assured that their websites are easily accessible for users of varying disabilities.