The American with Disabilities Act (ADA) was initially conceived to ensure compliance from physical locations and services. It was signed and passed in 1990, several years before the internet entered the mainstream. The Department of Justice has yet to post specific guidelines; thus, ADA compliance for e-commerce businesses can prove tricky.
There have been several lawsuits related to brick-and-mortar businesses that do not provide online compliance with the ADA. These businesses include hotels and universities, and they find themselves at the mercy of the courts. In many cases, the judges rule in favor of the plaintiffs. This is why Netflix added subtitles to all of its content and universities have to test their work for screen readers.
Even if your business is purely e-commerce, it’s best to comply with the ADA to avoid facing a plaintiff in court. You may get the case tossed out with frivolous complaints, but the time and money involved would make the experience unpleasant for everyone. So, find out what steps you can take proactively.
Web Content Access Guidelines (WCAG)
WCAG 2.0 is the international standard for disability compliance on the internet. Version 1.0 came out in 1999, and understandably, the guidelines needed updating. WCAG 2.0 outlines several tiers of compliance by which several users can apply.
Tier A is the basic minimum that does not meet ADA compliance -- subtitles, alternative text, etc. -- while Tier AAA is the most detailed. Not every business can reach Tier AAA because the requirements for different content may prove impossible to reach, so I recommend going in between with Tier AA.
Per conformance guidelines, ensure that your website is perceivable, operable, understandable and robust. The elements of your store should be available and accessible to all users. These can include shopping carts, text, images, videos and podcasts. A user with a disability must be able to comprehend the information on your website and navigate with relative ease. Lastly, your website should be compliant with assistive technology in various forms.
How To Improve The User Experience
With these precursors in mind, how can you avoid the dreaded lawsuit or letters from lawyers? There are a few tips that can assist you in complying with the ADA and adhering to WCAG 2.0. The first step is to make sure your website works with various assistive technologies, including:
Many visually impaired online users use screen readers to read aloud text on websites. This allows them to access information that would otherwise have barriers. For this reason, you need to ensure that your website is ADA compliant.
Adding alternative text to images can assist users in knowing how the image complements a piece of written content. This can include images of the equipment that you sell, your store logo or the profiles of your staff. In addition, when you want to apply checkboxes and verify that users are not bots, you want users to verify without a problem. Always provide the option for users to listen versus just read.
Subtitles For Video, Transcripts For Audio
Do you have a podcast or a YouTube channel? Consider capturing the transcription of the former and double-checking captions or subtitles for the latter. Hearing-impaired users may have trouble understanding your discussions on how to use a particular product or leverage a service. So, just imagine how your podcast viewers might increase.
You can use automatic services to get a rough transcription. I recommend going through your content to correct spelling, grammar and other facets. People find it harder to read a page of writing that has multiple typos or errors, and they will complain about the transcripts failing to show basic accuracy. So, have a copywriter check your spelling and writing.
Closed captioning has additional benefits: It clarifies for YouTube what content you are trying to spread and can assist with tagging for the algorithm and search engine optimization. Otherwise, YouTube-generated captions can prove nonsensical and inaccurate since a computer transcribes the audio. Such increased access means you can receive more feedback from users regarding the content and find out what they do and don't like.
Keyboard And Mobile Access
How is a keyboard or a smartphone assistive technology? They’ve been around since the first home desktop, and many people use keyboards when using the internet. People who have muscular dystrophy or other disabilities rely on the keyboard to communicate online. Make sure your website complies with various keyword formats, from Bluetooth to traditional ones with cables. Test to see if search terms can be applied from these keyboards and if a user can navigate with ease.
Smartphone access also means that people who use voice assistants like Siri, Alexa or Google can make purchases. This is great for e-commerce owners, and it’s even better knowing that many users, regardless of handicap, are more likely to make a purchase on their smartphone than on a desktop or laptop.
Ubiquitous Online Fonts
Everyone loves fancy fonts. Some, like Papyrus, give a look of rough script, while others, such as Lucida, have digital handwriting options. Graphic designers, however, tend to advise against relying solely on sans-serif fonts for your business, with exceptions. Their concern, however, is for aesthetic purposes. I advise the same for ADA compliance.
If you are running a store, ensure that your font can appear on Macs, PCs and other computers. Otherwise, people literally cannot read your product options or services. Test all of the fonts you use for product descriptions and content.
Also, don’t disparage fonts that are accessible, no matter their reputation. Comic Sans is more than the butt of many jokes -- the blocky letters are useful for users who have dyslexia. Accessibility, thus, has many forms and a lot of potential.
ADA compliance isn't always straightforward, but it is possible. Apply these tips to your website to ensure you don’t face a lawsuit for e-commerce. As a bonus, you may also get more customers.