Many businesses are just starting to learn about how the American with Disabilities Act (ADA) will affect their website. This article will go into ADA, W3, and WCAG. I do want to note that we are NOT lawyers and can not provide legal advice.*

Is your website easily accessible for people who have disabilities?

Can a person who is sight-challenged get through your website and find the information they are seeking?

What about an individual that can't use a mouse?

Are they stuck having to ask someone to help them navigate your website, or do they go to a competitor who makes navigation with a keyboard possible?

As the world depends more and more on internet access, it is important to take into account the millions of people who are not able to do the things most of us take for granted. This is where the government has stepped in to try and make the Internet a more disability-friendly place. This can be a good thing and a bad thing.

The Americans With Disabilities Act

The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) came into existence in 1990. This Act made it illegal to discriminate against anyone with a disability in any area considered a "place of public accommodation". What this meant was that any place where citizens were expecting to be able to do business had to be made accessible regardless of any disabilities they had. This included things like wheelchair ramps and phone lines for the hearing challenged, just as examples. At this time, the Internet was still in its infancy for the general public, and the law only pertained to physical institutions. This was to quickly change.

The Internet Grows

By 1994, it became clear that the world wide web was here to stay and something needed to be done to regulate the internet  and thus  the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) was created. This group set out to create the standards that the internet relies on today. These standards were initially just coding standards. However, they have extended into every part of how the internet works. In 1999 the W3C worked to transfer the standards set by the ADA in order to represent standards for websites. This was especially important for government and educational agencies that were set up to deal with a lot of different people. There needed to be a way that those who had disabilities could access the same information on these websites as the average citizen.

It took time, however, for the W3C to decide on standards that complied with the ADA. After all, the internet presented a host of accessibility problems that hadn't been present when people were doing business in person. People doing business on the Internet didn't have to worry about things like navigating steps or opening heavy doors. What they did have to worry about were things like reading, hearing videos, flashing lights that might cause seizures, and websites that timed out or automatically updated quicker than they could obtain all the information they were seeking. This standard now know as the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) took time to come up with what was deemed acceptable compliance standards.

WCAG and WCAG 2.0

In 1999, the W3C issued what was known as the Web Accessibility Initiative: Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WAI-WCAG) or WCAG for short. In this document, there were fourteen points that a website needed to incorporate in order to become ADA compliant. This would be the standard for any website that was considered a place of public accommodation. By this stage, government and educational websites weren't the only websites involved. As more businesses offered a web presence, website accessibility was expected of these websites as well.

In 2008, a revised edition of these guidelines was released. WCAG 2.0 consisted of twelve guidelines that were separated into four main categories that became known as POUR. These categories decreed that websites were required to follow these guidelines for ADA compliance:

Perceivable - Information on an ADA compliant website must be available to everyone, even those with disabilities such as sight or hearing impairments.
Operable - An ADA compliant website has to be able to work even without the use of a mouse.
Understandable - The information and navigation on an ADA compliant website must be easily understood. This includes providing information in various formats such as text and video because people have different learning styles.
Robust - ADA compliant websites must work on a variety of assistive technology, both current and created in the future. It must be able to give the same experience across different browsers.

We will be going into these four categories a bit deeper later. But first, let's explore why you need to work toward having an accessible/ADA compliant website.

Why Your Website Needs to Be ADA Compliant

Taking the time to make sure your website is ADA compliant is a matter of ethical, legal, and financial sense. As more and more people are turning to the Internet to do business, your business is your website. Even if you have a brick and mortar location, the majority of Americans now do whatever they can online to save time. It helps to be able to conduct business at all hours instead of having to be restricted to conventional business hours, which may not be possible for some individuals due to work schedules.

Ethically, providing a good experience for those with disabilities is something everyone should consider, even if they aren't required to do so. Not making a website accessible leaves many people hanging. It causes frustration and "punishes" people who are already limited in what they can access. 

Legally, you are running the risk of lawsuits if you are not ADA compliant. More and more people are taking businesses to court that do not allow those with disabilities to enjoy the full experience of a website. And the courts are ruling in favor of those individuals. These courts are not allowing the owners of these websites claim they didn't know there was such a thing as ADA compliance. They are making it clear that this is something that should not be an issue whether it is required or not. 

Financially, your business could suffer from two directions. First, fines for not being ADA compliant can range anywhere from $50,000 (first violation) to $100,000 (second violation). This may not seem like a huge amount to many large corporations, but it can be financially devastating to the small business owner. When you take into account that this is the amount for ONE lawsuit, and you could be facing several from different directions, it all adds up. Also, consider that a large number of people who visit your website may be dealing with a disability. As our population continues to age, this is becoming more the case than the exception. If a person can't get what they want from your website, they will move onto your competition, leaving you without a potential sale. 

Potential Problems/Solutions

What types of problems can a person with disabilities face when they visit a website? Let's look at  a few examples.

