“Before you start to judge me, step into my shoes and walk the life I’m living and if you get as far as I am, just maybe you will see how strong I really am.”
Many of us have not experienced what it’s like to go through life with a disability. In 2018, I attended an ADA compliance workshop hosted by MIMA and had the opportunity to watch a screen reader demonstration from a blind user. He walked through what should have been an easy transaction ordering a gift card from a pizza chain’s website. It was quickly obvious how difficult such a simple task was because the website didn’t consider all of its potential users. Generic alt text, illogical form order, and missing keyboard navigation functionality contributed to the frustrating experience.
There are six types of disabilities including visual, auditory, cognitive, physical, and contextual. It’s important to note that the needs of these different types will change, and ADA compliance considers all disabilities. There are two common disabilities that may not be typically thought of as disabilities. Those examples include aging internet users with poor eyesight (“approximately 12 million people 40 years and over in the United States have vision impairment”) and color blind users (“more than 350 million colorblind people in the world”). Consider how tap target errors, color contrast tests, and other site audit issues affect these populations.
In this article, we provide the background of ADA compliance related to the web along with tools to use, website updates to complete, and benefits of ADA compliance.
ADA History and Background
In 1990, the ADA, or Americans with Disabilities Act, was created to ensure that people with disabilities have the same opportunities as everyone else and to end discrimination based on differing abilities. This requires businesses and organizations that serve the public to provide reasonable accommodations to employees and people with disabilities of various kinds. In 2016, the ADA began including web presence as part of this practice because the internet is such an important and widely used tool. Not wanting disabled Americans excluded, the ADA started requiring websites to become more compliant not only on desktop platforms but also on mobile by requiring mobile apps to be compliant.
Lawsuits began to surge in 2018 primarily focused on businesses with physical locations like hotels, restaurants, and retail stores. Since then there have been thousands of lawsuits regarding the lack of ADA compliance for businesses, especially Fortune 500 companies and large ecommerce sites, yet it isn’t limited to large corporations.
Why Are the American Disability Act or ADA Regulations Important to Me?
If you own a business with a website, then you want consumers to easily access what you’re offering. If we look at the big picture, the main goal of the ADA is to eliminate discrimination and exclusivity, and to offer an equal experience to all people, those with and without disabilities. In order to be an ADA compliant website, you’ll need to meet the WCAG 2.1 website compliance guidelines.
How Can I Tell If My Website Is Already ADA Compliant?
You’ll need to look into the “Website Content Accessibility Guidelines” or WCAG 2.1 for the most current information on what it takes to be compliant. As far as website content goes, there are four distinct areas of focus that the WCAG categorizes guidelines under. They use the acronym P.O.U.R. to sum it up.
- Perceivable issues are ones that affect a user’s ability to find and process the information on a site.
- Operable issues are ones that impact a website visitor’s ability to navigate and use a website.
- Understandable issues concern a website user’s ability to discern and comprehend all the information and navigation on a website.
- Robust issues involve a website’s ability to adapt and evolve to meet the changing needs of users with disabilities.
There are some tools we recommend below that will help evaluate your site.
Tools to Check Your ADA Compliance
Below are a few of the free tools we recommend checking out to get a preliminary report on your site’s compliance. If you’re feeling confident in your site’s compliance already, it never hurts to at least test your site to find ways to make improvements and better your users’ experience.
- Free Page Accessibility Test
- Free Graded report
- Accessibility Checklist
- WAVE and AXE browser extensions
- Tenon.io – not free but excellent technicality
If you need assistance with website compliance and accessibility, feel free to give us a call at 651.628.4000 or contact us for help.
Does My Website Need to Be ADA Compliant?
The short answer is yes. All businesses that have a web presence should be in compliance with ADA guidelines. The industries that are most at risk of a potential lawsuit include businesses with a physical location like restaurants, hotels, banks, gyms, etc, and businesses that have commercial activity online like selling products or completing financial transactions. If your business falls outside of those industries it does not mean you’re outside of the possibility of a lawsuit.
Instead of considering the sliding scale of risk if you are or are not compliant, think of the benefits of compliance, like satisfied customers, overall better user experience for all visitors, and better technical structure. At the end of this article, we go into more detail on the benefits of an accessible website.
What Updates Do I Need to Make for My Website to Be Compliant?
The ADA doesn’t provide to-the-letter what compliance or website accessibility means but the most closely followed guideline is from WCAG 2.1 web content accessibility guidelines.
Overview of WCAG Website Updates
This list includes the most common items that you’ll find out of compliance on your website. This is not a comprehensive list, go to the WCAG site for full details.
- Alt text for images and non-text content
- Video and audio scripts as text below the player
- Closed captioning for videos (This is especially huge on social media)
- Be aware of automated closed captioning as the accuracy is low
- Order and website structure – is the technical structure of your website built to follow a clear hierarchy and useful descriptions?
