The Americans with Disabilities Act, often called the ADA, prohibits discrimination against people based on their ability or disability. The legislation doesn’t just cover the width of doorways and accessibility to elevators. It also covers communication channels—like our websites.
An estimated 27% of Americans have a disability. That’s a big group with correspondingly large buying power. There’s plenty of incentive—moral, legal, and economic—to make sure everyone can easily navigate our websites.
Understanding the Regulations
The ADA requires companies take reasonable steps to communicate effectively to people with physical, vision, hearing, or speech disabilities—and this applies to business websites. But until 2022, there were no clear practices for what makes a website accessible. With this uncertainty, even the best-intentioned company could find itself facing a bushel of lawyers.
In 2022, the Department of Justice (DOJ) recommended the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) as the best practice, creating the safe harbor companies were looking for. In addition to WCAG, California, Colorado, the EU, Canada, and Israel have their own website accessibility requirements. So, it behooves companies, and the people building their websites, to be well-versed in the requirements and standards.
The good news is making a website accessible upholds best practices for design, programming, and search engine optimization (SEO). If you take accessibility into consideration from the start, it shouldn’t add much, if anything, to the cost of the site.
Making an Existing Site ADA Compliant
Depending on how a site was programmed, it might be possible to retroactively address many accessibility issues without a complete redesign. For example, the WordPress platform—used on an estimated 43% of websites—has features that can be configured to make sites more accessible. However, some WordPress plug-ins might not be deemed accessible and would need to be updated or replaced.
A thorough assessment by a website developer well-versed in accessibility issues will provide an understanding of the alternatives. Because of changing technologies and the proliferation of web use on mobile devices, a site more than five years old likely requires a redesign to improve functionality and accessibility.
12 Tips for a More Accessible Website
Much of making a website more accessible is making it easily understood by technologies such as screen readers, which convert visual text to audible words. This also makes a site easier to index and be found by search engines, which will enhance SEO performance. The concepts for making a website more accessible are relatively easy to understand and apply:
- Words should be easy to read by someone visually impaired and by a screen reader. Strong contrast between the text and the background helps.
- Menus and navigation need to be easily discoverable by somebody who can’t see your site, and should clearly describe the topic.
- Repeated content—like sidebars, headers and footers—should have a means of bypass.
- Writing should be clear and well structured.
- Pictures should include words in the code (Alt-tags) that describe the picture, and images and videos should have descriptive captions.
- Audio and video files should have transcripts.
- Color shouldn’t be the only visual means of conveying information or a change in information.
- Text and images should be high contrast and size adjustable.
- All content should be accessible by a keyboard, not just a mouse.
- Copy is best presented as live text that can be read by a screen reader or search engine.
- Forms and fields, such as newsletter signups and contact forms, should be able to be read by a screen reader and completed through a keyboard.
- Use a web-based accessibility checker and consider using a plug-in or accessibility service to maintain compliance.
Our Five Steps to Accessibility
A website is accessible when it allows people with disabilities to perceive, understand, navigate, and interact with its content effectively. Here are some key factors we focus on when creating accessible websites:
- Perceivable: Can all users, including those with visual or hearing impairments, perceive the information presented on the website?
This involves providing alternative text for images, captions or transcripts for audio and video content, and using clear and legible text.
- Operable: Is it easy for people with various disabilities to operate the website?
We ensure users can navigate the website using a keyboard alone. Providing clear and consistent navigation menus, skip links, and logical tab order are key considerations.
- Understandable: Will users understand the content on our site?
We use clear and simple language, avoid jargon, and provide instructions or cues to assist users in completing tasks. Scannable content that uses headings, subheadings, and bullet points enhances comprehension, which is critical to communicating with all audiences.
- Robust: Can the site’s content be accessed via different browsers, assistive devices, and formats?
It’s best practice to build websites using technologies that are compatible with a wide range of assistive tools, as well as providing alternative formats for content whenever possible. This can include downloadable text versions of documents, transcripts or captions for audio and video, and options to access information through email or phone.
- Tested: Have we tested the site’s accessibility and checked-in with users?
We test the accessibility of the sites we build with available tools and assistive technologies. And yes, we still use manual testing to make sure everything is accessible as intended. We also recommend getting feedback from users with disabilities to identify any barriers.
The Government May Help Make Your Website Accessible
Good for Everybody
Following website accessibility guidance and standards will allow you to avoid expensive investigations and litigation. It will also improve your website and SEO performance and make it easier for people to find information and navigate your website. And that’s good for business.
Website accessibility is often overlooked, exposing website owners to enforcement actions and litigation while creating sites that don’t perform as well as they could. Moxxy can help you audit, update, or create an ADA-compliant site. We can also help clients that qualify get the available tax credits. Let’s chat!