What Does ADA Compliance Mean in the Digital Age?

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When we think of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which was passed in 1990, we tend to think of it in terms of handicapped parking, braille on elevator buttons, or wheelchair ramps. But with the advent of technology, websites have become a key method of sales and communication that also need to be accessible to all.

Accessible website design wasn’t something the lawmakers were thinking about back in the infancy of the internet, but today it’s very much on their minds as courts rule on a growing number of cases of website inaccessibility.

The ADA was enacted to offer protections to the disabled and prohibit discrimination. One of the provisions requires businesses to “take steps necessary to communicate effectively with customers with vision, hearing, and speech disabilities.” Since websites are a form of customer communication, making them accessible to those with disabilities is important in keeping with the spirit of the law.

So, what does it mean to have an ADA compliant website? How do you make your website more accessible to customers that may have disabilities?

We’ll go over the why and how of ADA compliance and what you need to know about the regulation when it comes to your organization’s website.

Is Website Accessibility Required by Law?

While the ADA regulation hasn’t been updated specifically to address websites or the internet, many feel that as the law is already written and stands now, website accessibility is included and is required under the Americans with Disability Act.

For example, the University of Iowa notes that the Department of Justice has stated that internet and websites are covered under the ADA. This means that businesses without ADA compliant websites could get penalized under the law.

18% of the U.S. population have disabilities. (ADA)

Beyond it being a requirement under the law, there are other benefits to making your website accessible by those with disabilities, including:

  • Gaining more customers that can easily navigate your products & services
  • Being inclusive to a significant portion of the population
  • The accessibility guidelines are also good design principles
  • Google considers ADA compliance when ranking your site in a search

With nearly 1 in 5 Americans having some type of disability, that is a significant portion of a market that may be untapped by your competitors if their websites aren’t easily read or navigated by those with disabilities.

The four main categories of disabilities that you want to consider when designing or updating your website include:

  • Hearing disabilities
  • Visual disabilities
  • Learning/cognitive disabilities
  • Motor disabilities

What Does an ADA Compliant Website Look Like?

The guidelines that outline digital accessibility are called the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0, and they include three levels for making a website accessible to those that are disabled.

  • Level A: Meets minimum level of accessibility
  • Level AA: Addresses the most common and impactful barriers to access
  • Level AAA: Is the highest and most complex level of accessibility

There are four main concepts when it comes to making a website accessible, which are commonly referred to by the acronym, POUR. Here’s an overview what each of those concepts are and what it means when it comes to website design.

Perceivable

Websites should be easily read by all visitors. This can include adding Alt tags for images which are descriptive, including good use of color contrast, and ensuring there is a way to read content that’s in a sound file (like a video) as an alternative to listening to it.

Operable

Websites should function and be easy to navigate when using only a keyboard, without a mouse or touchpad, and it should allow users enough time to access features (i.e. watch out for those sub-menus that click away too soon or too fast carousels).

Understandable

Content should be stated clearly and be easy to understand. There should also be clear error messages that don’t just say “oops!” but rather, give comprehensive directions for correcting the error.

Robust

This involves a website’s ability to continue to evolve to ensure compatibility with assistive technologies and a variety of different web browsers. An example would be to regularly test compatibility with popular screen readers and staying up to date with evolving accessibility technology.

Addressing Website Accessibility is Important

Making your website accessible to as many people as possible is good business practice for any company. It’s also becoming increasingly vital to protect yourself from a complaint or lawsuit.

The number of website accessibility lawsuits have been increasing, nearly tripling in 2018 with 2,258 as compared to 814 the year before. Some of the companies sued include Dominos, Carnival Corporation, Target, and others.

Addressing website compliance with ADA is something you want to do sooner rather than later to both protect and grow your business.

Need Help with Website Accessibility?

Twin State Technical Services not only designs great looking websites that are responsive and easy to understand, we can also ensure an existing or new website is completely compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Contact us to have us perform an ADA compliance check on your website today, call 563-441-1504 or reach out online.    

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