With the World Wide Web entering its third decade in existence, websites have become an integral part of our lives, helping us book travel reservations, apply to jobs, order just about anything from anywhere, and so much more. Websites are ubiquitous, yet for some internet users with disabilities, browsing the web can feel more like a tedious chore than an exciting experience.
The term “web accessibility” gets tossed around quite a bit these days without many website owners thinking twice about what it might mean. For the hearing and visually impaired, many websites can be nearly unusable if they are not built with web accessibility standards in mind. This is where the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) compliance comes in.
Understanding ADA Compliance
The ADA is designed to protect individuals with disabilities from any unequal treatment or discrimination. You can thank the ADA for things like wheelchair ramps, handicap parking spaces, and ensuring wheelchair accessibility to businesses. Online, a website in many cases is a ‘digital storefront’ for a business. While it doesn’t have to be wheelchair accessible, there are certain user needs that should be addressed to make sure certain groups of people are not unintentionally excluded from the site. The ADA has a list of standards and guidelines called the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) for online accessibility for websites. There are a variety of people with disabilities who may have trouble accessing parts (or all of) certain websites. Common disabilities that greatly affect website accessibility and usage include:
- People with colorblindness not being able to see certain tones on the monitor
- Hearing-impaired individuals unable to listen or follow along with video content
- Visually-impaired individuals who rely on screen-readers and Braille display readers
While this group of people is a very small percentage of internet users, a business should maintain ADA web compliance to the best of their ability to avoid any business or legal ramifications.
Big Brands, Bigger Lawsuits
Within the last three years or so, there have been more than a handful of legal cases against nation-wide brands from higher education institutions to restaurants to major retailers. Poor attention to accessibility compliance on their respective websites brought lawsuits and poor public relations down on major corporations. More importantly, it caused a poor user experience for those with disabilities. One deaf student at Harvard was at a loss when he found that none of his course’s video lectures had subtitles, rendering them useless to someone who is hearing impaired. A blind man was unable to do something as mundane as ordering a pizza online because the screen-reader he relied upon was unable to navigate the website of one of the nation’s largest pizza chains. Both incidences (and many others) brought legal action down on the company or institution, emphasizing the need to ensure your business’s website is ADA compliant. Aside from legal action, there is the obvious business-level concern with having a poorly-accessible website; you may be excluding potential customers and putting your business’ reputation at risk.
How Do I Protect My Business?
This concern raises a logical question: “How can I check whether or not my website is ADA compliant?” A quick Google search shows countless tools that can scan and audit websites for ADA compliance and (if you’re lucky) provide suggestions on how to fix the issues. Free tools typically only scan up to five pages of a website which is normally not sufficient for most companies. This, unfortunately, is only half the battle.
A bulk of ADA compliance guidelines fall into how the website was designed and built from the start. It is far more difficult to go back and fix ADA compliance issues years down the road. This involves dealing with web design tools and techniques as well as diving deep into the actual code of the website. Pinpointing the issues with a free audit tool online is all well and good, but those issues need to be fixed, which in many cases, those fixes require technical skills.
Three of the most common technical components that are noticed as ADA compliance issues include:
- Alt Tags: For all of the visual elements of your website, alt tags provide an alternative description for what appears. These are critical for screen-readers to know what is in the image, document, PDF, or more. Going through and adding alt tags is time-intensive, but can save you from many compliance issues down the road.
- ARIA Landmarks: Often overlooked, these help screen-readers navigate a page by prioritizing what to read based on these landmarks. Use ARIA landmarks to identify elements like the body of the page content, the header, the footer, and more.
- Titles & Headings: Every landing page should have a unique title that informs users of what they can find on the page. Additionally, the headings should run in a smooth order of operations H1, to H2, to H3, and so on. Just because H3 looks better than H2, doesn’t mean you should choose it.
Technical skills aside, it makes everyone’s job easier by creating every element of the website with ADA compliance in mind from the get-go. It is far easier to correct small ADA compliance issues along the way than to have to overhaul a website to get it up to compliance standards.
A digital marketing and web development company would be your best bet to both identify the compliance issues and resolve them. ADA compliance encompasses design, development, and content. Finding a one-stop-shop to handle all of those issues is typically the best option for business owners.
At PHOS, we’ve recently incorporated this holistic view of ADA compliance into several of our websites. PHOS has a team of web designers, developers, and content experts who can bring your site up to speed and ensure that it is ADA compliant. If you’re debating whether or not this is important for your business (hint: it definitely is!), contact our team today.