The World Wide Web was originally built to provide information to everyone. It was also built to facilitate global communication.
It was established on a promise of access to all. But, historically speaking, it didn’t live up to that promise. There were still some people—namely those with disabilities—that had trouble using, navigating, or even seeing a traditional website.
Many devices and websites had significant barriers that prevented people with disabilities from communicating and interacting. Although the slight wasn’t intended, the internet was exclusionary. That was until the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was updated to ensure that the disabled and impaired could access the information they need on the internet.
But what is the ADA compliance guidelines, and how does it affect your website? Let’s discuss.
What is the ADA?
The ADA governs various industrial sectors across America.
It was first introduced by President George H Bush in 1990. According to the ADA National Network:
The ADA is a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in all areas of public life, including jobs, schools, transportation, and all public and private places that are open to the general public. The purpose of the law is to make sure that people with disabilities have the same rights and opportunities as everyone else. The ADA gives civil rights protections to individuals with disabilities similar to those provided to individuals on the basis of race, color, sex, national origin, age, and religion.
The internet was only a fledgling idea in the early 90s, but as laws go, they were updated to society’s standards with the passage of time. By 2008 the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments ACT (ADAAA) was signed into law, and made a number of changes to the definition of “disability” and how the law was to be applied. Title III included websites as “places of public accommodation.”
The new definition of disability encompassed all handicaps, including:
This was followed by the 2010 update, which included standards for accessible design. It mandated that all electronic and information technology be accessible to those with disabilities.
What Does ADA Accessibility Compliance Require?
The ADA requirements for websites are all about accessibility. People with disabilities should have the same rights and opportunities as the rest of society.
But what does that mean?
The web has become an increasingly vital resource for all aspects of American life, including:
Per the Web Accessibility Initiative, “The Web offers the possibility of unprecedented access to information and interaction for many people with disabilities. That is, the accessibility barriers to print, audio, and visual media can be much more easily overcome through web technologies.”
But when websites, apps, or technologies are poorly designed, it creates exclusionary barriers.
The problem, however, is that “accessibility” is a nebulous standard with no federally codified direction for compliance. Nor does it have clear rules. Since the ADA doesn’t offer universal guidelines, many organizations have chosen to follow the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG)
Following the WCAG Standards
The WCAG says that websites should abide by these primary standards:
- Perceivable – “Information and user interface components must be presentable to users in ways they can perceive.”
The content on your website must be displayed in an easily seen format. For example, the text must meet a minimum contrast ratio against the background for easy viewing. Or it should have alternatives to text such as audio or assistive technologies that would help a blind or visually impared person to perceive the content on the website. Ideally, the site needs to handle text scaling up to 200% without breaking up the content.
- Adaptable – “Create content that can be presented in different ways (for example simpler layout) without losing information or structure.”
Content should be able to adapt to different screens, devices, and formats. The more devices that have accessibility, the better.
- Operable – “User interface components and navigation must be operable.”
The website’s navigation is easy to operate. For instance, users should have keyboard accessibility so that the entire website can be perused without a mouse.
- Understandable – “Make text content readable and understandable.”
Content should be clearly written and easy to understand. This means that language and format are predictable, including unusual words, idioms, or abbreviations that are clearly defined. It may be wise to offer input assistance as well.
- Robust – “Content must be robust enough that it can be interpreted by a wide variety of user agents, including assistive technologies.”
The website content should be translatable for devices, applications, and platforms. For example, the site should be interoperable via screen reading software.
If your website was built within the last few years, you likely already meet some of the ADA and WCAG standards. The remaining compliance gaps can likely be addressed with some minor tweaks in the right place.
Who Needs Follow ADA Website Accessibility Requirements?
It’s important to note that not every website is required to be ADA compliant (although it’s a smart business decision to make your site accessible to all).
As of now the only websites that are legally mandated to be ADA compliant are those that are defined as “public accommodating.” While this leaves plenty of room for interpretation, you can generally apply it to:
- Local, state, or federal government websites
- Nonprofit organizations
- Large B2C websites
- E-commerce platforms
Even if you’re a B2B website that isn’t currently required to follow the ADA accessibility requirements, judging by the way things are going, compliance will likely become mandatory in the near future. So while you don’t need to scramble to redo your website tomorrow, it’s something that you should consider.
What are the Benefits of ADA Compliance?
There are quite a few reasons why it’s smart to make your website and its content accessible— even if you aren’t legally mandated to do so. Benefits of ADA compliance include:
- Avoid penalties and lawsuits – Because there’s so much “legal grey area,” the smart decision is to cover your bases by avoiding even the slightest possibility of a legal suit. In recent years several major brands have been hit with punitive lawsuits. So it’s better to be safe than sorry, particularly if you’re updating your website already.
- Improves website usability – When your website is more navigable and offers all your users benefit, regardless of ability or lack thereof. Your website will be more effective if it’s easy to find the content that visitors are searching for.
- Increases your target audience – 26 percent of people in the U.S. have some sort of disability. That’s 61,000,000 users you could possibly be excluding from easily using your website. A significant portion of this population could be interested in your products or services, but be unable to access them or even reach out to you because your website wasn’t geared for them.
- Enhances SEO – Search engine optimization has taken WCAG accessibility into account. Now engine crawlers and bots are looking for sites that appeal to the widest user base.
Web Accessibility and Compliance
While the ADA rules and requirements are at times unclear, it’s still critical that you make your site accessible to anyone and everyone. And if you operate in an industry where ADA compliance is required, now’s the time to update your website.
Need help with that?
RSI Security can make sure that you achieve ADA website compliance. We analyze your operation, find compliance solutions, and then resolve any issues to make sure that your site is accessible to all. We’re well versed in all things compliance.
So if you’re ready to get started and need expert assistance, reach out today!