In 1990, President George H. W. Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which (effective 26 January 1992) mandated that places open to the public provide accommodations acceptable for those with physical handicaps.
Over time, the courts have begun to expand the definition of “places open to the public” into the digital realm. While we’ve yet to see legislation governing what web content must be compliant and what compliance looks like, there are already accessibility lawsuits pending. This article looks at what it takes to create an ADA compliant website.
What is ADA Compliance?
ADA compliance is modifying the policies and practices of your business so that you don’t discriminate against people with disabilities performing everyday activities. This includes things like shopping, running errands, or dining out. As we’ve previously mentioned, the legal trend seems to show that digital activities, including shopping and the use of other services, are subject to ADA regulations.
Which Businesses Need To Comply with ADA Regulations?
There are two portions of the ADA that determine which companies must comply with the relevant regulations and which ones are exempt:
- Title I indicates that any business with 15 (or more) full-time employees that operate for at least 20 weeks a year must comply.
- Title III, companies that are public accommodations (e.g., banks, hotels, transportation, restaurants) must comply.
If your business falls into either category and you have a website, you’ll want to take steps to make sure that it is ADA compliant.
Newly-launched companies, regardless of whether they’re going the DIY route with their website or seeking help from a web developer or their web hosting company, can build this requirement into their specifications from the get-go. Existing businesses, however, will need to do some work retrofitting their sites.
How to Ensure Your Website is ADA Compliant + Guidelines
One authority acknowledged by the Department of Justice to determine what counts as an accessible website (or not) is the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). The W3C’s Web Content Accessibility Guidelines are extensive, but in short, ADA compliant domains must be:
The following sections will show you how you can make sure that you meet the ADA compliance website guidelines.
Provide Alternate Means of Accessing Audio or Visual Content
Your goal is to provide multiple ways of accessing your content. Rather than forcing users to take in the content you provide using just one method, you’ll want to present content using at least two different ways.
- When working with images, you’ll want to consider all of the best practices available. In addition to compressing them, so they load quickly and help improve your overall website’s SEO, you should supply alt text, so that screen readers can read a description of what the picture represents.
- For videos, you can provide closed captioning. Conversely, you can provide transcripts for any audio clips you feature. With these simple tips, you’ll be offering multiple ways for users to engage with your content.
As you can see, these tips aid with improving how perceivable and understandable your site is.
Keep Your Overall Design Simple
In addition to ensuring that your website’s design features sufficient contrast (e.g., it uses dark text on a light background), you’ll also want to avoid seizure-inducing visuals like flashing lights and animated images.
Furthermore, make your site predictable. You’ll want to provide users with precise and straightforward navigation tools (such as search bars and sidebars) so that people can go back and forth between various pages with ease.
Certain visual items, such as graphical buttons, may be visually appealing, but assistive devices may struggle with these.
Finally, avoid surprises. You may think it is a good idea to bury “easter eggs” that, when clicked or interacted with by a user, activate and cause something surprising to happen. However, from an accessibility perspective, this is disruptive and can make your website difficult to use.
Remember, your goal is to make your site as easy to operate and perceive as possible. As Foundr outline, the most important thing is to keep your customers happy and an expensively assembled domain isn’t always necessary.
Build Your Site to Work with Assistive Technologies
People with disabilities may be reliant on assistive technologies, and there are ways in which you can build your site so that it works well with these devices.
First, include the website’s language in the header code so that screen readers know right away which language it should use to help the user.
We’ve previously mentioned using clear alt text for images, but you will also want to make sure that the links aren’t ambiguous either. Instead of using “click here” as your link text, consider using something more descriptive, like “Author Bio” for links that lead to pages about you.
The market for assistive technologies is also changing rapidly, so you will need to keep an eye out for new devices with requirements you might need to consider when changing your website. For example, researchers are looking into how virtual reality devices can be used to help people with disabilities navigate the internet better.
Make Sure Your Code is Robust
You should assure that your site’s code is “robust,” which means that assistive readers can understand it. While this definition of robustness is somewhat vague, know that following current web standards should be sufficient. For example, do not make up HTML tags and lint your files to find any non-standard usages.
Liability for Failure to Comply
If your business’ website is not ADA compliant, you open yourself up to the risk of lawsuits and legal action initiated by those who are unable to utilize it entirely.
The cost of such actions will vary, but you can expect to pay to fix it and make a settlement to the plaintiff. If, however, you should choose to fight the lawsuit, you can expect to pay for damages plus lawyer fees.
One question business owners with websites should be asking themselves is, “Is it ADA compliant?” If not, implementing the tips provided in this article will help them ensure their site’s accessibility to almost everybody. After all, the ADA is a strict liability law (that is, courts accept no excuses for non-compliance), so business owners would do well to familiarize themselves with ADA compliant website guidelines and act accordingly.
About the Author
Toni Allen is the general manager and editor of WhoIsHostingThis.com. She has two decades of experience running online businesses with a focus on web hosting technologies.