Your terms and conditions page is an essential legal agreement between your organization and its users. As such, it’s important to consider accessibility when planning your content.
Many terms and conditions pages have built-in accessibility barriers that affect people of all abilities. Take a look at the Apple Media Services Terms and Condition page; it’s extremely long and verbose, and most people won’t read through every single line of text. Apple takes a few helpful steps to make the page more useful, but legal jargon can be somewhat intimidating.
And when the terms and conditions require some type of acknowledgement from the user — for instance, “click here to accept" — many people will simply scroll to the bottom of the document and signal their acceptance. In 2017, a Deloitte survey of 2,000 U.S. consumers found that 91% of people consent to terms of service without reading them.
Nevertheless, when users want to read legal agreements in full, it’s imperative that they have that option. They should also have accessible options for accepting the terms and conditions, particularly if they’re agreeing to provide personally identifiable information (PII) or other sensitive data.
In this article, we’ll provide a few best practices to keep in mind when designing your terms and conditions page. For more guidance, send us a message to connect with a subject matter expert.
Make sure your Terms and Conditions page is readable
Legal agreements contain precise language, so you probably don’t have direct control over the text on your page. However, following the best practices of web accessibility can provide users with a better experience:
- Use subheadings to break up your content into readable sections. Many people with disabilities use subheadings to scan through web content and find the information they need; by using subheadings properly, you can make this process much easier.
- Where appropriate, use unordered and ordered lists.
- If your terms and conditions contain diagrams, photos, or other visual content, make sure to provide a text alternative.
- Consider using hyperlinks to direct users to support pages and other useful resources.
To see how subheadings can improve readability, review the Bureau of Internet Accessibility’s Terms of Service. Notice how each subheading provides a clear description of the content. This improves readability for all users — and enhances the visual appearance of the page.
Related: 4 Often-Overlooked Accessibility Mistakes (And What To Do Instead)
Keep your terms and conditions page simple
Generally speaking, people know what to expect when clicking on your website’s terms. The best practice is to meet those expectations — even if adding a certain feature might seem helpful.
For example, our clients frequently ask whether they should provide a “skip ahead" feature on their terms and conditions pages and widgets. This isn’t necessary. People who use screen readers are familiar with the layout of legal content, and if they need to skip to the bottom of the document, they’ll understand how to do so.
The best practice is to ensure the readability of the document, and that’s all. We don't recommend building in functionality that already exists, as this might cause confusion.
Likewise, don’t use excessive styling on your page. Use a widely supported font, but keep your legal content in plain text. In most cases, you don’t need to add photos or stylize the appearance of the page.
Related: Best Fonts To Use for Website Accessibility
Provide accessible options for agreeing to the terms
Needless to say, if your users cannot accept your terms, they can’t use your services. Some general tips:
- Don’t require signatures. Some people cannot provide signatures, and in most cases, a simple checkbox or “agree" button will work fine.
- Agree and Decline buttons should be identified with the <buttons> attribute or the ARIA attribute role=”button.” This helps screen reader users understand the purpose of the buttons (and skip straight to the buttons if they’d prefer not to read every term).
- Many websites require users to read or scroll through the text before accepting the terms. If this is the case, use <disabled> or aria-disabled=“true” on the Accept button. Provide instructions via aria-describedby explaining how to enable the “Accept” button.
We should note here that WAI-ARIA (Web Accessibility Initiative - Accessible Rich Internet Applications) is not as widely supported as native HTML, and misusing ARIA can cause accessibility issues. If your content needs to use ARIA, we strongly recommend working with an accessibility partner to test your markup.
Related: 5 Tips for Using ARIA to Improve Web Accessibility
Test your page for keyboard accessibility
Many people use a keyboard (no mouse) when browsing the internet. Make sure that your terms and conditions can be navigated with a keyboard alone.
This is especially important if you’re using third-party widgets or extensions. Check your page using simple keyboard commands — Tab to move focus to the next element, and Shift-Tab to move back. Ask questions: Does the keyboard focus move in a logical, predictable way? Can you accept the terms without switching to a mouse?
If your terms and conditions page asks users for other information (such as name, date of birth, and so on), your forms need appropriate labels and instructions. Most terms and conditions pages are fairly simple, but it’s a good idea to check every single element before publishing.
To learn more about digital accessibility compliance, download our Essential Guide to ADA Compliance for Websites eBook.