What is ADA Website Compliance?
Under Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), any business with at least 15 full-time employees that operates for 20 or more weeks every year is covered by the law. Under Title III, businesses that fall into the category of "public accommodation," such as hotels, banks, and public transportation, are also required to comply.
There are no clear ADA regulations that explain exactly what compliant web content is, but businesses that fall under ADA Title I or ADA Title III are required to develop a website that offers "reasonable accessibility" to people with disabilities.
Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 was developed by the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) with a goal of providing a shared standard for web content accessibility that meets the needs of individuals, organizations, and governments internationally. It covers a wide range of recommendations for making web content more accessible. Following these guidelines will make content accessible to a wider range of people with disabilities, including blindness and low vision, deafness and hearing loss, learning disabilities, cognitive limitations, limited movement, speech disabilities, photosensitivity, and combinations of these.
Within WCAG 2.0, there are also “levels” of acceptability for ADA website compliance:
- A = below acceptable
- AA = standard
- AAA = exceptional
WCAG 2.0 AA is the standard on which most website owners are operating and is considered acceptable. It is important to know which set of standards you should be meeting, but most of these standards are very technical. Therefore, you may want to work with a web firm that specializes in ADA website compliance and is familiar with WCAG 2.0. Also, consider a consultation with a disability attorney.
How to Develop an ADA-Compliant Website
“The United States is way behind in ADA website compliance compared to businesses in Europe and Australia,” says Jason McKee, chief marketing officer of Accessibility Shield, and a speaker at the 2020 AAM Summit.
According to McKee, the first step to make your website accessible is to acknowledge the issue with an accessibility statement. The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) indicates accessibility statements are important for several reasons. Statements:
- Show your users that you care about accessibility and about them.
- Provide them with information about the accessibility of your content.
- Demonstrate commitment to accessibility and to social responsibility.
“The next step is to identify the problems and fix them,” says McKee.
Vanessa Schaefer, co-founder and creative director of Clockwork Design Group, puts ADA website compliance in two buckets. “First is the visual, what users see when they are on your site,” says Schaefer. “The second is behind the scenes to ensure your site works with screen readers.”
While there are a variety of website accessibility checkers, the folks at Clockwork use the WAVE Web Accessibility Evaluation Tool to identify accessibility and WCAG errors. For example, the sight-impaired have contrast issues with websites. An orange call-to-action button with white text does not meet the contrast test. “ADA website compliance could involve changing brand colors,” says Danielle Diforio, accounts manager at Clockwork, “or making fonts bigger.”
In his article, “Is Your Website ADA Compliant?,” Adam C. Uzialko lists some common ways you can address accessibility issues associated with your web content:
Create alt tags for all images, videos, and audio files: Alt tags allow users with disabilities to read or hear alternative descriptions of content they might not otherwise be able to view. Alt tags describe the object itself and, generally, the purpose it serves on the site.
- Create text transcripts for video and audio content: Text transcripts help hearing-impaired users understand content that would otherwise be inaccessible to them.
- Identify the site's language in header code: Making it clear what language the site should be read in helps users who utilize text readers. Text readers can identify those codes and function accordingly.
- Offer alternatives and suggestions when users encounter input errors: If a user with a disability is encountering input errors because of their need to navigate the website differently, your site should automatically offer recommendations to them as to how to better navigate toward the content they need.
- Create a consistent, organized layout: Menus, links, and buttons should be organized in such a way that they are clearly delineated from one another and are easily navigated throughout the entire site.
Bethany Silvis, marketing coordinator at Kerkering, Barberio & Co. saw the need to start making their website more accessible after reading articles about law firms being targeted for non-compliance. In the summer of 2019, alt tags were added to all photos. Earlier this year, the UserWay widget was added to their website. The UserWay Accessibility Widget is an AI-based auto-remediation technology that measures, monitors, and fixes accessibility violations without requiring changes to your website's existing code. “We have received great feedback from clients and contacts and encourage our employees to share this feature with clients,” says Silvis.
You may also consider hiring a company to repair your website and provide more comprehensive monitoring. McKee suggests you ask potential vendors the following questions:
- How do you manually test for accessibility?
- Do you offer HTML remediation?
- Who are you affiliated with? For example, International Association of Accessibility Professionals.
Consequences of Non-Compliance
Are accounting firms in danger of being sued over non-ADA compliant websites? We will not know until it happens, and the largest firms with the deepest pockets are more likely to be impacted.
By making a concerted effort to achieve reasonable accessibility for website visitors with disabilities now, you can get ahead of the curve in developing a compliant website and avoid potential lawsuits. Also, designing a compliant website can lead to better ranking on search engines.
Making our websites more accessible is not just to avoid a lawsuit. With nearly 20 percent of people in the United States affected by a disability, accessibility is the right thing to do.