ADA Compliance: What Is It and What It Means for Your Business



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What is ADA Compliance?

American business or company owners are becoming more aware that their online presence needs to meet Americans with Disabilities Act Compliance. Hence, the term “ADA compliant” in which the US Department of Justice has implemented enforcement efforts to prohibit discrimination of people with disabilities and provide them equal opportunities, whether it be for purchases of goods and services, job employments, and participation in State and local government programs. Americans with a range of disabilities include, but are not limited to, people with speech, hearing, and visual impairments who find it hard to access or use websites.

Who needs to be ADA compliant?

Since the ADA standards apply to entities that have “places of public accommodation,” you might ask – “Is ADA Compliance mandatory for my website?”

The short answer? Almost every business that has a website should comply with the ADA Act. If you, as a business owner, think you need to be ADA compliant, you probably should be.

The long answer? ADA compliance applies to:

  • Private companies or organizations with 15 or more employees
  • Businesses that operate for the benefit of public accommodations that include non-profits and commercial facilities
  • Organizations that benefit the public that includes transportation, mobility inclusions (wheelchair threshold ramps and access aisles, Save My Spot parking cones, and more), banks, hotels, schools, restaurants and food chains, movie theaters, gyms, law offices, and healthcare providers, among others.
  • All state and local government agencies

ADA Compliance has also been interpreted to include websites and online spaces. The internet is becoming more important and websites play a bigger role in the way that consumers and businesses interact. As the rise of ADA-related suits filed against companies skyrocket, recent updates have been taking effect covering the world wide web.

Not all business websites are required to be ADA compliant. However unclearly defined the regulations are, when ADA compliance standards are left unmet – intentional or not, you could be at risk of paying hefty lawsuits if your website isn’t accessible to everyone.

“How do I make my website ADA compliant?”

Levels of Compliance

Alongside ADA Compliance, the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) has set three-tier guidelines to break accessibility issues.

Here’s a quick rundown of the three-tiered grading system for ADA Compliance.

LEVEL A

Issues in this tier level are most urgent that they can badly limit a disabled user’s ability to navigate a website. This allows website accessibility to some users.

LEVEL AA

This compliance level is generally developed for functionality which allows website accessibility to people with a wider range of disabilities. This level grants almost all users the full experience of a website and is regarded as the target standard for most business websites.

To best serve your business, it is recommended for you to build or rebuild your website meeting Level AA compliance standards.

LEVEL AAA

This is the highest standard and the most demanding tier level of the WCAG compliance. It is the ultimate goal to strive for by business websites but is likely beyond reach for most. This level allows access by all users.

Guidelines for ADA compliance

When you’re looking to start to become ADA compliant, creating content for your business website that are accessible for people with disabilities is important. Proactively committing to also serve users who have visual, hearing, speech, cognitive, and motor impairments can mean more business and a better reputation.

STRUCTURE

Making your website compliant with ADA doesn’t mean for you to get into the code and build it any differently. Although modern website design trends have made its way to be simple and clean, some websites are overdesigned, making it worse for people with visual impairments to navigate with screen readers or keyboards alone.

Start by using headings properly. This means using the proper heading tags instead of just using bigger or bolder fonts. Using headings should be in logical order without skipping levels. The headline or H1 element should be followed by an H2 followed by an H3 element, and so on. This makes the organizational structure of your page and your content easier to read and follow.

READABILITY

People with visual and cognitive disabilities might struggle reading content on your website. Creating a profile that allows the visually and cognitively impaired to change fonts and resize site text (up to 200%) will help them scan and read your content even without any assistive technology. Just make sure that text resizing will cover the orientation of the screen for better focus and not cause any loss of content or site functionality.

These two simple features alone can greatly help people with visual and cognitive impairments which, in return, can improve conversion rate.

DESIGN

In correlation to readability, another key consideration for users with visual and cognitive disabilities is designed. These attributes are necessary to a successful user experience for people with disabilities.

For optimal readability, non-visual users will benefit from semantic space, especially those who use screen reader software. This helps visually impaired users to change how content displays without losing meaning.

For about 4% of the world’s population with some form of color blindness, using color alone can cause challenges in communicating information. Level AA of the ADA compliance requires that you have and maintain a contrast ratio of at least 4.5:1. Color contrast checkers also help and allow users to check color combinations, and input foreground and background color values.

Labeling is the most important element for form and table accessibility. Make sure to use headings and labels on each form field to describe the purpose of the content. Pricing tables, contact forms, password fields, and all other site elements must be labeled. Include instructions at the top of each form to help users understand how to fill them out.

DESCRIPTIVE LINK TEXT

Users with screen readers or visual disabilities often look for links to take them to another page. The “Click here” link text is just too vague for them to know whether the link they’re trying to access is what it is and whether it will lead them to where they want to. When linking to other website pages, make sure to use specific descriptions for each hyperlink and keep them as short as possible.

“Schedule online” is preferable to “to schedule online please click here.”

“Contact us” is better than “you can reach us by.”

FILE ACCESSIBILITY

Video and audio content have become more predominant in the rise of the modern internet. But what if someone cannot see a video or image, read a PDF document, or hear audio?

When making your website ADA compliant, you need to make all content or files meet the recommended accessibility standards.

Add captions, transcripts, and audio descriptions to your video and audio files. Some video content services may do this automatically for you, or you can do it manually for quality closed-captioning. A summary description for visually-heavy videos may also be sufficient as an alternative way for people with disabilities to access.

Uploading images can be just an easy drag-and-drop. However, there should be an alt attribute for those who are color blind or visually impaired. Providing alternative text for images will make them readable and accessible. This offers a great user experience for people with disabilities. Avoid uploading flashing images as it may cause seizures in some people.

For document files, screen readers may not always read them. When publishing documents on your website, PDF, Word, and other document formats must pass ADA compliance or use an alternative text-based tool to convert these formats to accessible HTML or RTF (Rich Text Format).

NAVIGATION

People with visual and motor disabilities cannot use a mouse to hover and click buttons or links on a website. Hence the importance of keyboard navigation. They rely only on a keyboard to access the pages they want to get to. Consider adding a “skip navigation” link so that users can tab through buttons, menus, and all other navigational elements.

Any user accessing your website using only a keyboard should have the ability to see the keyboard focus indicator such as highlighting form fields, menus, and CTA buttons for easier navigation. This will save users with visual and motor impairments from wasting a lot of time but gain you more business. Nonetheless, all information should be easily available combined with an excellent navigational experience, regardless of the accessibility profile.

Following these guidelines will give you a good head start to make your website ADA-compliant. What this means for you is making your business more inclusive to all by having interactive website accessibility for people with disabilities. ADA compliance is a good and necessary thing. It can be costly and tedious, but it can be even more costly if you don’t comply.

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