What is ADA Accessibility for Websites?
If you’re reading this blog, you may be asking yourself “what is ADA accessibility?” or “what is an ADA compliant website?” Before we can answer that question, it’s important to provide some background. The Americans with Disabilities Act is U.S. civil rights legislation prohibiting discrimination against people with disabilities. Non-compliance can result in significant penalties, but complying with the ADA not only enhances brand values, it can boost customer reach.
In 2010, the government applied major revisions to the law. This revision included the adoption of updated ADA standards for accessible design. So, what is an ADA compliant website? Read on for more.
What is an ADA compliant website? What are the requirements?
The challenge with the ADA is that it does not specifically mention the accessibility of websites or other digital experiences. In 1990 the internet had not yet gone mainstream. However, the Department of Justice (DOJ) in its private enforcement makes clear that Title III, requiring accessibility in “places of public accommodations,” also applies to online accommodations. And U.S. courts support this opinion, repeatedly ruling an inaccessible website is a violation of the ADA.
So how do you ensure your website complies? A best practice is to ensure your website or online experience conforms with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). WCAG is a set of technical standards that, when applied, make online content accessible for users of all abilities. As the shared global standard, WCAG is consistently referenced as the benchmark for digital accessibility. Conform with WCAG, and your website is compliant with laws like the ADA, Section 508, AODA and others.
Why ADA Compliance is Important
Assistive Technology (AT) helps people with disabilities interact with websites, but the tools can’t do the job alone. For example, a person using a screen reader AT might get confused on a webpage that uses images with text for section headers. Unless the images have alt-text, the screen reader is unable to help.
Screen readers will also struggle communicating information on digital documents like PDFs that aren’t designed for accessibility. Accessibility standards are required for all forms of digital content including websites, apps, applications, and documents.
Standards for accessible design are vital for public accommodation. Accessibility technologies have technical requirements. The 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design and Guidance on the 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design are rich resources for making sites easier to use for people with disabilities.
Accessibility standards support removing common barriers including:
- Poor color contrast
- Non-descriptive hyperlinks
- Missing page headings
- Illegible text resizing
- Poor keyboard access
Accessibility barriers are often easy to remove without making major changes. Website stakeholders can turn to the WCAG success criteria for technical guidance to remove barriers and achieve compliance.
Web Accessibility is for Everyone
Improving online accessibility benefits every user. For example, site headers designed to guide screen readers improve overall content structure and can improve SEO. A site that’s organized and labeled according to WCAG 2.1 guidelines is much easier for search engine indexing.
Video captions not only help those who are deaf or hard of hearing, but they are convenient for people who can’t turn on the sound. Audio transcripts make it easier for people to skim or search the text.
Making a website design touch-compliant with large buttons makes the content work well across all sorts of devices with different screen sizes and interface devices.
Business Benefits of ADA Compliance
Organizations that embrace accessibility enhance brand, extend their market reach and minimize their legal risk. The W3C offers a list of accessibility-related benefits.
Accessibility is a key component of many diversity, equity and inclusion programs. A clear commitment to digital accessibility will demonstrate to consumers this commitment to meeting the needs of diverse stakeholders.
Minimizing legal risk
In addition to the ADA, there are a variety of international regulations that require digital accessibility compliance. Failure to meet these requirements can lead to costly legal action or financial penalties.
When products and services incorporate accessibility features, they often solve unanticipated problems and lead to more innovative solutions. For example, thinking about accessible design forces designers to ideate different ways for users to interact with a site. This is beneficial for people with and without disabilities.
Extending market reach
There are more than one billion people around the world living with a disability and that number will grow as the population ages. Creating online experiences that meet the needs of these individuals extends market reach. Additionally, accessible experiences also lead to improvements in customer loyalty across the board. According to the American Institutes for Research® (AIR), working-age Americans with disabilities earn around $490 billion a year in disposable income.
Consequences of Non-Compliance with the ADA
Websites that don’t meet ADA requirements are missing out on customer connection opportunities and brand enhancement. Further, failing to meet ADA obligations could lead to legal expenses and negative publicity. According to the LA Times, the number of ADA non-compliance lawsuits filed against websites jumped 90 percent from 1,053 to more than 2,000 in 2017 to 2018 respectively.
Winn-Dixie Stores Inc., Domino’s Pizza Inc., Harvard University, and MIT have all been on the receiving end of a web accessibility lawsuit. Businesses that work with a Canadian audience will also need to be compliant with the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA).
Improving accessibility on your digital properties isn’t just a smart business decision, it’s a legal obligation. Take things to the next level, don’t just settle for ADA compliance. Take pride in your work and promote your accessibility to the wider consumer market.
There’s always more to do:
- Put your website through an accessibility checker
- Run accessibility audits with accessibility software
- Look into an accessibility management platform
- Make accessibility training part of your organization’s online design criteria
Already Meeting ADA Compliance?
If your website has gone through compliance testing and already meets the ADA accessibility requirements, let your customers know. Create and post an accessibility statement. Such a statement signals compliance with legal mandates and will also serve as a prime opportunity to explain some of the features that you have incorporated onto your site, and your ongoing commitment to ensuring your experience is barrier free.
To evaluate whether your site is ADA compliant, conforming with WCAG, download our WCAG 2.1 Checklist today. As may be obvious, there’s no cut and dry answer when it comes to what an ada compliant website looks like, which is why so many companies turn to web accessibility experts for help.
An Innovative Solution
If you’re ready to make your website or app accessible, engage with us today. Our software + managed services solution helps companies get their assets ADA compliant and keep them that way. Request a demo.
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