Being online has become second nature for many of us. We’ve become so accustomed to it, that a even the smallest issues – like a hard to use menu – can be frustrating. For those with disabilities, navigating the Internet can be considerably more challenging. Try to imagine navigating a website read to you by a screen reader tool. Or clicking a button without the use of your arms. So what we can do to make the Internet more hospitable for those with disabilities? Working to improve your website’s ADA compliance is a good place to start.
What is ADA Compliance?
In 1990, the US government passed The Americans with Disabilities Act to help ensure that people living with disabilities don’t face discrimination, especially regarding accommodation in public spaces. Being ADA compliant refers to providing equal access to facilities, products and services for people living with disabilities. (Search Engine Journal)
So what does that have to do with the internet? The U.S. judicial system widely considers websites to be places of public accommodation. This means that they also must be easily accessible to everyone, including people with disabilities.
Is Being ADA Compliant a Legal Requirement?
The ADA has defined standards, but their implementation remains somewhat unclear. US law on the subject keep shifting as well. They require some compliance for businesses online, but there’s still a lot of grey area. Some websites are more susceptible to these rules than others. A good rule of thumb is that e-commerce sites and websites that represent a physical location of a business (such as hotels, restaurants, retail stores and more), MUST be ADA compliant (Search Engine Journal). Lawsuits and fines can range up to $15,000, so it’s a good idea to be as compliant as possible, no matter your business.
How Do I Identify and Fix my Site’s ADA Compliance Issues?
One major way to audit your site effectively is to consider it’s design. Having a design that focuses on the content – the words and images – over the appearance can help to offer a better experience for disabled users. Simple designs with a clear structure are easiest to make ADA compliant.
Let’s look at some other areas to focus on.
- Such as making sure that ALT text descriptions (on any images or non-text items) focus on describing the meaning behind the picture, not just a word identifier of what it is.
- Clearly labeled and identifiable buttons and menus can also help improve your site’s accessibility.
To increase readability on your site, you can make some simple formatting changes.
- Your page text should be well-spaced and large (able to be enlarged up to 200% without causing formatting errors).
- Visually speaking, you should make sure text has a fair amount of contrast from the background.
- There shouldn’t be any images that contain flashes that occur more than three times per second. Users should be able to hide or remove any content that blinks, moves or scrolls.
- Make sure that there are always transcripts available for audio content, as well as closed captioning on videos.
Reinforce the structure of your page by using proper HTML markup to accommodate auditory software (for the visually impaired). <H1> for the highest level heading, <H2> for sub headings, and <H3> and sub headings below. This hierarchy allows blind users can get a clear overview of the page. They’re able to scan it quickly and read only the sections they’re interested in. (Nielsen Norman Group) Make sure your site is accessible by only using a keyboard as well, whether scrolling through content or advancing pages.
Ultimately, changes like these benefit anyone who may visit your site – as it helps to make navigation easier for everyone.
ADA Compliance Tools
There are some sites that can help you comb through your site and offer insight on what may need to change. The Web Accessibility Initiative is the main authority on the specifics for improving accessibility online. A good place to start is their Easy Check Accessibility tool.
For WordPress Sites
ADA Compliance Check is a free plugin that can be helpful in identifying common compliance issues. The feedback it provides is fairly technical, and not necessarily complete, but it’s a good place to start.
WP Accessibility is a free plugin that addresses a variety of common accessibility issues, which includes some improvements to image meta data, links and forms. There is no cost, and it’s quick to implement on your site.
Consider a Professional Audit
There’s also the option of a professional manual audit. This option may be of interest if you’re detail-oriented and have a higher budget. It’s arguably the most thorough and complete method of identifying your specific issues, but it’s going to be more expensive. Accessible.org offers audits performed by accessibility experts if that’s the route you’d like to explore.
ADA Compliance for All
Overall, making sure that you’re offering a site that is ADA compliant is a good idea. This is especially true if your site is a reflection of a brick-and-mortar business. It must offer the same accessibility for those living with disabilities as the physical location would. Not only can it save you potential legal issues, but helps everyone to access your site – which means more traffic for your business.