The number of ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) lawsuits against education, government, small business, e-commerce and software-as-a-service (SaaS) websites has increased by 120 percent over the past two years. Judges will often rule in favor of the plaintiff unless the charges are obviously frivolous.
At Optimum7, we focus on all aspects of internet technologies, including ADA compliance. In this article, I’ll outline the most important accessibility elements and steps you can take to make your site ADA compliant.
What does ADA compliance mean for a website?
In short, it means everyone should be able to use any website on the internet. A user should be able to navigate and locate information or use a webpage's functions regardless of their capabilities or lack of access to assistive hardware or software. This is the main principle behind web accessibility as a concept.
The ADA was developed in 1990 to guarantee the same opportunities to people with disabilities as anyone else. More recently, this has extended to online spaces, including websites and mobile apps. Remember, people with disabilities are a huge consumer base that you might be unwittingly ignoring just because you haven’t properly updated your website to reflect accessibility.
Does my website need to be ADA compliant?
According to the law, yes. The ADA Title III, Public Accommodations and Commercial Facilities website clearly statesthat “discrimination on the basis of disability in the activities of places of public accommodations is prohibited.” Your e-commerce website and public mobile applications fall under Title III because they serve the masses and accommodate them online.
However, since there is no straightforward set of legal requirements for website compliance and accessibility, why should you go through the effort of becoming ADA compliant? For starters, digital experts know ADA compliance on websites can enhance search engine optimization (SEO). This can lead to increased traffic and sales, as well as decreased bounce rates. Accessibility on your website also gives you an opportunity to dominate your niche by serving a community that competitors may be overlooking.
How can you make your website ADA compliant?
Many disabilities and impairments can affect the way people use websites. Some of the most common include:
• Vision: A partial or total inability to see or to perceive color contrasts.
• Hearing: A reduced ability to hear noises.
• Motor skills: Limited range of motion, including precise movements (such as using a mouse).
• Photosensitive seizures: Seizure-inducing conditions such as epilepsy.
• Cognitive disabilities: Conditions related to cognitive ability, such as dementia and dyslexia.
The basic guidelines below are intended for easy reference during development but still cannot address all possible accessibility issues.
Markup refers to the use of semantic HTML5 and the multiple considerations within the code that need adjustment. This is not so a website operates differently, but so the website implements accessible means to use the pages. Different elements include ARIA landmarks, semantic HTML, CSS class screen-reader text, skip links, heading structure, tables, web forms, post excerpts for an archive template and infinite scroll.
All technology will be able to read the Document Object Model (DOM) code if it is constructed with HTML5 -- anything from browsers, voice recognition software, smart devices, screen readers and more. Semantic HTML is also understood by search engines.
The biggest design issues come from font size and resizing text, as well as the use of color and color contrast. Many global web users are not able to tell the difference between different hues of the same color. Adding a sharper contrast color will help those who experience color deficiencies, while also improving website clarity and presentation.
That said, take care to ensure interactive links remain legible after they are highlighted. Provide underlining or a darker highlighted background color. This example emphasizes just how important user testing is when looking to find potential ADA compliance violations.
The best practices for creating accessible content are widely debated. Some of the most consistent and agreed-upon methods include good link texts, link destinations, high readability, headings in the content, alternative text for images and even accessible PDFs.
Some good starting points include keeping your sentences short and to the point. Use simple words. Provide headings so people can easily scan your text, while also creating an SEO-friendly structure. Also, use lists, images and short paragraphs as ways of giving readers a break between the text.
Sometimes, the site you want doesn’t have an accessible pattern available online. Instead of frustrating yourself by trying to build the impossible, it can be helpful to consult with someone who works day-to-day in the accessibility field.
A good resource is the WebAIM mailing list, where smaller issues can be consulted and updates to accessibility functions can be sent straight to your inbox for big projects. Hiring a professional can save you many headaches -- and possibly a lawsuit.
As mentioned, user testing is the best way to test for accessibility, but it can also be time-consuming. Plugins can give you a start for compiling a report on potential issues but can also produce false positives. Thorough manual testing by combining all of the features on the various pages of your site is the only way to truly know if you are meeting all ADA requirements.
ADA Compliance Made Easier
Millions of internet users rely on accessible websites. If you don’t take the time to understand their needs, people will miss out on your content and valuable services. Creating an ADA-compliant website takes time, so don’t delay getting started, as you will need several months to complete setup and implementation. An easy way to begin taking care of this important issue is to look for online tools that help test for accessibility and compliance.
Avoid legal issues due to ADA compliance even when the digital landscape continually changes. Enlist the help of experts who make it their business to give you peace of mind by providing ADA compliance as well as increased business efficiency.