When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, many found themselves having to work or attend school from home. While this online system-based work method brought drastic changes to the lives of many, none were hit harder than the disabled community.
Many discovered that company websites didn’t meet ADA website accessibility standards and weren’t compliant with the American’s with Disabilities Act (ADA), leading to confusion or downright inaccessibility for people with a variety of disabilities, including the blind, deaf, and neurodivergent individuals.
Many found that their business’ sites needed an overhaul and are trying to catch up with the latest regulations. Today we’ll look at the newest regulations, whether your business needs to comply, how to comply and how to double-check that your website is following ADA regulations.
A Brief History of the ADA and Website Compatibility
President George H.W. Bush signed the ADA into law on July 26, 1990, saying, “Let the shameful wall of exclusion finally come tumbling down.” However, due to the lack of home internet for the majority of households, the laws did not pertain to the digital world.
In 2003, the U.S. government created the Accessibility of State and Local Government Websites to People with Disabilities, a guide for state and local governments to make their websites ADA compliant. However, the private sector wasn’t addressed. Additions and amendments were added to the law through the years, but it wasn’t until 2016 that any major calls for change to the ADA in regards to websites were drafted.
After two years, the ADA finally overhauled Section 508 – Electronic and Information Technology, heavily pushing businesses that deal with the private sector to make their websites follow ADA website compliance as well as apps for mobile phones and tablets for the screen reader. The ADA’s guidelines, formed under the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI), are called the WCAG (web content accessibility guidelines) and first released in 2008; however, 2018’s restructuring saw WCAG expanded, including recommended advice on everything ranging from text reflow to screen orientation.
While these guidelines have been helpful, the digital world is constantly in a state of flux, and WAI planned to release its 2.2 guidelines in 2020; although, with COVID-19, the date was pushed back to Summer 2021. At the time of writing WCAG 2.2 is still a draft; however, it’s unlikely any of the guidelines will be seriously altered. You can read about the in-depth changes that WCAG 2.2 will usher in here, but it focuses on screen appearance/navigation, input modalities, predictability, and input assistance.
Does My Business Need to Follow ADA Website Accessibility Guidelines?
There is a lot of grey area when answering this question, but the best answer we can give you is yes (most likely). If your business benefits the public, works with the U.S. government, and/or employs over 15 people your website is required to have public accommodation for everyone.
But what about the grey area? In addition to religious organizations and private clubs, some sources will claim small businesses with under 15 employees are not required to comply with ADA accessibility laws; however, this only legally pertains to physical locations. Most courts consider websites a place for communication with the public, meaning that even a solely owned business’ website should comply with ADA guidelines/WCAG. We suggest making your website ADA compliant even if you fall within grey parameters because while you’re technically not breaking any laws right now, you very well could be in the future.
In 2020, 10,982 companies faced ADA lawsuits, with over a third being website accessibility lawsuits (showing a rise of 23% from 2019). While following the ADA’s guidelines is not technically required for certain businesses, following the rules can protect a business if a lawsuit is ever brought up.
Companies that have faced lawsuits include Dominos and Winn-Dixie, with courts delivering vastly different judgments. It’s better to err on the side of caution by following the recommended web content accessibility guideline instead of subjecting yourself and your business to the possibility of an ADA lawsuit. Finally, if the government required your business to follow ADA guidelines in the past, you will need to continue to follow them. There have been no adjustments to the WCAG that exclude businesses.
How to Comply with WCAG/ADA Guidelines
To start, it’s important for you to know why the ADA has adopted WCAG in the first place. Its primary goal is to give everyone the same services/accessibility. So, for example, if you own a grocery store that offers online ordering, everyone-regardless of ability-must be able to order from your app.
If your website does not allow everyone equal access, it can face litigation on behalf of a disabled user. However, it’s important to realize these are guidelines. While in an ideal world everyone would or could follow them, the courts have allowed some flexibility (especially with things like color contrast ratios), and it’s up to each court to decide if a disabled plaintiff has ground to stand on when suing a business. However, it’s easier to follow the guidelines as closely as possible to avoid going to court than it is to spend the time, money, and resources to argue why your website should be excused from following WCAG.
You can read the entire WCAG 2.1 guidelines here as well as changes forecasted to come with 2.2 here. For the sake of brevity, we’re not going to include or look at each point in depth. The following are some of the 50 guidelines your site should practice, divided into five groups:
Alternatives are exactly what they sound like-an alternative way for your site visitor to consume the information on your page. One of the most common alternatives we see are closed captions which have been a staple on television for years; however, most images-even on social media platforms like Twitter and Instagram-have things like built-in alt text. Your site should include the following:
- All images have alt text descriptions
- Video and audio only content includes a text transcript that’s clearly labeled and linked
- Closed captions are correct
- All formal live presentations include closed captioning
Your website must be able to be consumed by individuals with a variety of different disabilities, including those who are sight or hearing impaired. This can feel stressful, but it’s important to realize that many people with disabilities have some sort of apparatus they use to obtain information from the web-you just need to make your content friendly for these devices. Some of the things you should take into consideration when making your site presentable are:
Images of text should not be used unless absolutely necessary (logos). If you choose to include a screenshot of the text, it will need to be transcribed.
- Text needs to be resizable up to 400% without affecting its readability or site functions
- Users should be able to pause, stop or mute the audio
- Color must be contrasted at a ratio of at least 4.5:1 between text and background
- All site content is structured in order so that users can properly read it
Every user of your site has control over the page they’re on by using their mouse or keyboard. Regardless of what apparatus your user chooses to use to navigate your site, they must be able to do so with no major hindrances. Some things to keep in mind include:
- Keyboard uses must not get stuck anywhere on your site
- Users should be able to skip the navigation menu and go straight to the content
- Nothing on the site can flash more than three times per second
- Sites must be navigable by only using their keyboard
Once users are on their site, they must be able to understand its contents. Far too often website owners will place pages or information in an order that they or those without a disability will understand. This can be extremely frustrating for those with disabilities. Some things it includes are:
- Multiple ways to reach each page on the site
- Pages and content are in order
- A language is set for the site
- All titles, headlines, and labels are descriptive and clear
How often have you been on a site only to find it navigate you to a completely unrelated page? Most likely far more often than you’d care to admit. When creating your site, you must take into consideration whether or not it’s set up predictably. Predictability includes the following:
- No automatic changes after the information is inputted
- Error suggestions contain clear instructions for righting it
- All form inputs are clearly labeled
- Site navigation is consistent
How Do I Know if My Website ADA Compliant?
There are a plethora of widgets available that allow you to check if you have an ADA compliant website. Personally, we enjoy using UserWay’s widget due to its ease of use and step-by-step walkthrough to make your site compliant. Most domains allow you to install it within a few minutes.
If you are a website owner and would like more information on how to make sure your site meets website accessibility standards, please contact us today! We will help ensure your web design meets ADA standards and is an accessible website for all.
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