When you go to practically any public place in the United States, there is a certain expectation that the place is reasonably accessible for people of differing abilities. At the shopping mall, you expect to find priority parking near the entrance for people with disabilities. Once inside, you expect to find an elevator, too, and the buttons on the elevator probably have Braille on them for the visually impaired.
This isn’t just common courtesy. It’s the law.
Beyond the Physical World
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was first established to “ensure access to the built environment for people with disabilities.” This was largely conceived in the context of physical spaces, and that’s why we see access ramps and elevators, for example. But times have changed considerably, and all the virtual space we find on the internet is subject to the same accessibility laws as the physical space we find in the real world.
In this way, adhering to ADA Standards doesn’t just apply to buildings and vehicles, but it also means businesses that operate websites must also be mindful of ADA website compliance and the World Wide Web Consortium’s (W3C) Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). Failure to comply with these standards can result in legal action; you don’t want to deal with a lawsuit because your website isn’t adequately accessible.
That being said, Title III of the ADA, which discusses the Act in regards to private sector businesses, applies only to companies with at least 15 employees. Even if you operate a private business with fewer employees, it’s still in your best interest for your website to adhere to ADA Standards.
The Best User Experience
ADA compliance applies to situations of “public accommodation,” meaning that any general public-facing business should be offered such that it can be accessed, used, and understood easily by people with disabilities. This is a sizable portion of the general population – upwards of 20 percent – so even from a purely business standpoint, it doesn’t make sense to ignore this group of individuals and their spending power. What’s more, ADA website compliance also works in your favor from a search engine optimization (SEO) standpoint.
As you know, Google factors for a number of signals to determine where a website or webpage should rank for any given search term. Most of these boil down to relevance and user experience.
If a person with limited vision arrives on your website and cannot easily access the information they need, they’re likely to leave quickly, possibly visiting one of your competitors instead. This shorter time-on-site is a signal to Google that your site isn’t adequately serving the user’s needs.
Factors to Consider
To this end, what are some of the design choices and features you need to implement in order to comply with ADA Standards on your website?
- The color of your text should provide enough contrast with the background (i.e., contrast ratio) so that it is easily legible. The typical standard of black text on a light background naturally complies with this expectation, but you will need to be careful when you literally get into gray areas for text and background colors.
- Color alone is not enough to convey meaning, as this would restrict usability for individuals who are color blind.
- You must offer suitable content alternatives. Do all of your images have descriptive alt text, for example? Are there text transcripts for audio or video content?
- The entirety of your website must be designed such that it can be navigated using only a keyboard. If there are elements that can only be accessed with a mouse pointer, then you will need to adjust your site design to integrate a tab index and skip navigation buttons.
- Readers with limited or poor vision frequently “zoom” in on a website to increase the size of text and pictures. Your website must be designed such that, even at 200% scaling, users will not need to utilize horizontal scrolling. There must also be no layout issues that break the content when the site is scaled up to that level.
- Your website must not contain any automatic pop-ups, video, or audio. These elements reduce user control and can impede the usability of the website for many individuals
These are just a few of the ADA Standards. There are many more compliance issues to consider.
How to Achieve ADA Compliance
It’s true that many content management systems and web design tools allow for a variety of accessibility plugins. These vary considerably in price and do address some of the issues described above. However, they do not necessarily comply with legislation, as they may not adequately satisfy the requirements of the ADA.
On the other end of the spectrum, you can hire a website developer and designer, along with firms that offer accessibility services, in an effort to achieve better ADA website compliance. However, compliance levels will also vary considerably, and taking this path can prove to be very costly, at possibly tens of thousands of dollars a year. The other challenge here is that you may not necessarily receive updates and maintenance either, so as the ADA requirements shift or are reinterpreted, you may fall out of compliance.
Instead, it might make a lot more sense to turn to an automatic web accessibility service, like the AI-powered solution by accessiBe. Rather than rely on individual project changes or incomplete accessibility plugins, artificial intelligence can achieve an automatic higher success rate to comply with all of the most important ADA and WCAG standards.
This is not only more affordable and more compliant, but the automatic re-analysis every 24 hours ensures that you stay on the right side of the law too.
Accessible for Everybody
Just as you naturally make many design choices to ensure that your website renders in an optimal way on mobile devices – Google recommends taking a mobile-first approach to design, not just a mobile-optimized or mobile-friendly design – you should be just as mindful about how your website is accessed and used by people with disabilities.
ADA website compliance is only going to become more important in the years that follow, so do everything you can now to provide the best user experience possible for users of all ability levels.