Have you been thinking about website compliance? The American Disabilities Act was designed to give people with disabilities equal access to resources. It required us to make modifications to entryways, add elevators and ramps, offer closed-captioning on TV, and create signage with braille. This all happened before the Internet, and now the law has evolved to include website access. Websites and mobile apps are where most people go to shop, learn, share, and connect. Many people with sensory impairments (visual, audio, and touch) have a tough time navigating websites for the information they need.
The legal industry has discovered a lucrative way to hold businesses accountable. A combination of legitimate and frivolous claims have become easy money, and ADA claims are flooding the US.
Utah State’s Center for Persons with Disabilities gathered information for their WebAIM project by running accessibility tests on a million commonly visited websites. It revealed that 98.1% of homepages failed to accommodate people with disabilities. If your business doesn’t provide digital accessibility, you can face expensive legal actions that begin around $10,000 and multiply per page and violation. Many website owners are either unaware or refuse to comply with the ADA voluntarily.
What are the requirements for Website Accessibility and ADA Compliance?
The Department of Justice (DOJ) has lacked clear requirements since discovering the need for guidelines back in 2010. The department was close to adopting the Web Content Accessibility Guideline (WCAG 2.0 A, AA), but the federal government suspended it, leaving a gap for courts and state legislatures to fill. The Biden administration may finally adopt the rules.
The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines
The international web standards group, W3C, manages the WCAG, recognized for creating the standards of digital accessibility. Litigation in the United States (and Canada) currently refers to WCAG 2.1 A, AA. It breaks down website accessibility standards into four basic requirements:
Perceivable – Information and user interface features must be visible to all senses. Images should have text alternatives, multimedia must offer captions, altered content needs to retain its meaning, and Assisted Technology tools added as necessary.
Operable – User interface aspects and navigation must be operable with actions a user can perform. It requires all functions to be made available by a keyboard, offers additional time to read and use content, ensures the content won’t cause seizures, and offers helpful navigation features.
Understandable – Consuming information and operating the user interface cannot be beyond understanding, meaning text must be readable and understandable to everyone, appear and operate in predictable ways, with assistance provided to avoid and correct user error.
Robust – Content must be interpreted reliably as technologies advance and evolve to remain accessible by designing flexibility and compatibility with current and future users and tools.
What if you aren’t compliant?
Unless you’re a business that has recently been sued, your website probably isn’t compliant. Discuss your website design aspects with your web developer or marketing strategist and ask if they include ADA compliance and accessibility features and tools. You can test current pages using automated tools such as WebAIM, but automation will only detect up to 30% of WCAG issues.
Your web designer or marketing strategist goes beyond an automated website crawl to capture glaring problems. They break down audit results, add a manual review of code and use-cases for each page, and integrate tools that people with disabilities can use to interpret information called Assistive Technology. Your best options to comply are based on issues that will most likely trigger legal action and make ongoing maintenance easier. Websites constantly add and remove content, and the design interface is adjusted with periodically scheduled audits to maintain accessibility.
Risks of not having an ADA compliant website
Millions of Americans are considered blind or unable to see, have difficulty hearing, and lifting or grasping objects like touch screens, trackpads, or a mouse. This includes the elderly, and the number of retiring Baby Boomers is increasing.
Losing potential customers, job applicants, or course applicants
Nearly one out of five people in the United States are considered disabled. You may be turning away a large portion of your target audience which means losing potential customers, job applicants, and people who attend online courses and webinars.
Tarnishing Your brand reputation with a lawsuit
Facing a public lawsuit can lead to a public relations disaster with years of economic fallout. You don’t want to be viewed as a business that discriminates against the disabled community. Lawsuits are surging, and if you decide not to comply with the ADA, it could cost you.
Benefits of an ADA Compliant Website
Following the Americans with Disabilities Act law is good practice and good business. You have the opportunity to become a positive influence by setting an example. At the heart of good website design should be user-friendliness. Having a website that is readily accessible to various users helps promote the same practices across your competitors, industry, and community.
Positive word-of-mouth advertising
Social media loves to feature businesses that care about their communities. By following the law and placing individuals with disabilities at the forefront of your design, you put yourself in the spotlight, and people will notice.
Improved website SEO
Search engines prioritize and increase the rankings of sites designed with web accessibility according to ADA guidelines. This can help push your site towards the first page of a user’s search results.
Save money, time, and energy
Not becoming ADA compliant can cost you time, money, and energy in the future. By keeping your website accessible, you close legal loopholes and gain peace of mind.
Quick Fixes for Existing Websites
Alternate “accessible” or “assistive” websites are separate websites not tied to the core website’s content management system and tend to provide different content and reduced functionality. But the ADA wants you to offer “full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, or accommodations.” You may still be at risk.
Rebuilding Your Website
You can build a website that complies with the ADA from the start. Doing it now could prevent problems down the road. If a lawsuit forces you to redesign your website, other business plans might be put on hold. Accessibility issues could impact projects with potential investors and business partners or launch a new web service or product. Reach out for a website audit and learn more about your options. Blue Zenith is happy to help!
Stephen, S. 2018. All the Possible Risks of Not Having an ADA Compliant Website, https://www.bigdropinc.com/blog/risks-non-ada-compliant-website/
ADA WCAG website, 2021 ADA Website Accessibility Standards, https://www.accessibility.works/blog/2021-ada-wcag-website-accessibility-standards-requirements/
10 Reasons Why Websites Need to be ADA Compliant, https://adacompliancepros.com/10-reasons-why-websites-need-to-be-ada-compliant/