- Includes the correct use of headings like H1s, H2s, etc to create structure and hierarchy on the site’s pages
- Includes consistent navigation throughout the site
- Include multiple modes of navigation like breadcrumbs and footer links in addition to the main header navigation
- Use of color – consider color blindness when choosing color pallets and include clear descriptions to not rely solely on color to convey meaning
- Color contrast – ensure text color and background color are clear readable
- Keyboard navigation – can your website be easily navigated using a screen reader? This is typically how screen reading software works for the blind and other disabled users
- Code in labels for form fields so it can be read by screen reader
- Descriptive link text – use clear call-to-action and link descriptions so the destination is clear. Be cautious about how frequently “Click Here” or “Learn More” links are used on your site as these aren’t descriptive.
- Clean HTML
We recommend picking one or two items to work on at a time as this list is overwhelming if you try to tackle it all at once.
What Benefits does an ADA Compliant Website Bring Me?
Below are some reasons why being ADA compliant will help your website to not only grow but hopefully drive more business and revenue.
1) Your Site Being ADA Compliant Helps Increase Your Target Audience
If your website isn’t ADA compliant, you’re missing out on hundreds or thousands of potential customers who cannot access your site due to their disabilities. There are roughly 50 million people with disabilities in the U.S. alone, meaning close to 20% percent of our country has some kind of disability. There’s a good chance that of that 50 million there could be many who might be interested in your products or services. But once they arrive at your website, they won’t be able to navigate easily enough to make a purchase, contact you, or they might even bounce from your site, all because your website wasn’t capable of being used by people with disabilities.
2) Your Website’s SEO Will Improve with ADA Compliance
First off, if you have an SEO team because you’re a larger company or work with an outside agency for this service, web accessibility should be of high interest to them because many of the WCAG guidelines align with SEO best practices. Many of the ADA compliance and SEO practices exist side by side, both wanting to improve the functionality and usability of a website.
Chances are, if you already work with an SEO team either internally or with a third party SEO team, like Evolve Systems®, you already are following some of the ADA guidelines. An example of this is that SEO best practices and WCAG guidelines both say that website content needs to support all users, such as images should use alt text and website navigation should be intuitive and usable. So this is as good of a guarantee as you’ll get when it comes to your site’s SEO being improved with ADA compliance.
On top of everything, today’s search engines are evolving to crawl pages with more human intention, so the more content we can add to images and videos, the more your site will appear in Google’s search results, including under All, News, Images, and Video searches.
Going back to the WCAG guidelines again, a key element of guideline accessibility is the screen readers. The readers will crawl your website pages just like the bots on search engines do. This happens more than once, so it’s important that you make regular ADA changes to your site. If your website meets these accessibility guidelines, it will appeal to not only users, but search engines and screen readers alike, improving your SEO across your site.
Look at reworking or adding: meta tags, alternative image text (or alt text), title tags, and video transcripts to all pages, videos, and images sitewide.
3) Will Making My Website Be ADA Compliant Help My Company’s Image?
Simply put, yes! An ADA compliant website can increase your target audience since your site’s now accessible to all. Another benefit is that you now will have more potential customers coming to your site because you’ve made your site accessible. It shows that you and your company care, which creates value for your business and can improve your company’s image. Who knows, you might have been the third or fourth site visited by someone who was very disappointed by every site prior that wasn’t ADA compliant. The fact that you put this effort into ensuring everyone was included, will set you apart from your competitors and can lead to more orders, form completions, repeat traffic, and shares on social media.
4) ADA Compliance Give All Users a Better User Experience
The goal is to create a more operable and navigable website that will ultimately benefit not only ADA users, but all users while still meeting the WCAG guidelines. If you follow the guidelines that WCAG is asking for, there’s a very good chance your website will have more opportunities to convert leads, all because users should be able to find the exact content they need.
5) What Level of Compliance Should I Follow?
To avoid a potential lawsuit, it’s good to be informed about the levels of compliance. There are three levels of compliance for websites, with “A” being the minimum level that needs to be achieved and “AAA” being the highest. Each level has an increasingly higher standard of accessibility. Depending on the type of company you have, the size of it, and what you sell for products and services, you might want to look at going above the minimum compliance level. Here’s a link to the Essential Accessibility site for the different levels for additional research to determine the appropriate level of compliance for your business.
What Do I Do Next for My Website?
As a business owner or marketer for your company, you’re now more aware of the importance of ADA compliance and the potential pitfalls and benefits. So much business has moved online in the last decade, especially in 2020 and it’s only fair that websites are accessible to all. The WCAG guidelines can seem overwhelming in order to comply with ADA but it’ll be easier to accomplish if you take one step at a time. As for next steps, we recommend:
- Use one of the tools mentioned above to get a gauge on the areas most in need of improvement on your site
- Select 1 or 2 updates to focus on first
- Assign the work and set a deadline to accomplish these first tasks
- Select additional updates to complete and set a timeline
- Consider creating a Web Accessibility Policy for your website
- There aren’t shortcuts to meet ADA compliance – don’t fall for automatic solutions, quick installs or overlays.
If these next steps are beyond what you have time for but you know ADA compliance is a priority for your business in 2021, Evolve Systems is here to help. We have monthly website maintenance and marketing retainer plans to improve the SEO and technical compliance of your website and meet WCAG standards, get started on improving your website’s compliance today.