You’ve spent time and money developing your website so that it provides visitors with an impressive and engaging experience. And you may have also invested in search engine optimization (SEO) to help your business get found on Google, Bing, and other search engines. Obviously, these are critical pieces of the puzzle that drive your business forward, and help you stand out in a crowded, competitive marketplace.
However, if you haven’t confirmed that your website is compliant with the American Disabilities Act, then you may find yourself on the receiving end of an angry complaint from a customer or group — or perhaps even threats of a lawsuit. If this could happen (or if it has happened already and you’re trying to figure out what’s going on), then keep reading — because this post could be one of the most important things you read all year.
Standard Disclaimer: before proceeding, out of an abundance of caution we should highlight what we hope is blatantly obvious: we are a digital marketing firm, not a law firm. The following does not constitute legal advice of any kind, and you are strongly encouraged to speak with a lawyer or other suitable expert before taking any action in response to a complaint or lawsuit notification.
What is the American Disabilities Act?
The American Disabilities Act (ADA) is a comprehensive body of civil rights legislation that prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in all areas of public life, such as jobs, schools, transportation, and all public and private places that are open to the general public. To learn more, please visit the ADA’s website at https://adata.org.
Virtual Access Barriers
When the ADA was enacted in 1990, access barriers were typically viewed as physical. However, the rise of the web into virtually all areas of public and private life prompted the Department of Justice in 2010 to release an important advisory that stated its intent to: “Establish requirements for making the goods, services, facilities, privileges, accommodations, or advantages offered by public accommodations via the Internet, specifically at sites on the World Wide Web (Web), accessible to individuals with disabilities.”
Since that time, the courts have not had a uniform view of whether websites are, or are not, subject to ADA compliance. For example, some rulings have held that only brick and mortar businesses that also sell goods and services online (i.e. e-commerce) must comply with the ADA. However, other rulings have held that all business websites — including businesses without a physical presence — must comply with the ADA.
ADA and WCAG
A particularly important ruling was handed down in 2016, when the Department of Justice ruled that the University of California at Berkley failed to comply with the ADA, because the school’s YouTube channel failed to offer closed captioning for hearing impaired viewers.
What made this ruling so noteworthy and relevant, is that the Department of Justice ordered the school to use the World Wide Web Consortium’s (W3C) Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.0 AA) as its standard for improving accessibility and achieving compliance. Consequently, many organizations have followed this advice, or have been explicitly told to do so by their legal counsel or other advisors.
WCAG is a set of technical standards developed by the World Wide Web Consortium (in conjunction with other groups and stakeholders), which are designed to make digital properties such as websites accessible to individuals with disabilities. The most recent WCAG standard (2.0) has 12 guidelines that are divided into 4 categories:
- Perceivable: this focuses on ensuring that media is usable by all.
- Operable: this focuses on ensuring that website functionality does not create problems for users.
- Understandable: this focuses on ensuring that web pages feature logical functionality and language.
- Robust: this focuses on ensuring that a website’s code is robust enough to ensure that assistive readers can understand the code.
Each guideline offers success criteria that can be tested at three conformance levels – A, AA, and AAA —in order to measure and verify a website’s accessibility and usability. These conformance levels are briefly described below
- Level A: Some impact on design.
- Level AA: Medium impact on design.
- Level AAA: Significant impact on design.
To learn more about WCAG standard, then check out the WCAG 2.0 quick reference guide at: https://www.w3.org/WAI/WCAG21/quickref.
Best Practices for ADA Compliance
Here are some best practices for ensuring that your website is suitably ADA compliant, and that you can clearly demonstrate your attempt to create a more accessible and usable website for all visitors:
- Use consistent hyperlink styles, consistent button styles and consistent layouts.
- Use labels on forms to provide clues and instructions to visitors with disabilities.
- Use sufficient color contrast to help visitors who are color blind, have low vision, or who are legally blind.
- Structure your website and content in a logical manner, so that it renders in an appropriate way for screen readers.
- Create a “breadcrumb trail” so visitors can grasp how a website and its content are structured, identify their current location, and navigate back to previous web pages.
If you wish to make improvements to your website so that it is more functional, accessible and useable for all visitors — including but not limited to those with disabilities — then contact the Noble Webworks team today. Your consultation with us is free.