It’s hard to believe, but the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) will be turning 30 years old next year. First introduced in 1990, the ADA has had a huge impact on the ways that American businesses think about accessibility for products, services, locations, and employment opportunities.
But when it comes to web content, accessibility is still a big question mark. Until recently, many businesses have resisted making ADA compliant websites. Others have sought to make their websites more accessible. Yet when they’ve looked for standards or guidelines on ADA compliance for websites, they’ve found vague or contradictory information.
As we’ll discuss below, there’s a reason so many brands are confused about ADA compliance for web content. But even with this confusion, there are good reasons to make your content as accessible as possible.
The Importance of Accessible Web Content
Over the past 5 years, consumers have launched several suits against brands for non-ADA-compliant websites. That’s led a number of businesses to prioritize accessibility when building web content.
But until recently, many brands resisted making their web content more accessible. To some, it seemed like too much work. To others, the costs involved didn’t seem worth the returns. And these attitudes still persist among many businesses today.
But if you’re already updating the design and/or content of your website, creating accessible web content isn’t especially time- or cost-intensive. And there are a number of smart reasons — like the 3 listed below — for making your website more accessible.
1. It Reflects on Your Core Values. The core values of your business aren’t defined by what you say they are — they’re defined by how you put them into action. In making your website more accessible, you’re taking an actionable step toward a more just and equitable world.
2. It’s Smart Business. Making your content as accessible as possible to the widest range of users as possible is simply smart business. If your content is difficult to access for certain users, you’re needlessly narrowing the market for your products or services.
3. It Minimizes Legal Vulnerabilities. If your website isn’t accessible, you could be vulnerable to lawsuits under the ADA. As a brand, addressing these lawsuits is expensive, and they can do serious damage to your public image. (Unfortunately, as we’ll see in a moment, this is an area without a lot of clarity…)
What the ADA Says About Web Content
Let’s say you want to make your website ADA compliant. If so, you’ll immediately run into a roadblock: nobody can agree on what that means.
The ADA was originally written in 1990, before the world wide web was publicly accessible. Over the past decade, some lawmakers have attempted to amend the ADA to include digital technologies, but without success.
Because of this, there’s widespread disagreement over which parts of the ADA apply to websites and which websites — if any — are bound by the ADA.
In some lawsuits, judges have ruled that the ADA doesn’t apply to any online content. But other courts have penalized websites for failing to adhere to ADA standards. In 2017, for example, the Winn-Dixie supermarket chain was found to have violated the ADA by operating a website that failed to meet accessibility standards for the visually impaired.
This puts brands in a tricky situation. Many of them want to create accessible and ADA compliant web content. But the ADA itself doesn’t tell them what that means. Because of this, they need to look elsewhere for accessibility standards.
W3’s Web Content Accessibility Guidelines
Given the lack of clarity regarding the ADA and web content, how should brands approach the question of accessibility? The best place to start is the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) from the World Wide Web Consortium (W3).
The WCAG contains a detailed list of guidelines and best practices for accessibility, particularly for users with disabilities, including visual, auditory, physical, speech, cognitive, language, learning, and neurological disabilities. By instituting WCAG practices on your website, you can make your content more accessible and reduce the chances of non-compliance with the ADA.
To meet WCAG standards, web content must be perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust.
P – Perceivable
Under WCAG standards, all users should be able to perceive the information on your page, as well as the components used to navigate your site.
To be considered perceivable, web content must:
- Provide text-based alternatives to non-text content, such as descriptions of images
- Provide alternatives to time-based media, such as captions for audio content
- Adapt to new modes of presentation without losing key information
- Contain text, audio, and video that is easily followed and distinguished from other content
O – Operable
WCAG standards also include guidelines for ease of operability, ensuring that all users can operate interface components and navigate your website.
To be considered operable, web content must:
- Be usable and navigable solely through a keyboard interface
- Make it easier for users to navigate without a keyboard interface
- Provide users with sufficient time to use, read, and navigate your website
- Not include content that is known to induce seizures or physical reactions
- Offer tools to help users navigate your site and find content
U – Understandable
The standards in the WCAG also include guidelines meant to ensure that users can read, understand, and use your site as intended.
To be considered understandable, web content must:
- Include text content that does not require an advanced reading level
- Ensure that content can be parsed by assistive devices, such as screen readers
- Appear and behave in a predictable and consistent way
- Help users avoid and correct mistakes when inputting information
R – Robust
The final section of the WCAG standards is intended to make web content compatible with as many user agents as possible, including assistive devices and apps.
To be considered robust, web content must:
- Be compatible with current devices and assistive technologies
- Be structured in a manner that optimizes compatibility with future user agents
Learn more about how Qiigo can help ensure your website is ADA Compliant.
Contact us today!