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How to Improve an ADA-Compliant Website?

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Do you know if your website is following the proper guidelines? What happens if your website is not ADA-compliant?

The term has become more noticeable within the last decade as our society aims for more inclusion.

When it comes to ADA compliance for websites, the dos and don’ts can get confusing — and more often than not, ignored altogether.
Many boxes need ticking to follow ADA compliance, and we are here to walk you through these regulations in the most straightforward way possible.

Please note: This article is not intended to provide legal advice and should not be relied upon for such purposes.

Table of Contents

  • What Is ADA Compliance?
  • What Does “ADA-Compliant” Mean For Websites?
  • Does My Website Need To Be ADA-Compliant? Which Businesses Are Required To Comply With The ADA?
  • How Do I Know If My Website Is ADA-Compliant?
  • What If My Website Is Not ADA-Compliant?
  • How To Develop An ADA-Compliant Website: Step-By-Step Guide
  • What’s Next?
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What Is ADA Compliance?

The Americans with Disabilities Act was originally signed into law in July of 1990 by President George H.W. Bush.

The law prohibits discrimination against those who are disabled and guarantees they have the same opportunities and experiences that those without disabilities do. These opportunities span job opportunities, participation in government entities, public transportation, and the purchasing process. In 2021, it also includes the way websites are browsed.

An ADA-compliant website means that it is designed to be read, seen, and experienced by everyone in comparable ways.

How is that possible, you ask?

Websites are considered a “public place.” Therefore, the act covers public domains and websites.

An ADA-compliant website will give users the option to adjust the font size, brightness, or color, eliminate flashing lights that induce seizures, and have a scanning system read the website out loud; it’s a long list.

ADA-compliant websites allow any user to browse a website in the easiest way possible that works best for them.

According to The World Bank, “one billion people, or 15% of the world’s population, experience some form of disability,” so offering an ADA-compliant website is a win for everyone. Websites accessible to everyone means more availability for traffic, and increased traffic leads to more calls, more leads, and more business.

In 2010, the Department of Justice made adjustments to the ADA legislation to include technologies like websites.

A case arose in 2016 where the University of California, Berkeley was forced to delete over 20,000 videos from their public YouTube and iTunes channels. The Department of Justice found that many of these videos were not accessible to their disabled students. An example of this inaccessibility was the lack of closed captioning for hearing-impaired students.

To make a long story short, the Department of Justice nudged UC Berkeley to adopt the World Wide Web Consortium’s Web Content
Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) to make their website and resources accessible.

The guidelines administered to UC Berkeley are now commonly known and widely accepted as the ADA-compliant standard.

What Does “ADA-Compliant” Mean for Websites?

For websites, being ADA-compliant means offering the option to adjust website settings to users, as mentioned above.

An ADA-compliant website provides full and equal access to all users, effectively communicating all messages (both in audio format and visually) to prevent litigation by following WCAG 2.1 AA.

Does My Website Need To Be ADA-Compliant? Which Businesses Are Required To Comply With the ADA?

If you have a website, you likely need to be ADA-compliant, especially if it’s a commercial site — any site that sells a product, service, or advertisements. Nonprofit and other organizational websites are not considered commercial websites.

Now, which businesses are required to comply with the ADA?

Under Title I of the ADA, any business with at least 15 full-time employees that operates for 20 or more weeks every year is covered by the law.

Under Title III, businesses that fall into the category of “public accommodation” — such as hotels, banks, and public transportation — are also required to comply.

How Do I Know if My Website Is ADA-Compliant?

Knowing if your website is ADA-compliant is where the waters get a little murky.

There are no clear guidelines for ADA website compliance, but the suggested best practice is to follow WCAG 2.1 conformance guidelines and publish an accessibility statement.

Just because there are no definitive guidelines doesn’t mean businesses are off the hook; they still have to provide an accessible website that accommodates users with disabilities.

