As we move to a world in which business transactions, personal shopping and overall life experiences happen on digital platforms, companies have a responsibility to ensure that people with disabilities aren’t excluded from participating in online activities. Now’s the time to brush up on the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) requirements for commercial websites.
An ADA-compliant website provides an online experience accessible to all users, including those with disabilities. While ADA website compliance has been a topic of discussion for years, it has recently become a requirement. In 2018, a U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against Domino’s Pizza in an ADA website case. The court determined that “alleged inaccessibility of Domino’s website and app impedes access to the goods and services of its physical pizza franchises – which are places of public accommodation.” Then in October of 2019, the U.S. Supreme Court denied a petition from Domino’s to hear the case, leaving in place the lower court’s decision that the pizza company’s website must be accessible to people with disabilities. This was a big win for disability advocates everywhere, as it confirmed ADA website compliance is now a necessity.
To avoid any legal consequences, it is best not to put your business at risk and strive for compliance on your website, regardless of the business you’re in.
The Domino’s case was just one of 2,285 ADA website compliance lawsuits filed in 2018 in the U.S. Big names such as Home Depot, Nike, Harvard, Blue Apron and even Beyoncé were sued for the lack of accessibility of their websites. While large brands received most of the attention, a number of those named in ADA website compliance lawsuits were small- to medium-sized companies. Many businesses don’t know how to achieve compliance, and most don’t even know they are noncompliant until it’s too late. Fines, penalties and settlements can be extremely costly and now have many companies looking to achieve website compliance.
We see the good in these requirements and can agree that online resources should be available to all, but many corporate marketing leaders and business owners feel lost at the prospect of making their website ADA compliant. While there are still quite a few grey areas as new regulations are being defined, we already know some baseline steps companies can take to make their websites more accessible to all people.
Who needs to comply
If your company or business is held to ADA standards for employment and physical location compliance, then your website must be compliant, too. ADA compliance is required for “places of public accommodations and commercial facilities,” meaning privately-owned, leased or operated facilities available to the public. This includes:
- Private employers with 15 or more employees
- Public entities at local and state levels
- Businesses operating for the benefit of the public, including non-profits
Regardless of the business you’re in, it is best to minimize your risk. To avoid legal consequences, start by asking your insurance provider about liability coverage that includes ADA website compliance. Then get to work on making your site compliant.
How to comply
In general, the best practices for ADA compliance are broken up into four basic principles of what a website should be: Perceivable, Operable, Understandable and Robust. These requirements cover a variety of disabilities and impairments, including auditory, visual, motor and cognitive issues. We’ve broken down the most critical aspects of each principle.
This principle requires that information and interface components be presentable to users in ways they can perceive. To comply with this, you must provide text alternatives for non-text content to be converted into other forms, such as braille, large print, audio, symbols or simpler language. This includes relevant alt-text on images instead of optimizing for SEO purposes.
Another important aspect of this principle is that your website must be adaptable. This means you need to create content that can be presented in different ways without losing information or structure. Content on the website also needs to be distinguishable. Make it easy for users to see and hear content. This includes separating the foreground from the background or using distinguishable color contrasts. If the text on your website doesn’t stand out from the background or images, it can be challenging to read for your visually impaired users.
This principle requires the navigation and user interface components to be operable by all users. Make sure all functionality is available from the keyboard. Users with motor impairments often navigate websites with a keyboard instead of a mouse. Be sure to include arrows, tabs and keyboard shortcuts for easy navigation through your website.
It is required that you provide enough time for users to read and use your content. Any moving or disappearing elements need to stay long enough for all users to comprehend. It is also essential to keep seizures and physical reactions in mind and not design any content that is known to cause these problems.
Readability is a central aspect ADA compliant websites. Text content must be readable and understandable for all users. Be sure to use headings effectively, such as H1, H2, H3. These must be clear and tagged correctly as well as used consistently across your website. Web pages must also appear and operate in predictable ways. Provide users with indications to click, scroll or hover. These indicators are called affordances, helping users know which elements are interactive as opposed to static.
This final principle states that all content must be robust enough to be interpreted by a wide variety of users, including assistive technology. Your website must be compatible with screen readers, which are commonly used by people with visual impairments to read the text and understand websites. This is one of the most frequent ADA noncompliance complaints, so it is vital to ensure your website is readable for all users and technologies.
Bringing your website into compliance
In review, this web design checklist will help you make your website accessible to all:
- Provide text alternatives for non-text content
- Distinguish and present content in different ways so it is accessible for all users and devices
- Use color contrast to separate foreground from the background
- Make all functionality available from the keyboard (without need for a mouse)
- Include arrows, tabs and keyboard shortcuts for easy navigation
- Hold moving elements long enough for all users to comprehend
- Use effective headings with H-tags consistently throughout the site
- Clearly indicate areas to click, scroll or hover
- Ensure compatibility with screen readers
The first step in attaining ADA website compliance is a thorough audit of your current website. A comprehensive assessment will determine your website’s current level of compliance and identify any changes needed to make your website accessible to all users, including those with disabilities. WebAIM provides a contrast checker which can be a useful tool when starting to evaluate your website’s ADA compliance.
If you are concerned about the level of ADA compliance of your website, Group3 can help. Contact us to learn more.