What makes a website ADA compliant?
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Nowadays, we spend almost a full day or 23.6 hours of each week online. Everyone from toddlers to seniors now have access to smartphones. As we find more uses for the internet daily, it is high time to ensure that everyone of all capacities and backgrounds is able to enjoy its many benefits. One of the ways we can do that is by pushing for more accessibility on the web.
In this article, we are going to help you understand the importance of website accessibility so that this might become a responsibility you can advocate for as a business owner. We will help you identify the principles that make your business site WCAG compliant and understand the rewards of making this achievement.
On July 26, 1990, the elder President George Bush signed the landmark civil rights law, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). This is a law that guarantees protections against discrimination for persons with disabilities. It secures their right to equal enjoyment of goods and services as well as their right to seek gainful employment.
The ADA is a law that covers both private businesses and public institutions but it is primarily enforced through lawsuits filed by affected citizens. Today, in states like California, you can be fined for a minimum of $4,000 of statutory penalties for each violation of the ADA, and these violations can include websites that prove to be inaccessible for the use of people with disabilities.
You might be wondering, “Hold on, why should the ADA concern itself with the internet and my website? Isn’t it more about accessible parking slots and entrance ramps?”
Title III of the ADA which is for places of public accommodation and commercial facilities does not particularly include a section spelling out rules for the internet. This is understandable because in 1990, they were fewer people who found it a necessity to connect to the internet. The government then had no way to predict that just 30 years later, we would be allotting a whole day every week to it. But make no mistake about it, websites are places of public accommodations as well and the Department of Justice has made their position on this quite clear.
In a letter to Congress in 2018, the Department of Justice iterated that, “This interpretation is consistent with the ADA’s title III requirement that the goods, services, privileges, or activities provided by places of public accommodation be equally accessible to people with disabilities.”
While there is no internet police to stop you from launching a website that disregards ADA requirements, compliance is still not optional. And sooner or later, you will want to make sure that your web content obeys accessibility standards. Ignoring the ADA means less traffic to your site, as you lose the patronage of the millions of persons with disabilities who might enjoy your services. It also poses a threat to your operations in case an accessibility lawsuit is filed.
If you think that equal access for websites might be much simpler than the Department of Justice’s 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design, you might want to think again.
ADA website accessibility is a global work-in-progress. Even Google has a dedicated page to let people know what they are doing to reach accessibility compliance, and users can even get in touch with them for feedback.
Today, the internationally accepted standard for accessibility on the internet is the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.1 (WCAG 2.1) by the Web Accessibility Initiative. In this are the best practices that accessible websites must aim to observe. And while these requirements might seem a little hard to achieve for some businesses, the WCAG 2.1 is built on only four simple principles that will make a website accessible to users in due time.
Website accessibility is no easy task. There are many disabilities to consider, and many ingredients that keep a website going that must be able to observe ADA compliance. But as long as you make it your business to take these four principles to heart, you’ll be the proud owner of an ADA compliant website. Violate just one of these principles and you put yourself at risk of legal action by the many anonymous users on the internet.
“Information and user interface components must be presentable to users in ways they can perceive.”
In this day and age, we now benefit from the use of assistive technology that makes it possible for web content to be accessible even for people who suffer from vision impairment. Persons with blindness can make use of screen readers to be informed of a page’s content. One of the responsibilities of a website is to ensure that alternative text (alt text) is provided for images so that screen readers can translate this medium for persons who cannot see them.
“User interface components and navigation must be operable.”
While a vast number of people access the internet through their smartphones, the persistent number of people who access the web through their desktop computers cannot be discounted. An accessible website is one that makes sure it is operable even by the exclusive use of keyboard commands like the Tab and arrow keys of the keyboard in the event that use of a computer mouse is not possible.
“Information and the operation of user interface must be understandable.”
The guidelines also make it a point to highlight the importance of readability for people who might have learning difficulties. Even if your text and images are highly perceivable for users, if they are hard to comprehend you will still fail to get your message across. Here, language and consistency are relevant to get websites accessible for all users. When designing your content, simplicity is key.
“Content must be robust enough that it can be interpreted reliably by a wide variety of user agents, including assistive technologies.”
There are many different ways through which we access the internet nowadays. We might log on to a website via a tablet or an old home computer. With this fact in mind, web administrators must see to it that pages will be accessible no matter the format or the device, so that assistive technology will always be available for use and the language will remain comprehensible.
It is possible that you have arrived at this article today because you have been made aware of the weight of accessibility lawsuits. Indeed, even with the threat of COVID-19, this didn’t stop a lot of people in 2020 from filing complaints at the Office of the Attorney General. Today, if your business has a website as one of its assets, accessibility is one of the legal responsibilities you must pursue.
The cost of web accessibility can set you back from anywhere of hundreds of dollars to some thousands. It really depends on how much text and imagery get posted on your site on a daily basis. And the more that your business depends its operations on the internet, the likelier for the cost to be more significant.
When your business operates entirely as a website, however, this only means that your risk for an ADA lawsuit is much higher. One more thing to consider is how technology is constantly changing and improving and finding solutions to our past problems. It will not be enough to run compliance checks on your pages once or twice. You might have to do them quarterly, and yet for some, daily. The frequency of tests will depend on how often you change text and other content so that you can rest assured that your website’s accessibility is always up to date.
Just like the people at the Web Accessibility Initiative, business owners must also make equal enjoyment of the internet part of their own advocacy. As the WCAG is an ongoing process in itself, the government gives consideration for businesses that at least make their accessibility action plans known.
We are all a work in progress, and we all have the right to enjoy the internet whether to access essential goods and services or to earn what we need to raise our families and reach our dreams. Find out if your website is accessible to all users by getting feedback from professionals today.