The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was created to ensure that people with disabilities are able to fully interact with the world around them no matter their handicap. It was originally created as a set of general nondiscrimination requirements for employers.
Over the years its rules and standards have expanded, going so far as to impact website design. But why would a website need to follow ADA compliance rules and what do those entail? Let’s review so that you can ensure that your business is accessible by all potential customers.
At its core, ADA compliance is all about ensuring that every American has fair access to the same goods and services. In this case, the internet.
The CDC reports that more than one in four Americans have some type of disability. This breaks down into the following categories:
- Mobility – 13.7 percent
- Cognition – 10.8 percent
- Independent living – 6.8 percent
- Hearing – 5.9 percent
- Vision – 4.6 percent
- Self-care – 3.7 percent
The advent of the internet opened up a world of new possibilities. This is particularly true for people with disabilities, who suddenly had opportunities to access information and interact in new ways. The problem was that much of the print, audio, and visual media was restricted to the “fully able”—those who didn’t have physiological issues or impairments to their speech, vision, or hearing.
Most websites and technologies weren’t initially designed or created with disabled people in mind.
Whether it was intentional or not, this practice was exclusionary.
Who Must Abide by the ADA Compliance Rules for Websites?
The ADA rules for websites are intended to ensure internet accessibility to all; however, this creates a problem since there’s no universal federal compliance directions. In fact, there are only certain entities that are required to have their website fall within ADA compliance.
Currently, the only websites required to be ADA compliant are those that can be considered “public accommodating.”
There’s plenty of wiggle room within this definition, but it can be broadly applied to:
- Governmental websites (local, state & federal)
- E-commerce platforms
- B2C websites
Even if you don’t fall into one of these categories, that doesn’t mean you won’t run into trouble. So, just to be safe, discuss your status with your attorney or an ADA specialist. They’ll help you identify whether or not your website needs to be updated for ADA compliance.
How Do You Make Your Website ADA Compliant?
As with other elements of the ADA, internet accessibility is a vague phrase. To make matters worse the ADA doesn’t have clear guidelines to ensure that you are ADA compliant.
So, how do you achieve ADA compliance?
Most organizations have decided to use the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) as their basic framework. These include the following website accessibility standards:
This means that all information and components of the website must be displayed in ways that the user can perceive, even if their vision or sight is impaired. Perceptibility can be broken down into one of two primary categories, including:
- Text Alternatives – Provide text alternatives for non-text content so it can be translated into other mediums, including:
- Larger print
- Simpler language
- Time-Based Media – Present translatable substitutes for time-based media—whether audio-only or video only. Alternatives may include captions, audio description, sign language, or extended audio description.
So, if you have content, there needs to be other ways for people to get that information.
Content must be capable of being presented in alternative formats and layouts without losing context, information, or overall structure. Factors that require consideration include:
- Info and Relationships – Make all information, structure, and relationships on a webpage available in text or as a “programmatically determined” element.
- Meaningful Sequence – Present information in a correct reading sequence.
- Sensory Characteristics – Don’t use instructions that utilize sensory characteristics i.e., sound, color, size, shape, etc.
- Orientation – Be sure that content doesn’t limit how you see and use it to a single display setting like portrait or landscape mode.
It’s better for everyone if content is translatable and then accessible on a variety of different readers, devices, and screens.
Content should be easy to see and hear for people with audio and visual disabilities. For starters this includes separating the foreground and the background. You must consider:
- Use of Color – Color can’t be the only visual means of providing information or prompting a response.
- Audio Control – If audio is played automatically on a webpage for more than 3 seconds, provide the user with easy and obvious ways to control the audio or volume.
- Contrast – Give text and images of text a contrast ratio that’s at least 4.5:1, except for large text, incidental text, or logos.
- Resize text – Images of text and text itself must be resizable without assistive tech up to 200 percent without losing the gist of the content or the overall functionality.
Even for people who have a mild eyesight condition, it’s paramount that your website’s content is resizable and conspicuous.
Both the interface components as well as the navigation must be operable, particularly for people who can’t use a mouse. To ensure operabiliity you must address:
- Keyboard – Make all content needs operable via just a keyboard’s interface. The entire page must be navigable solely using keyboard inputs.
- Character Key Shortcuts – If there are keyboard shortcuts in content, program the ability to either:
- Toggle it off
- Remap the shortcuts
- Activate only when the component has focus
- Enough Time – Allow users enough time to read and then use the content.
- Seizure and Physical Reactions – Never design content in a way that causes the reader to have a physical reaction (such as a jumpscare) or cause seizures (such as flashing screens).
Your website should be easy to operate, even for users who require voice navigation or keyboard inputs.
All user interfaces must present information in an easily understandable manner.
The content needs to be:
- Readable – Use language, diction, abbreviations, and other linguistic forms that are easy to read for both a user and a programmable reader.
- Predictable – Ensure that all web pages appear and operate in predictable ways. This means consistent navigation, identification, and focus.
- Input Assistance – Help users highlight, avoid, or correct input mistakes and errors.
The above ensures that users and devices can translate content and make it digestible. And finally, (without delving too deeply into the subject), it’s critical that content is robust enough that assistive technologies are able to interpret it.
Penalties for ADA Noncompliance
So, what are the risks of not complying with the ADA?
Like the rules themselves, ADA noncompliance penalties are unclear. The most common instances tend to result in an elongated liability suit.
If that were to occur to you, it could result in:
- Legal Fees
- Reputational harm
- Cost of rebuilding the website to comply
Most of the ADA website compliance lawsuits that we’ve seen thus far have fallen under one of these categories (A disabled person applying for a job, trying to purchase an item, or attempting to enroll at a college) If a person is unable to apply for employment or enrollment at a university online due to their disability, that person would have a strong case for discrimination in court.
In 2017, the New York Times reported that more than eight ADA website compliance lawsuits were filed across the state of New York in the space of a few weeks.
ADA Compliance Rules
While the ADA compliance rules are vague and frequently applied in an uneven fashion, it’s vital that your website is accessible to everyone.
This is particularly true if you operate within the following spaces:
- Governmental websites (local, state & federal)
- E-commerce platforms
- B2C websites
Even if you don’t fall into one of these categories, it’s vital that you update your website so it’s accessible to more customers.
With the uncertainty surrounding ADA compliance, trying to identify how to render your UI “compliant” is no easy task. Given the nuances, enlisting the help of ADA compliance experts will streamline the process, close any liability gaps, and identify areas of misalignment.
The team at RSI Security are experts in ADA website compliance. We can ensure that your website is nondiscriminatory.