Is Your Website ADA Compliant?

Image of an up arrow next to a blue handicap sign on a lighted sign

If one of your customers has accessibility issues at a physical location, you see the problem and address it promptly. Your online presence, though, is a horse of a different color--but that doesn’t mean the horse is any less important. Just because you cannot immediately see the issues your web visitors have with your site does not lessen the role ADA compliance plays in your business practices.

To be clear, there are no current regulatory guidelines for websites to comply with ADA laws. However, based on recent Supreme Court decisions, the Americans with Disabilities Act not only applies to restaurants, hotels and stores but also websites and apps owned and operated by those businesses.

According to an Oct. 7 article in the Los Angeles Times, the Supreme Court has ruled in favor of the visually impaired to sue Domino’s Pizza and other retailers for failing to provide an accessible website. The initial ruling came last year, but the US 9th Circuit Court of Appeals turned down the appeal earlier this month. The current decision is not a formal ruling, yet,  as refusing to hear the case returns it to the lower courts for now. Regardless, this decision makes businesses liable for providing an accessible online experience.

And rightly so. Approximately 48.9 million non-institutionalized civilians in this country are disabled. That’s 19.4% of our nation’s population. Such challenges include the hearing impaired; the visually disabled, ranging from partially colorblind to fully blind; the physically disabled, who are often incapable of using a mouse; and the cognitively and neurologically disabled, including those with dyslexia, autism or stroke impairments, that may have difficulties with navigation, complex designs or distracting elements.

The Americans with Disabilities Act went into effect in 1990 to protect people with differing disabilities against discrimination. Businesses that fall into one of two categories must comply with ADA regulations: Title I includes businesses with at least 15 full-time employees that operate 20 weeks or more annually, and Title III contains “public accommodation” businesses like hotels, banks and public transportation.

Your next question likely resembles, so if the law does not directly address online compliance, what does one do to comply?

For best practices, businesses should turn to the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), which contains recommendations that form the foundations of many online accessibility laws around the world. WCAG’s four areas of focus for evaluating a site’s issues include:

  1. Perceivable: Users must be able to locate and process information on a website.

  2. Operable: Users must be able to navigate and use a site.

  3. Understandable: Users should be able to discern and comprehend all information and navigation.

  4. Robust: Websites should adapt and evolve to meet the changing needs of users with disabilities.

There are several simple yet large steps companies can take towards making their sites ADA compliant. One of the most common complaints is the lack of alt text that provides alternative descriptions for image, video and audio content. Also consider the following:

  • Consistent, organized layouts.

  • Screen readers in which a voice reads the text.

  • Closed captioning for all video with sound.

  • Live captions for live video content.

  • Text transcripts for video and audio content.

  • Resizable text of up to 200% without affecting the site’s functionality.

  • Keyboard-only usability.

  • Pause, stop or hide options for moving, flashing or scrolling content.

  • Refreshable Braille text for touchscreens.

  • Alternatives and suggestions when users encounter input errors.

  • Identifying the site’s language in the header code to allow text readers to function properly.

  • Text-only options for emails.

  • Coding labels for form fields.

  • Avoid solely relying on color to convey information.

  • Descriptive anchor text for links rather than generic “click here” or “learn more.”

Updating a site to make it more accessible is not a quick fix--it’s a good business practice that requires regular reviews and changes as technology develops and online audiences grow. Reaching all customers and patrons is important. When opening bricks-and-mortar locations, we consider doorways, ramps, handrails, restrooms, lighting, customer service and anything else that makes the place more accessible, so naturally websites should be an area of concern as well.

To find out how to show good faith by incorporating WCAG recommendations into your website’s navigation and functionality, give us a call. We would be glad to set up a consultation to evaluate your site and provide recommendations for working towards a better user experience for all of your customers.