For most people, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) conjures up pictures of physical accommodations such as wheelchair ramps near building entrances, handicapped parking spaces, and the use of braille writing on signs and placards. These measures have been tremendously valuable in helping the 56.7 million Americans with a disability function and thrive within society.
As technology occupies an increasingly large role in everyday life, however, it’s clear that the protections of the ADA need to extend into online spaces as well.
Why Is ADA Compliance Important for Websites?
Signed in 1990 at a time that most people hadn’t even used the Internet, the Americans with Disabilities Act does not explicitly regulate how websites need to follow nondiscrimination requirements. We now know that using the Internet is one of the most important ways for people with disabilities to fulfill their needs and desires. For many people with disabilities, especially impairments to sight and motion, visiting a store or other physical location can be a challenging experience. Online shopping, for example, allows people with disabilities to make the purchases they need easily and securely within the comfort of their own homes.
Because of this, among the greatest drivers of website accessibility are usability improvements and the reputation boost that it brings—or, alternatively, the lost business that organizations want to avoid as a result of inaccessible websites. According to a survey by the National Business Disability Council at the Viscardi Center, 91 percent of customers say that they’d prefer to shop at a website that prioritizes accessibility.
Does Your Website Need to Be ADA-Compliant?
Under Title III of the ADA, “places of public accommodation” such as restaurants, hotels, schools, and doctors’ offices must take strides to offer their goods and services to people with disabilities. What about websites?
“The idea of equal access, equal opportunity has sort of evolved in its application from brick and mortar to eCommerce. At first, many companies were worried about the desktop experience. Now, the concern extends to both smart phones and devices. Wherever a consumer accesses your content – whether it be directly through the web or an app – you need to be concerned about accessibility.”
Web Accessibility and the Law Interview:
Christian Antkowiak, a shareholder at Buchanan Ingersoll Rooney
Courts have taken essentially the following position on the issue of whether websites are places of public accommodation: Website accessibility fulfills the spirit of the ADA by lowering the barriers for people with disabilities to participate in business and commerce. As such, commercial websites need to comply with ADA regulations. Judges have reached this conclusion in several high-profile cases, such as the National Federation of the Blind’s lawsuit against the Scribd digital library. As a result of this case, Scribd agreed to redesign its website to work with screen reader software by the end of 2017.
In recent cases, the U.S. Department of Justice has repeatedly sided with plaintiffs arguing that a private company’s website needs to be accessible, despite any other mitigating factors. One thing is for certain, however: The number of federal lawsuits alleging violations of the ADA is currently accelerating at a rapid pace. Between January and August 2017, there were 432 ADA lawsuits filed in federal court—more than the total number of ADA lawsuits in 2015 and 2016 combined.
In order to protect yourself from expensive, drawn-out litigation and better serve your entire customer base; it only makes sense to invest in website accessibility.
What Does ADA Compliance Mean for Websites?
The Department of Justice has repeatedly been involved in ADA cases where private companies agreed to comply with the WCAG 2.0 Level AA success criteria. The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) are website accessibility recommendations developed by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C).
These recommendations are divided into three levels in increasing order of conformance: A, AA, and AAA. Level AAA applies only to certain criteria within the guidelines, so Level AA is currently the expected level of accessibility for websites.
Until the ADA is updated to address the special case of website accessibility, or the Department of Justice releases its website accessibility regulations, complying with WCAG 2.0 Level AA is the best way to ensure that people with disabilities have equal access to your website. The overview below is a great starting point about meeting the WCAG 2.0 Level AA recommendations.
WCAG 2.0 Level AA Accessibility Guidelines
The WCAG 2.0 guidelines are intended to address accessibility concerns for a variety of disabilities, from vision and hearing issues and learning disabilities to movement disorders and photosensitivity. The guidelines are currently divided into four categories, each an adjective describing one of the objectives of website testing.
- Text Alternatives: Any relevant non-textual, non-decorative content must have a textual counterpart that identifies or describes the content, such as the use of alt text within HTML to caption an image. These text alternatives must be able to be converted into accessible equivalents such as larger text, braille, or speech.
- Time-based Media: All pre-recorded and live audio content has captions and transcripts. All pre-recorded video content has an audio description of the video’s contents.
- Adaptable: Any information conveyed through the website’s presentation is also available through text for all users. Sounds and visual aspects such as shape, size, and location are never used as the sole means of conveying information.
- Distinguishable: To assist color-blind users and those with other visual impairments, color is never used as the sole means of conveying information or prompting the user. Audio lasting more than 3 seconds can be paused, or the volume can be controlled independently of the system volume. Regular text has a contrast ratio of at least 4.5:1, and large text has a contrast ratio of at least 3:1. In addition, text can be resized up to 200 percent without causing issues with the website.
- Keyboard Accessible: All of the website’s functionality is available through the use of a keyboard, without requiring specific timing for individual keystrokes. If users can access part of the page via a keyboard, they can also navigate away from that part via a keyboard, without getting “stuck” on that component.
- Enough Time: Users have sufficient time to read and use the website’s content. If part of the website has a time limit, users are able to turn off the time limit, or they can adjust or extend it to at least ten times the default limit (unless the time limit is essential to the website’s functionality, such as auction websites like eBay). Content that moves, blinks, or automatically updates can be paused or stopped unless it’s essential to the website’s functionality.
- Seizures: Websites must avoid triggering seizures in people with epilepsy or other neurological disorders. Either the flashing content is no faster than three times in one second, or the flashes are below the general flash and red flash thresholds.
- Navigable: Content that’s repeated on multiple pages can be easily skipped. All pages have informative titles, headings, and labels that describe the page’s content and hierarchy. Navigating the page must take place sequentially, in a meaningful order that preserves relationships on the page. All link text is descriptive in order to make clear where the link will take users. If users are navigating via a keyboard, the current focus of the keyboard is always highlighted and visible.
- Readable: The language of the website’s content is defined and can be programmatically determined, for instance by using the HTML lang attribute. Lang attributes are also used to identify portions of the page, such as Flash content or PDF documents, that have a different language from the one originally defined.
- Predictable: Websites should operate in ways that are familiar and predictable. When a new page element is in focus, the website should not initiate a change of context such as opening a new window or going to a new page. In addition, the website should warn of user-initiated changes of context ahead of time, for instance through the use of a submit button. Navigation and labeling should remain consistent between different pages.
- Input Assistance: When users are entering input into the website, any input errors are automatically detected and written out, providing, for instance, text descriptions that identify fields that were not filled out or data that was in the wrong format. The website also provides suggestions to fix the errors. Input fields and buttons are labeled to provide their functions and instructions. If the user’s input is being used for legal purposes or financial transactions, then the user must be able to reverse submissions or correct errors.
- Compatible: Websites are developed and designed to be as compatible as possible with assistive technologies such as screen readers. Markup languages like HTML should be validated to make sure that all elements are well-nested and use start and end tags correctly. The name and role of all user interface components should be defined within the code.
With so many WCAG 2.0 guidelines to follow, it’s clear that website accessibility is a journey, not a destination. Once you’ve started the testing process, you will need input from testing by people with disabilities who can highlight important issues that you may have overlooked during development is critical.
At the Bureau of Internet Accessibility, we offer a free graded report of your website accessibility. Get an obligation free automated WCAG 2.0 scan of your website.
If you would prefer to speak with our team directly, please feel free to email us or call us at, 401-830-0075, we would love to hear from you!
Additional Resources You May Be Interested In:
Are You At Risk? Take Our Web Accessibility Quiz
Download Our Website Accessibility Checklist
Get A Free Automated WCAG 2.0 Scan Of Your Website