The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was instituted by George H.W. Bush on July 26th, 1990. The act is a civil rights law which prohibits discrimination based on disability, protecting Americans with any variety of disability’s employment and access to governmental services, places of public accommodation, and commercial facilities. The ADA, specifically the Title III regulation for Public Accommodations and Commercial Facilities, does not include any legal requirement for website accessibility (governmental websites excluded) just brick and mortar facilities. However, just because the Department of Justice does not have defined legal standards for website accessibility does not mean that websites that pose accessibility challenges will not be presented with lawsuits. Several businesses, such as, Avanti Hotel, Winn-Dixie Stores Inc., Domino’s Pizza Inc., and Harvard University, have all been subject to lawsuits regarding their websites’ accessibility. According to research performed by Seyfarth Shaw LLP, a group of attorneys specializing in ADA Title III litigation, there were 576 ADA Title III Website Accessibility Lawsuits in 2018.
Common Barriers to Websites Being Accessible
Websites that are not proactive in being accessible to all provide significant challenges to a large portion of the population (approx. 27.2% people in the U.S.). Some common barriers that a website may pose to those with disabilities include…
• Not supporting assistive technologies, such as, screen readers
• Images without alternative text
• Documents in only in the PDF format, which cannot be read by assistive technologies
• Videos without captions or transcripts
• Font style or size that makes it difficult to read
• And more…
Reasons for Having an Accessible Website
Although the law does not mandate standards for website accessibility (expect for governmental websites), there are still several reasons/benefits for having an accessible website…
1. Improved Accessibility Increases Your Websites Audience
According to a 2014 report from the U.S. Census Bureau, 85.3 million people (or 27.2%) of people living in the U.S. had a disability. Having a more accessible website gives more of an opportunity for over a quarter of the U.S. population to interact with your information, services, and/or products through your website.
2. Improved Accessibility Helps Avoid Costly ADA Lawsuits
Website accessibility lawsuits are often significantly more costly than just updating your website to be more accessible. For example, in a Los Angeles Times article discussing ADA website lawsuits, states that small businesses like the Avanti Hotel would pay around $3,000 to make their website adequately accessible. However, damages in the Avanti Hotel case are anticipated to between $8,000-$13,000 excluding lawyer fees.
3. Improved Accessibility Also Improves Your Websites SEO Efforts
Search engines crawl pages of websites by downloading a text file of the page and searching it for changes in content or code and indexing the page based on its changes. Various assistive technologies, like screen readers and text enlargement software, work similarly to web crawlers used by search engines. Improving textual information (video transcripts, alternative image text, etc.) for non-text items, such as, images and videos can optimize such data for search engines making the data more likely to be indexed higher in search rankings.
4. Improved Accessibility Increases Your Websites Usability
In an effort to increase navigation and comprehension to make your website more accessible to those with disabilities, overall, increases your website usability for all users. All users are more able to find what they need and complete your website’s call to action.
Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG)
An accessible website, although not required by law (except for governmental websites), still has many benefits for both website owners and users as we have seen above. The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), a community that works with organizations, a staff, and the public to develop web standards, in its Web Accessibility Initiative has developed guidelines to make web content more accessible named the “Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG)”. The WCAG are updated as the W3C’s determines necessary; as of June 5th, 2018 the WCAG 2.1 guidelines are the most up-to-date version.
The WCAG are broken down into four main categories or principles: perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust to ensure everyone, no matter their ability, can perceive, understand, and navigate a website.
1) Perceivable – the perceivable guidelines ensure that, regardless of user ability, information and user interface components are presentable a way they can perceive (whether through vision or hearing). This includes providing alternative text to images, captions and/or transcripts to videos, and providing alternatives for CAPTCHA.
2) Operable – the operable guidelines ensure that, regardless of user ability, users can operate user interface components and website navigation. This includes making all website functionality available using a keyboard, providing users with the ability to pause scrolling information to have enough time to read the information, and design content in a way that does not cause seizures.
3) Understandable – the understandable guidelines ensure that, regardless of user ability, Information and the operation of user interface are understandable. This includes, consistent navigation throughout, clear instructions for forms, and readable text.
4) Robust – the robust guidelines ensure that, regardless of user ability, a website’s code and content will be robust enough to be interpreted by assistive technologies. This includes having universally accepted start and end tags to HTML documents.
For the complete list of WCAG 2.1 Guidelines, visit https://www.w3.org/TR/WCAG21/.
How to Make Your Website More Accessible
You now know the benefits of an accessible website and the guidelines for making a website accessible, but how do you actually implement those guidelines? There is a variety of software available, like Lighthouse that can test your website for potential ADA compliance issues and provide you with a report of items that need to be changed. While some items are relatively easy to change on your own like adding headings, changing text wording, and adding alternative text to images, other items may not be as easy to complete by yourself. Making sure your website design meets the minimum contrast ratio or that your site is fully navigable by keyword only or can be read by a screen reader, are changes best left to the professionals. An experienced web developer is aware of the necessary changes a website requires to be ADA compliant and will be able to design and code a site to meet those requirements.
Websults is an experienced (over 17 years) web development and digital marketing agency that has developed hundreds of websites for clients across a variety of industries from all over the world. As a 5-star rated web development firm, we are proud to provide excellent service to our clients in order to give them a distinct advantage in their industry. For more information for how Websults can help make your website accessible and to request a FREE consultation, visit us online or call us at (813) 666-4600.