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Is ADA Compliance Mandatory for Websites?

 

As a business owner, you wouldn’t allow barriers to stand between you and your customers at a brick-and-mortar store, and the same should ring true in the eCommerce space. 

Thanks to the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act), business owners are required to ensure accessibility for individuals with disabilities in physical public places. That could include installing ramps for wheelchair access, designating handicapped spaces in your parking lot and ensuring restrooms accommodate people with physical impairments. 

However, modern technological advances have called into question whether ADA compliance should apply to digital properties as well. The legal requirements and regulations regarding ADA compliance for websites are still evolving. Modern history has presented an ongoing debate, as well as litigation, surrounding this topic. 

 

What is ADA Compliance for Websites?

ADA compliance for websites involves ensuring that digital content is accessible to all individuals, regardless of their abilities. The ADA, initially enacted in 1990 to address physical spaces, has since evolved to cover digital realms, emphasizing that some websites and web applications must be inclusive to individuals with disabilities.

 

ADA compliance for websites includes:

  • Equal Access: Ensuring that individuals with disabilities have equal access to information, services and opportunities on websites.
  • Reasonable Accommodation: Businesses and organizations must provide reasonable accommodations to ensure that people with disabilities can access digital content.
  • Non-Discrimination: ADA compliance prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability, guaranteeing that digital content is accessible to all.

The importance of ADA compliance for websites is highlighted by the fact that the internet has become an essential tool for accessing information, services and commerce. Failure to comply can result in legal action, fines and a negative impact on reputation.

 

Which Businesses are Required to be ADA Compliant?

ADA compliance applies to a wide range of businesses and organizations. While not an exhaustive list, here are examples of entities that must adhere to ADA regulations for their websites:

  • Public Accommodations: Businesses open to the public, including restaurants, retail stores and entertainment venues, must ensure their websites are accessible.
  • State and Local Government Services: Government entities, such as state and local agencies, must make their digital programs and services accessible.
  • Employers: Employers are required to provide reasonable accommodations to employees with disabilities, extending to their digital systems and communications.
  • Telecommunications Providers: Telecommunication providers must offer relay services and ensure their equipment and services comply with accessibility standards.
  • Online Retailers: eCommerce businesses need to ensure that their websites are accessible to all customers, including those with disabilities. Accessibility is an important consideration when it comes to customer experience as well. 
  • Educational Institutions: Schools, colleges and universities must make their digital educational materials and platforms accessible for students with disabilities.
  • Healthcare Providers: Hospitals and clinics must ensure their digital services, patient portals and medical information are accessible.
  • Housing Providers: Housing providers need to adhere to accessibility standards under the Fair Housing Act, making their digital information and applications accessible to individuals with disabilities.

What is WCAG (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines)?

The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) are a globally recognized set of standards developed by the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). These guidelines provide a structured framework for creating accessible digital content and ensuring websites and web applications are perceivable, operable and understandable by a wide range of users, including those with disabilities.

 

WCAG consists of four primary principles:

  1. Perceivable: Information and user interface components must be presented in a way that users can perceive, regardless of their abilities. This includes offering alternative content for non-text elements, providing text alternatives for non-text content, and accommodating adaptable content presentation.
  2. Operable: Users should be able to navigate and interact with the user interface effectively. This principle emphasizes keyboard accessibility, providing users with enough time to read and use content, avoiding content that may cause seizures or physical discomfort, and ensuring navigability for screen reader users.
  3. Understandable: Content should be clear and easy to understand. This principle highlights the need for clear and consistent navigation, predictable user experiences, and clear and straightforward language.
  4. Robust: Content should be compatible with current and future technologies. This principle ensures that accessibility features remain effective as new technologies and assistive technologies emerge.

Accessibility Guidelines to Achieve Compliance

To achieve ADA compliance for websites, it's essential to focus on content, multimedia, design and website-specific aspects. Here, we'll delve into these aspects, discussing best practices and guidelines to follow.

 

Content Accessibility Guidelines

  • Structure and Organization: Ensure that your website's content is well-structured using proper HTML tags. Use headings and subheadings to create a clear hierarchy of information, aiding screen reader users and individuals with cognitive disabilities in understanding the content.
  • Readability: Provide text that is easy to read by using sufficient contrast between text and background colors. Avoid using complex fonts or decorative text that may be difficult to decipher.
  • Link Text: Use descriptive link text that conveys the link's purpose. Avoid vague phrases like "click here" and instead use meaningful descriptions.
  • Accessible Files: Ensure that downloadable files, such as PDFs and documents, are accessible. This involves providing alternative text for images within these files and ensuring proper formatting.

Multimedia Accessibility Guidelines

  • Video: Caption all videos to make the content accessible to individuals with hearing impairments. Use a consistent and readable font for captions.
  • Subtitles: Provide subtitles for any non-verbal audio content in videos, ensuring that deaf and hard-of-hearing users can access the information.
  • Transcripts: Offer transcripts for audio content such as podcasts and webinars. Transcripts provide an alternative means of accessing the content for those who cannot listen.
  • Audio Description: For videos with visual elements, provide audio descriptions of the visual content, enabling individuals with visual impairments to understand the context.

Design and Navigation Guidelines

  • Images: Use descriptive alt text for images, making them understandable to screen reader users. Avoid using images of text when actual text can be used.
  • Color: Ensure that color is not the sole means of conveying information. Use color contrasts that are easily distinguishable by individuals with visual impairments.
  • Fonts: Choose readable fonts and font sizes. Avoid fonts that are difficult to decipher, and ensure text can be resized without loss of content or functionality.
  • Website: Ensure that your website is navigable using a keyboard. Users who cannot use a mouse rely on keyboard navigation to access and interact with content.
  • Form and Table Labels: Provide clear and descriptive labels for forms and tables. This ensures that users can understand and complete forms and access table data.
  • Meta Tags: Use appropriate meta tags and provide metadata that accurately describes the content. This helps individuals using assistive technologies understand the purpose and context of web pages.
  • CTA Buttons: Make call-to-action (CTA) buttons visually distinct and include clear and concise labels. Users should easily identify and interact with CTA buttons, regardless of their abilities.

By following these guidelines, businesses and organizations can make their websites more accessible and achieve ADA compliance, creating a more inclusive digital environment.

 

Final Thoughts on ADA Compliance for Websites

After reading this article, we hope you are convinced that prioritizing accessibility for all should be a top priority in eCommerce. As a store owner, it’s important to promote inclusivity and equal access for all users, regardless of their abilities. Not only is it the right thing to do, but it also serves your business well by allowing you to cast a bigger customer net. Ensuring digital content is accessible to everyone also helps foster a sense of trust in your brand, paving the way for a long-lasting customer relationship.

It's crucial to consult with legal counsel and stay updated with the latest developments in ADA compliance and web accessibility requirements. Laws and regulations can change, and it’s up to you to ensure that your website aligns with the most current legal interpretations and standards, such as the WCAG guidelines.