ADA website compliance is a tricky subject that can throw many web designers and developers for a loop. The Americans with Disabilities Act mandates that all public spaces, including some websites, be accessible to persons with disabilities. But making sure a website meets ADA compliance requires some additional training and experience.
For a website to be ADA compliant, every aspect of the user’s experience needs to be designed with the disabled community in mind. This community includes users that have difficulty hearing, seeing, and using controls like a trackpad or a mouse. Luckily, the Department of Justice, which oversees ADA website compliance laws, has provided some clarity as to whether or not a website meets ADA compliance. Once you know what qualifies as an ADA compliant website, you can make sure your site complies
Get to Know the WCAG
Your first task should be to familiarize yourself and your team with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, as provided by the World Wide Web Consortium. These guidelines clearly outline how an ADA compliant website should behave, including recommendations for formatting text, uploading images, graphics, and videos, navigating input fields, and adjusting the actual website code. Sit down with your entire team, and review the principal directives of the WCAG and figure out how to implement them.
Make your website easy to navigate
As the guidelines illustrate, your website needs to be as easy-to-navigate as possible for persons with disabilities. That means no seizure-inducing videos or graphics, clearly labeled buttons and menu options, and strong color contrast to help users distinguish between the foreground and background. You also need to provide alternative text options such as captions for all non-text content like images, videos and graphics, so users that are deaf or blind can interpret the content on your website.
Users should also have enough time to navigate the content on your site, which means no disappearing instructions or time-sensitive processes. Make sure you properly format and structure the code behind your website. Overall, your website should have a consistent format and behave in predictable ways, so users with disabilities can anticipate how the website will respond in certain situations.
Changing Your Website Without Disrupting Your Business
Implementing these guidelines can be a herculean undertaking, depending on the size and scale of your website, so it’s best to get the ball rolling sooner rather than later. As you can see from the guidelines, these changes will affect just about every aspect of your website. Altering the design and organization of your content can have a sizeable effect on marketing, product placement and other key concerns for your business, so it’s best to keep everyone on your team in the loop.
Hopefully, any changes you make to your website will be minor, such as adding some alternative text or adjusting the color scheme. Try to get in the habit of incorporating the WCAG into your UX strategy. Don’t forget to reference the WCAG as you add new features, pages, products or services to your website.
Thoroughly Vet Your Code
As you begin evaluating the accessibility of your website, it’s best to start with the actual code. Make sure that your code complies with the “Robust” guidelines under the WCAG. This includes adding start and end tags to all elements, nesting elements according to their specifications, removing duplicate or extraneous characters, and having user interface components that can be programmatically determined. Regardless of the ADA, cleaning up your code should be one of your main priorities as a website owner. Having organized, ADA-compliant code can also give a boost to your website’s SEO rankings and improve the overall user experience.
Test Your Website with Accessibility Testing Tools
Once you’ve altered your website to comply with the ADA, it’s time to put your new website to the test. Once again, the World Wide Web Consortium is here to make your life a little easier. You’ll find dozens of accessibility testing tools on their Web Accessibility Evaluation Tools List. Scroll through the list and find the tools that address your specific areas of concern. Certain tools only work with different types of code and web platforms, such as Safari, Google Chrome, and HTML5. If you’re doing business overseas, you’ll find tools that check a website’s accessibility based on the standards set by other nations, some of which differ from the WCAG guidelines used in the U.S. A11y.css will make sure that your website complies with the RGAA, the French equivalent of the ADA.
Get familiar with JAWS and American Foundation for the Blind
If you want to go the extra mile, you can download a copy of some of the most commonly used software tools among persons with disabilities and see if they’re compatible with your website. JAWS, or Job Access with Speech, is considered one of the most popular screen readers for the blind. You’ll also find more options on the American Foundation for the Blind website. When using the software, make sure the program translates all the essential text on your website, including instructions, menu options, and other need-to-know information. If the software fully integrates with your content, you’re well on your way to having a fully ADA compliant website.
Find a Reputable Agency that Specializes in ADA Website Compliance Solutions
As a business owner, you have a lot on your plate as it is. As a result, you might not have the time to learn everything about ADA website compliance. If you’re working with a limited staff, consider reaching out to a third-party for help. As ADA website compliance becomes an increasingly large concern for website owners and digital publishers, we’re seeing a rise in the number of firms that specialize in making websites ADA compliant.
Much like a consulting service, an accessibility solutions firm helps you fix accessibility issues with your website. They’re the experts when it comes to designing accessible web spaces, so they will take some of the burden off your shoulders. Criterion has made a name for themselves as one of the most trusted names in ADA website compliance. They can often address accessibility concerns that most coders or IT professionals will miss.
Start Small with an ADA Compliance Evaluation
If you’re not ready to spend a lot of money to make your website more accessible, you can reach out to an agency for a simple evaluation. This way you’ll have a better idea in terms of what aspects of your website will need to change going forward. Most agencies provide a range of options, so you can find something within your budget
If you’re new to ADA compliance, it helps to have a professional on your side who knows what they’re doing. You can sit down with a representative from the agency and talk about your target audience as well as your overall needs as a business owner. Ask how you can focus your efforts and resources on the most problematic areas of your website, instead of revamping your entire website.
Stay in the Loop with the Latest ADA Website Compliance Laws
Okay, so you’ve followed the steps listed above and now you have an ADA compliant website. Good to go, right? Well, not quite. Here in the U.S., ADA website compliance laws are changing constantly, and the legal guidelines laid out by the DOJ always seem to be in flux. If you follow the WCAG from the World Wide Web Consortium, you should be in great shape. However, new legal precedents are being set all the time. We’ve seen a dramatic rise in the number of ADA website compliance lawsuits in 2017, with different outcomes contradicting one another left and right. Some courts have ruled that only websites tied to a physical location such as a retail store or a university should be made to comply with the ADA and the WCAG. Yet others have ruled that any website that sells goods and services should be made to comply.
If you’re worried about an ADA website compliance lawsuit, stay up-to-date with the latest news. We should see a definitive decision from the DOJ in 2018 regarding which websites need to be ADA compliant. However, the DOJ keeps shifting its deadline. If you’re looking for information, the Seyfarth ADA Title III News & Insights Blog is a great place to start. Follow this blog for news updates and alerts regarding any changes to the country’s ADA website compliance laws. Stay informed and protect your website from potential lawsuits.
Conclusion: Finding Peace of Mind
Having peace of mind that your website complies with the ADA is every website owner’s dream. However, this is a thorny subject that only gets more complicated with time. The Internet is a massive place with new websites and services popping up all the time. The DOJ cannot expect every website to be ADA compliant. This leaves a lot of room for interpretation, a steady stream of lawsuits, and plenty of winners and losers. We’ve seen the courts make examples out of some companies who are paying millions in legal settlements. The larger the company, the higher the chances that a potential customer with a disability will find the content inaccessible.
It’s up to you to protect your business by implementing the WCAG as much as possible into the design and functionality of your website, testing your website vigorously using accessibility testing tools, parsing through your code, or by hiring a firm that specializes in ADA website compliance. Keep your website going strong and make ADA website compliance one of your top concerns as a business owner.