February 10, 2020

ADA Compliance and its Importance in Digital Experiences

Since the advent of the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990, there have been several technological innovations to help improve the lives of those living with disabilities. But just as technology has evolved over the years, so too has this essential piece of legislation – requiring websites to be easily accessible to everyone. However, the ADA doesn’t clearly state exactly how your website must be structured in order to remain compliant, leaving a grey area that hurts both businesses and users who are disabled. Here’s everything you need to know to ensure your business stays on track. 

What is ADA Web Compliance? 

Starting in 2010, the Department of Justice announced its decision to adjust the Americans with Disabilities Act to consider how websites should work to accommodate people with disabilities. This required businesses categorized as Title I (businesses with at least 15 full-time employees that operate for 20 or more weeks every year) and Title III (businesses that are “public accommodations,” such as hotels, banks public transportation, etc.) to ensure their websites are easily accessible to all.

It wasn’t until the 2016 court case involving the University of California, Berkeley, that a clearer set of website accessibility standards were put into effect. In this case, the court ruled that the school must adopt the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) to make their website accessible to all users. Those guidelines are now widely accepted as the standard. 

While this can feel like a lot of information all at once, choosing to adopt these principals, sooner rather than later, will not only improve your overall site experience for users but will also protect your business from potential lawsuits and damaged reputations.

Beyond regulatory consequences, maintaining ADA compliance can be beneficial for your business. Ensuring that users with disabilities are able to easily complete forms and make purchases results in more money made for your business. Additionally, creating alternative ways for your website to be read also improves your SEO rating. In the end, everyone wins. 

How Can You Ensure Your Business Stays Within ADA Compliance?

With website accessibility, a site can’t be separate but unequal – meaning that whatever someone sees on your regular site is the same as what is presented to all users. Unfortunately, for businesses looking for a plugin that could quickly whip your site into compliance, there really aren’t any out there. In fact, content management systems, such as WordPress, Squarespace, Shopify, and others, are almost guaranteed not to include ADA compliant content, requiring your business to manually add in all the technical features. So, how can you make your site accessible to everyone?

A lot of what allows a website to be easily accessible for all users includes ensuring that individuals with visual or hearing impairments, or those who must navigate by voice, screen readers or other assistive technologies, are still able to meaningfully engage with the content on your website. For example, to aid someone who is visually impaired, a web designer can install certain technologies, such as screen readers, that allow content to be read back to the user aloud.

A great first step is to evaluate your current site for any potential issues. Make sure that your site has easily readable fonts, as well as graphics that are clearly distinguishable and don’t easily blend in with the background. Another great way to test your site is through readers, such as WAVE, that provide you with a detailed description of accessibility issues detected throughout your website. 

While there are several other ways in which you can make your website more easily accessible to all, here are some of the most basic ways to get started: 

  • Create alt tags for all images, videos and audio files with descriptions of the content to allow users to read or hear alternative descriptions they might otherwise not be able to view. 
  • Check your site’s HTML code to make sure it is readable by an assistive reader. This also includes media content, such as PDFs.
  • Make sure your entire site could be easily navigated by keyboard alone. This allows those who are unable to grip a mouse to slow down or speed up content using just the keyboard. This goes for media content, such as videos, as well. 
  • Create text transcriptions for video and audio content to help those with hearing-impairments to easily read content throughout the site.
  • Ensure that your site is built in a way that avoids user error and has readable instructions on all forms that offer recommendations as to how they could better navigate toward the content they need.
  • Create a consistent layout that organizes content, such as menus, links, or buttons, in a way that is clearly delineated from one another and is easily navigated throughout the entire site.
  • Utilize web writing practices when developing content. Using headlines and sub-headlines allows the information to be broken down into smaller, easily digestible sections. For abbreviations and acronyms, like NASA, be sure to include periods between the letters to help screen readers pronounce them properly.

While it can seem a little overwhelming at first, these are important steps to help protect your business and to ensure that your site is easily accessible for all web users. As technology advances, ADA requirements will continue to shift, to better accommodate people living with disabilities. Make sure your business stays on top of these changes by ensuring that your site is within compliance. Reach out to us, and we can help you get started on adopting and maintaining ADA compliance throughout your website.