ADA Website Compliance & Interactive Accessibility: A Beginner’s Guide
As access to digital channels and platforms becomes more and more a critical part of daily life, it is imperative that ADA compliance, as it relates to digital customer experiences, is not only considered, but followed.
According to US Census Data, nearly 1 in 5 Americans are living with a diagnosed disability, and over half of those with a disability describe it as severe. This means that a huge percentage of Americans will need some kind of assistance to navigate and use any given website.
The percentage is staggering – a recent survey of the world’s top one million websites found that 98% of them were not compliant. This is a massive problem – for brands, their customers, and everyone else.
What is Accessibility?
Accessibility is the term used to refer to creating a world where all people, handicapped or not, can have the same experience – both online and in physical locations. Accessibility has always been important but recently came to the forefront because of updates to the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Passed in 1990, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was put in place to ensure that all Americans had equal access to the world they lived in. In 2016, those requirements were extended to include websites. As these laws went into effect, businesses began to see a huge uptick in lawsuits regarding ADA Compliance and their sites.
What does this mean for brands? It means that every site, no matter the complexity or size of the company that runs it, needs to be compliant – both because it’s the right thing to do and because not being accessible puts them at risk of legal ramifications.
The standard for ADA compliance generally ascribes to the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) as put forth by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) in 2018. Under this system, there are three types of compliance:
- Level A – Minimum conformance, basic standard for meta on pages of website.
- Level AA – Recommended conformance level, most content and site accessible.
- Level AAA – All content and site completely accessible by almost all disability types.
We’ll talk about how to become compliant a little later, but first, we’re going to cover the many reasons beyond legality to become ADA compliant.
It’s the Right Thing to Do
The most important reason for a brand to make sure their site is ADA compliant is simply because it’s the right thing to do. Everyone deserves to have equal access to the places they want to visit online, and ADA compliance helps businesses offer that. It makes the site more useable while also showing that a brand is dedicated to inclusivity. Accessibility is a win for both brands and their customers.
It Makes Your Site Better for Everyone
Proper accessibility doesn’t just help those who need assistance, it can also make the site more useable for a variety of groups. When a brand ensures that their site is ADA compliant, they’re also implementing tactics that make it easier for the general population to us. Clear, organized sites that can be utilized a variety of ways allow everyone to do what works best for them – and that kind of flexibility and thoughtfulness on a brand’s part can really help build loyalty.
It Increases Your Audience
This was already mentioned above, but it’s pretty simple cause and effect: if someone can’t use a brand’s site, they aren’t going to purchase from them. One study found that 71% of individuals with disabilities will abandon a site if it’s difficult to use rather than trying to work through it. That statistic resulted in an estimated $14.4 billion in lost revenue.
It Could Save Thousands in Lawsuits and Legal Fees
Since the new laws went into effect in 2016, there’s been a large uptick in ADA Website Accessibility lawsuits. Everyone from Beyonce to Domino’s has seen this happen, and it won’t stop there. Though lawsuits are currently heavily focused in restaurant and retail sectors right now, they could expand in the coming years. Investing in compliance now could save you thousands or more in the very near future.
It Improves SEO
Enhancing the functionality and usability of your site makes it much easier for Google to crawl it, thus improving your SEO rankings. Many of the principles of accessibility are already considered a best practice as far as SEO is concerned. Nearly everything done to make a site accessible will also make your search rankings higher.
Now that we know why accessibility matters, let’s talk about how to audit and execute it.
The Principles of Accessibility
Accessibility has four principles. By creating sites that match all criteria, a site can call themselves ADA compliant. The four principles are:
- Perceivable: Information and user interface components must be presentable to users in ways they can perceive.
- Operable: User interface components and navigation must be operable.
- Understandable: Information and the operation of the user interface must be understandable.
- Robust: Content must be robust enough that it can be interpreted by a wide variety of user agents, including assistive technologies.
While the above information is helpful, it’s important to take a little more time to understand the details of each principle.
Perceivable means, most simply, that information and interface components should be offered to users in ways they can perceive. The four most important elements of perceivability are:
- Text Alternatives: Provide text alternatives for any non-text content so that it can be changed into other forms people need, such as large print, braille, speech, symbols or simpler language.
- Time-Based Media: This includes audio-only, video-only, or audio/video content. Alternatives must be provided for this type of media.
- Adaptable: Create content that can be presented in different ways (for example simpler layout) without losing information or structure.
- Distinguishable: Make it easier for users to see and hear content including separating foreground from background.
Operable is pretty self-explanatory – users of all types should be able to utilize interface components and navigation.
- Keyboard Accessible: Make all functionality available from a keyboard.
- Offer Enough Time: Provide users enough time to read and use content.
- Mindful of Seizures and Physical Reactions: Do not design content in a way that is known to cause seizures or physical reactions.
- Navigable: Provide ways to help users navigate, find content, and determine where they are.
- Simple Input Modalities: Make it easier for users to operate functionality through various inputs beyond keyboard.
Another straightforward pillar – understandable simply means any user must be able to comprehend the information and interface of a site.
- Readable: Make text content readable and understandable.
- Predictable: Make Web pages appear and operate in predictable ways.
- Input Assistance: Help users avoid and correct mistakes.
In layman’s terms, content must be robust enough that it can be interpreted by a wide variety of user agents, including assistive technologies. The main way to do this is to do all of the above while also maximizing compatibility with current and future user agents as well as assistive technologies.
How to Test and Audit ADA Compliance
If a brand wants to make sure that they are meeting all ADA standards, they can have a thorough audit done. This is a process we can help with.
Audits are typically conducted by tools that scan a site quickly and make note of everything they catch. This gives the site owner a clear list of action items that need to be completed to reach viable compliance. Popular tools include:
- Google Lighthouse
- The quickest way to begin the process
- Provides a starting score which is a great metric to compare with after improvements are made
- Deque Axe
- Much more thorough than Lighthouse
- Developed by leading authority in Web Accessibility
- Most popular screen reader
What to Do With the Results of An Audit
Once a brand had completed an audit, it’s time to take action. While findings will vary from site to site, there are a few common issues that can be expected:
- Images without text equivalents (“alt” test).
- Documents are not in an accessible format.
- Specifying colors and font sizes are unchangeable.
- Not enough color variation or contrast between text and background.
- Video and other multimedia lack accessible features.
- Availability of multiple input methods.
- All HTML is well-formed and valid.
- High levels of blinking, flashing, and other distracting features.
- Proper use of form tags and elements, with a defined order of entry.
Those this is a long list, it is not comprehensive. There is still much more that may need to be done to reach full ADA Accessibility. If it’s time for you to take action on ADA Accessibility, feel free to reach out. We can help you get fully up to date.