The WCAG guidelines are an exhaustive list. Some of the requirements websites must provide are:

  • Non-text content
  • Text alternatives for videos and audio recordings
  • Captions on videos
  • Audio/media descriptions
  • Sign language interpretations
  • The ability to change the brightness and contrast on the page
  • No automatic music playing
  • The option to hide moving or blinking objects

According to David Engelhardt, a New York City-based small business attorney, “As far as websites go, there is no federally codified direction on how to make websites comply.”

So, how is it possible for businesses to build an ADA-compliant website if there isn’t a clear definition to what it should entail? You can take a few preparations to begin on the path toward ADA compliance — or at least show your efforts toward accommodating the regulations.

What if My Website Is Not ADA-Compliant?

When a website is not ADA-compliant, it means your business is susceptible to lawsuits, and the costs of an ADA lawsuit add up quickly. If you don’t already have a team in place, you should consider hiring a digital marketing agency that specializes in website management services.

Liability for Failure To Comply

If a business is hit with a case of an inaccessible website lawsuit, they will be responsible for attorney fees to represent them. Attorney fees can easily add up to $50,000.

Besides regulatory consequences, showcasing a website that is not accessible to users with disabilities is losing you business.

As with any website mishap — like a confusing design, lack of contact info, or overly annoying pop-ups — if a user cannot easily navigate your website, they’ll leave the website and forget about your company.

ADA-compliant websites make it easier for Google and other search engines to crawl and index. When search engines can successfully crawl your site, it will help boost your website’s rankings, which gets your name and content in front of more users.

Since the ADA-compliant website regulations are a little wishy-washy, businesses that put in good-faith effort can get ahead of the regulatory curve. Offering a website that is somewhat accessible or in the process of becoming fully accessible will show regulators that you are trying, which is a much better situation to be caught in than a zero-accessibility site.

Benefits of an ADA-compliant Website:

  • Increases your target audience
  • Improves your SEO efforts
  • May help your reputation
  • Means overall better website usability
  • You can avoid penalties

How To Develop an ADA-Compliant Website: Step-by-Step Guide

1. Evaluate Your Current Site: ADA-compliant websites must be deemed perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust. Use a screen-reading software like Lightroom or WAVE to run this test on your site.

2. Choose ADA-Compliant Graphics: ADA-compliant graphics include those that don’t flash more than three times (this can induce seizures) and have text descriptions that can be read aloud.

3. Add Alt Text and Readable Fonts: For those who are visually impaired, intricate fonts, lightly colored text, or dark/harsh backgrounds can be very straining on the eyes. Instead, use basic fonts like Georgia, Arial, and Open Sans on light backgrounds with dark text.

4. Make Website Features Logical: An ADA-compliant website will lead users to make logical decisions without giving much thought to it — for example, putting an “X” over a pop-up to signify a way to close it. Menus, buttons, and links should be obvious and organized logically.

5. Code Your ADA-Compliant Website With Standard HTML Tags: An assistive reader must be able to parse the code on your website. To allow this, use standard HTML tags and provide documents in text-based formats.

6. Make the Site Keyboard- and Pause-Friendly: This falls under the “operable” category of ADA compliance. Any user should be able to access and navigate your website via keyboard while also having the ability to pause any noise or videos.

7. Offer Alternatives and Suggestions When Users Encounter Input Errors: If a user with a disability runs into issues filling out a form or inputting information, an ADA-compliant website should automatically offer recommendations to help.

8. Remain Up-to-Date on ADA Compliance Changes: ADA compliance requirements and technologies are evolving, making it challenging to keep up with regulations. As a starting point, ensure your website has easily readable text and code that works with assistive readers.

What’s Next?

Creating an ADA-compliant website with the right website design principles takes time. When you’re scoping out a website project like this, allow several months; don’t expect this to be turned around in a few days.

A website compliant with ADA guidelines will help all users navigate your website comfortably, increase your target audience, improve your SEO efforts, and keep you from avoiding penalties.

To make your website ADA-compliant, you may need to partner with an agency with the experience and knowledge to code and design the site to the appropriate standards.

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