To comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and other disability non-discrimination laws, you’ll need an accessible website. That means following the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), the most widely recognized international framework for digital accessibility.
But adopting the best practices of inclusive design isn’t always easy, particularly if you start with the wrong mindset. In this article, we’ll address some of the most common myths about web accessibility compliance — and how you can improve your organization’s approach by dispelling these misconceptions.
1. “Accessible websites are ugly.”
Many accessibility improvements don’t require a change to your website’s visual presentation. The exceptions to this (such as using accessible color combinations or avoiding the use of color alone to convey information) aren’t significant limitations.
By using native HTML, CSS (Cascading Style Sheets), WAI-ARIA (Web Accessibility Initiative - Accessible Rich Internet Applications) and other tools, you can build content that works better for everyone — while still providing a rich experience with vibrant visuals and novel functionality.
2. “If my website isn’t accessible, it’s the developers' fault.”
It’s true that developers handle much of the hard work of accessibility. However, designers, content writers, and other members of your team also share the responsibility — and if your developers aren’t trained to prioritize accessibility, you can’t really blame them for making mistakes.
Accessibility requires a team effort. Designers need to choose color schemes that meet WCAG’s requirements for color contrast, while content writers need to create accurate headings, image alternative text, and page title tags.
When beginning an accessibility initiative, get everyone on board. Communicate the importance of inclusive design and make sure everyone understands their role. On-site accessibility training can be helpful for creating an organizational commitment (and ensuring long-term digital compliance).
3. “The ADA doesn’t set requirements for websites, so web accessibility is optional.”
The first half of this statement is true — the second half, not so much.
The ADA was written in 1990, so it doesn’t have technical criteria for digital content. While the Department of Justice (DOJ) has issued guidance which recommends testing web content against WCAG Level AA success criteria, the DOJ has stopped short of implementing specific requirements.
But that doesn’t mean that web accessibility is optional. As the DOJ notes:
“Inaccessible web content means that people with disabilities are denied equal access to information. An inaccessible website can exclude people just as much as steps at an entrance to a physical location.”
Under the ADA, every website must be accessible. Some organizations have learned that lesson the hard way: In 2016, Guillermo Robles, who has a vision disability, filed a lawsuit against Domino’s Pizza, LLC over alleged accessibility barriers on the pizza chain’s website and mobile app.
Domino’s argued that without technical requirements, the ADA wasn’t applicable to web content. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed, and the company ultimately settled the lawsuit.
With the number of web accessibility lawsuits rising each year, every business needs a compliance strategy. WCAG is the best framework for creating, testing, and remediating content, and following WCAG also the risk of litigation under other laws such as the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) and the European Accessibility Act (EAA).
4. “Web accessibility is expensive. We don’t have the resources.”
Put simply, you can’t afford to ignore accessibility — by doing so, you’re creating unnecessary barriers for the 26% of your potential customers who live with disabilities. You’re at higher risk of web accessibility lawsuits, and you miss out on the enormous benefits of accessible design.
Remember, accessibility is an investment, not a cost. When you follow the best practices of inclusive design from the first stage of development, you’ll get cleaner, maintenance-friendly code, and your site will be more useful. Everyone wins (including your developers, web design team, and your customers).