Is Your Website ADA Compliant?
Sean McGowanMay 11th, 20183 minute read
Sean is a technical researcher & writer at Codal, authoring blog posts on topics ranging from UX design to the Internet of Things. Working alongside developers, designers, and marketers, Sean helps support the writing team to ensure Codal produces engaging web content of the highest quality. When not writing about the latest innovations in app design, Sean can be found cooking, watching old movies, or complaining about the shortcomings of his favorite Philadelphia sports teams.
When the American Disabilities Act was passed in 1990, its primary concern was to outlaw discrimination against the disabled in the workforce and in public entities. Employers could not deny jobs to qualified candidates because of their disability, and both commercial and public buildings had to ensure their facilities were accessible to the disabled.
The Internet as we know it today was not around back then, and in the twenty-eight years since the ADA was enacted, we’ve seen its scope expand into the digital realm. Companies like Expedia, Target, and Winn Dixie have been sued for violating the ADA because their websites weren’t accessible to users with disabilities.
In today’s world, closed captioning for telecommunications or wheelchair accessibility for public buildings is just as important as a website that’s designed inclusively, offering the same quality of experience to users with disabilities.
As a web development company, Codal ensures all of the sites we build remain ADA-compliant. We do this by referring to the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), a sort of checklist that denotes the specific features and functionalities your site needs to accommodate users with disabilities.
The WCAG is a long read. It has sixty-one different guidelines, and between you and me, it’s not exactly a page-turner. So to save you some precious time, Codal has put together some of the guidelines that are going to demand more of your attention, and to make sure you’ve checked every box on the list.
And before we get started, a quick disclaimer: I’m not a lawyer, and I don’t claim to be! This post isn’t legal counsel, but rather web design and development advice to help you craft a more inclusive user experience.
Wait, Does My Website Even Have To Be Compliant?
According to the ADA, any business that could be considered a “public accommodation” falls under its jurisdiction. Most site runners (and some legal experts) have interpreted this to mean eCommerce sites, retailers, or really any B2C company. If it’s a service that the general public should be able to access, you’re better off being safe than sorry and making sure your website accommodates users with disabilities.
I should mention that if your website happens to be representing a federal institution, you’re required by law to meet AA compliance by hitting all items on the WCAG. But I imagine if you’re running a website for a federal institution and didn’t already know all this, it’s a little late for my help.
Alright, So What Do I Actually Have To Do?
The good news is that it’s hopefully not much. Many of the guidelines listed in the WCAG probably already apply to your site, like “Success Criterion 2.4.2” which states “web pages have titles that describe topic or purpose.” I’m willing to bet your website already has that covered.
Other criteria you may not meet quite yet, but shouldn’t take too long for your web development company to implement them. The ones that could be a cause for concern are the guidelines that are much more work-intensive to add to your platform. These include:
- With some exceptions, all text must meet a minimum contrast ratio of 7:1 against the background, which can mean fundamental aspects of your UI need go be tweaked.
- Your website has to be completely navigable by keyboard only. This can cause some serious headaches, and sometimes means manually setting a tabindex throughout the entire website.
- Similarly, your website needs to be compatible with screen reader software. Like the previous keyboard nav requirement, this can be a time-intensive fix.
- If your website’s text is scaled up to 200%, the design should be responsive (i.e. without triggering horizontal scrolling or breaking the site’s layout).
Is There A Way To Test This Stuff?
You know it! Both WAVE and Lighthouse are excellent software tools that can be utilized to test the overall accessibility of your website. They only cover a few of the guidelines though, so full audits will have to be performed manually. These comprehensive tests can be performed by your software engineers or QA testers, or you can enlist the services of a web development agency.
Making your website ADA-compliant isn’t just a task to help you avoid a lawsuit—it’s a method to genuinely help improve your platform’s experience. It benefits all users, not just ones with disabilities, and it makes the Internet a more accessible, more inclusive place.