This is a complicated question with many answers, none of which can be accepted as the right one at this time. While there have been a handful of lawsuits since 2016, a couple of which did obtain a ruling in court, there is currently no legislation that outlines specific requirements for ADA compliance on the web. However, understandably, the issue has made business owners nervous about how to protect themselves and their businesses from legal trouble.
While The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was enacted in 1990 to mandate certain standards for businesses to provide physical accessibility to the public, it is becoming relevant to online business as well. The internet is becoming more and more central to how we receive goods and services, so its only logical that we should also strive to make it accessible to everyone.
However, with no firm specifications required by local or federal government for websites, business owners are left wondering how exactly to make their websites accessible, even if they truly want to make the change. Meanwhile, lawsuits have been popping up since 2016 making business owners worried that they might be targeted—and making them vulnerable to marketing claims that their website can be made ADA accessible for a whopping fee.
Be wary of any promises you might come across to make your business website ADA compliant with big ticket prices. While there are Website Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) that can lead you in the right direction, they are quite obfuscated and still open to interpretation.
This is not to say that ADA Compliance on the web is not important. Website accessibility is important to a sound business strategy as well as a solid moral standing as it offers equal opportunity for all people to enjoy your goods and services. People with disabilities make up nearly 20% of the country—that’s quite a customer base that you could be missing out on (United States Census). Not to mention, the WCAG overlaps significantly with Search Engine Optimization (SEO) strategy, meaning that making your website more accessible will also likely make it excel more in search engine rankings.
If you are concerned about legal conflicts with ADA Web Compliance, here is a breakdown of what you can do at this time to help protect your business:
Graphics and visual content can be an excellent way to draw attention to your business and its unique brand, however, individuals with visual disabilities may be unable to interact with this content and thus barred from using your website to its full potential. This could include banners, buttons, or text in images placed on your website that provides critical information to website navigation.
This is not to say that you can’t use these visuals, but you would do well to provide an alternative. Individuals with visual disabilities rely on equipment such as text reading software that picks up on text on a webpage and reads it aloud to them so that they can receive the information.
If your text is formatted in an image, say as a jpg, png, etc., then its likely a text reader will not register it as text. You can now include something known as “alt text” or “alt tags”, which is an alternative description of the visual content that could stand in its place. Many web hosts such as WordPress make this easy and even provide a field for this information whenever an image is uploaded.
If you have videos on your website, they should always have a text transcript provided or subtitles that can serve as an alternative.
This applies to attached documents as well. If you have PDF documents on your website, these act as an image on a computer and may not be accessible to a text reader. Consider including an HTML or RTF version of the file.
Ultimately, you want your website to be easy to navigate for persons with and without disabilities. Keep your menus simply, clean, and ensure that you have good contrast between the colors and sizes of your fonts. It’s a good rule of thumb to provide a plain version of your website without all of its graphic elements for users to toggle between.
A user should have the option to close, pause, or minimize any content that blinks, flashes, or plays automatically, and you may even consider disabling these features altogether. Be mindful of why a user might visit your website, how much time you would like them to spend there, and how often you’d like them to visit—anything too obnoxious is bad for web traffic regardless of accessibility.
Make a Plan
ADA compliance is a process, not something you can do all at once and check off your list forever. On the other hand, don’t ignore it hoping it will go away or wait until there is legislation to start making changes. Aim to be proactive and methodical about updating your website and take it in small steps to keep it manageable.
Start with making everything accessible to text readers, caption and tag your images, work on simplicity and clarity, but also implement lasting policies going forward that apply anytime you update you update your website content. Establish a plan, start implementing it step by step, and perhaps most importantly, make that plan public to your customers and encourage feedback.
Especially since the guidelines on ADA compliance are still evolving, it’s important to be transparent with your client base about the changes you’re working towards. Make it clear to your customers that your goal is to make your website ADA accessible and that you welcome suggestions they might have to streamline the process.
It’s important to stay up to date with ADA news as it comes out and make updates respectively. Although we can offer you advice on ways to make your website more ADA accessible and move you in the right direction, we can’t offer you promises that you’ll fit legislation that has not yet been released. The internet is a moving target, so the best that you can do to protect yourself and your business is stay alert and strive to be as accommodating as possible.