  1. Refreshable Braille displays and screen readers can't read images. This is true even if the image contains a word. For example, you can have a picture of a sign that has the name of your business on it but the reader simply can't pick up the text. This problem exists for photographs, artwork, charts, graphs, and any other image. If your image adds information to your page, it won't be available to someone using a screen reader. To remedy this, there are a few things you can do. One example is that you can provide very descriptive alt. text (alternative text) on all images. Make sure the text includes all the important information necessary to get the full meaning of the image.
  2. Offering information for download can be a problem if you only offer a PDF version. This version is often image-based and runs into the problem of being unreadable for a person who relies on a screen reader or refreshable Braille display. This problem is not encountered with HTML and RTF formats. Websites should provide at least one additional option for downloads that is compatible with screen readers.
  3. Some people need certain colors to see the content. This includes needing high-contrast alternatives. In addition, many people need a much larger font size in order to see the content. If you set the colors and font size on your website so they can't be adaptable by a user's computer software, you make it impossible for them to access your content. Make sure your coding doesn't limit the color and font size.
  4. Videos and slideshows create problems for both the hearing and sight-impaired. Audio clips that are played automatically may be totally missed by the hearing-impaired. Make it clear if there are any audio files that play automatically and provide a transcript for those who can't hear the content. Provide closed captioning and transcripts for all videos. Make sure the transcripts are in HTML or RTF format.
  5. When navigation depends only on the use of a mouse, this creates an issue for individuals who use voice commands or the keyboard in order to navigate. Make sure your coding is compatible with voice command software and keyboard navigation. You can test this by trying to navigate your own website with just your keyboard.
  6. Some flashing content can cause seizures in certain individuals. Eliminate this type of content completely if possible, and provide a way for the user to turn it off if it is absolutely necessary.
  7. Time constraints make it hard for those who need more time to either understand or absorb the content. You can fix this issue by taking time constraints out of the equation. Allow your visitors to move forward at their own pace.

ADA Compliance Guidelines By Category

If you aren't sure if your website is ADA compliant, or you know it isn't, it can be overwhelming without a plan of action. By breaking down the solutions by category, you will have a better picture of where you need to focus your immediate attention and where your final destination is to be. 

  1. Perceivable - Everyone perceives things in a different way. You can ensure the basic information gets across by:
    • Provide both alt text and captions for all images. This should be detailed enough to get across the exact meaning of the graphic.
    • If something is based on time, provide alternatives. For example, give people a chance to pause a slideshow or move forward through steps at their own pace without risking the page timing out.
    • Make it possible for people to access the information without losing the intended meaning. For example, can the font be enlarged without the content being lost at the end? Does the site automatically provide scrolling options to make access possible?
    • Use higher contrast colors and make it obvious where foreground and background begin and end. Make fonts capable of being enlarged up to 200 percent without losing readability.
  2. Operable - You need to make it possible to get around your website without difficulty
    • Make keyboard navigation possible throughout your site.
    • Don't advance pages automatically. Allow user to decide when they are ready to move to the next section. This is particularly needed on things like slideshows.
    • Make sure every page and section is labeled to ensure a user knows where they are on the website. Make sure menu choices are clear and easily found on every page of the site. Provide search options on larger sites that contain a lot of content.
    • Avoid flashing images that may cause seizures. If an image needs to work in a way that might cause seizures, provide a clear way for users to stop the activity.
  3. Understandable - ADA compliance means that the content of your website should not be confusing and navigation should be logical.
    • Provide content in a readily-known, identifiable language. It is never a bad idea to offer translation capability, but that isn't necessary.
    • Keep navigation consistent throughout the website. Don't place menus on the left on some pages and the top on others. Stay as consistent in the format as possible throughout the site.
    • Offer detailed directions for all webforms. Provide a way for users to have questions answered if they run into an issue with the webform.
  4. Robust - Make your website capable of being compatible with all known forms of assistive technology, and across all major browsers. This is the one category that is more concerned with the actual coding of your website than the other categories.
    • Use standard HTML coding
    • Make sure all HTML code validate. This helps technology such as text readers recognize the content better.
    • Stay up-to-date on any new assistive technologies that are developed. Make it a point to check on new technologies on a regular basis so that you can stay current.

Final Thoughts

Does your website need to be ADA compliant? The simple answer is "Yes! It does." It is highly likely that many of the things necessary to make your website ADA compliant are already in place, but you want to include as many elements as possible. This isn't only a matter of complying with requirements and avoiding lawsuits. It’s also a matter of surviving on the Internet and as a business. Becoming compliant is also not something you can do once and simply forget about. New assistive technologies are being used every day. You need to be aware of these new technologies and adjust your website accordingly. Finally, keep an eye on any government changes that will require you to make changes. While the current guidelines have been in effect for some time, there is always the chance that they will be updated as the world changes. Remember, ignorance of the law is no excuse when you’re facing a lawsuit. 

How can 95Visual help?

We have partnered with leading accessibility experts to ensure that your website is accessible. Our accessibility service partners automation, AI, & human audits to ensure that your website is WCAG 2.1 AA, ADA, Section 508, and EN 301549 compliant. If you would like more info about ADA/WCAG compliance, reach out to us.

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*Legal Note:
This post was created with our clients (existing and potential) best interests in mind and intended to inform them of the potential liability of not having an ADA/WCAG compliant website. The info in this post is believed to be true at the time of posting. As the ADA/WCAG landscape is changing constantly the information in this post may become out of date. If you believe that any of the info in this post is out of date please contact us and let us know. We can not be liable if you do or do not act on any information within this post.