The terms “website accessibility” and “ADA website compliance” are increasingly being bounced around in the online business world—there’s a good chance you’ve heard of them.
But many people still don’t know exactly what an ADA-compliant website looks like—or how it can impact a business.
I’ll clear up all the confusion and give you a step-by-step guide to help ensure your website is ADA-compliant—and explain why it matters.
What Does ADA Website Compliance Mean?
ADA refers to the Americans with Disabilities Act, which was signed in 1990. A 2009 amendment expanded the definition of disabilities and specified which businesses must adhere to ADA requirements.
The law provides those with disabilities fair and equal access to housing, employment, transportation, and other life areas.
That includes access to online services, but because business websites weren’t as ubiquitous when the bill was signed, there’s some confusion around ADA for websites.
So what does ADA website compliance mean?
The simple answer is ADA website compliance ensures your site is accessible to people with disabilities.
In practice, that means sites meet the Americans with Disabilities Act Standards for Accessible Design by allowing people who use tools like screen readers or keyboard-only access to consume online content, including blog posts, videos, and online services.
However, as the stats show, this doesn’t happen a lot of the time. Research indicates that 96.3 percent of home pages still lack accessible website compliance.
ADA doesn’t require all businesses to follow website compliance guidelines. Organizations that need to ensure they’re compliant include:
- State and local governments
- Private businesses with 15+ employees
- Nonprofits and charities with 15+ employees
- Companies relying on the public or that benefit the public (basically, any place the public enters regularly)
However, even if your business isn’t on that list, that doesn’t mean you can forget about compliance.
Your goal is to ensure everyone has fair and equal access to your site. After all, a larger audience is always a good thing—and it may earn you some brownie points with the public in general!
Web Content Accessibility Guidelines
Ensuring ADA website compliance isn’t a simple process. It’s complicated, it’s not required—and no one else is doing it anyway, right? Why bother, then?
Unfortunately, there aren’t any apps or services you can plug in, and bam—you’re compliant. If only it were that easy!
Remember, ADA website compliance is a process, but it isn’t impossible. Here’s what you need to know.
The World Wide Web Consortium, or W3C, built the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) for businesses to benchmark their websites.
In essence, the WCAG determined that to be compliant, a website must be:
What does that mean in practice? Here’s a breakdown.
Perceivable means a visitor to a website can access and process the content easily—no piece is available to only one sense, like vision or sight.
That means utilizing components like alt text for images. This text describes what’s in an image in a way screen readers can understand.
You should also provide alternative ways to consume content—such as transcripts for podcasts and other audio content, videos, and webinars.
Here’s an example of a good use of transcripts from Masters of Scale. They format their podcast transcripts and use them on their website as repurposed content. This valuable bank of content now serves several purposes: to aid ADA compliance and as a source for a blog or online copy.
Additionally, you should ensure you have effective closed captioning available on your videos—the automatic text used by many sites is often inaccurate.
If you want to take it a step further, you could use audio descriptions on videos, which describe what’s happening in a video during pauses—but this is time-consuming, and it isn’t a legal requirement. It’s just a nice thing to do.
When your website is operable, your users can navigate their way without missing out on anything.
The site should be accessible via a keyboard or mouse, doesn’t have an automatic scroll or a time limit for usability, and each page should have clear titles. It should also be easy for adaptive technologies, like touch screens for screen readers to access.
Also, ensure your site doesn’t cause physical triggers (such as using a strobe light that could cause migraines or seizures).
If a website is understandable, users can identify the language and easily read the content.
They can understand and predict the layout without spending significant time getting to know it. For instance, a search bar should be in the same spot on each page. The White House government website is an excellent example of making content accessible to all users. It includes features such as toggling high contrast and changing text size, along with a clean layout that is easy to navigate.
It also means any forms have input assistance that provides clear instructions about what the form requires with helpful validation errors.
Finally, when a website is robust, it works with all browsers, assistive technologies, and other ways to access web content. As technology changes, your site needs to change, too.
For example, your site isn’t robust if it can only be read on a desktop in Internet Explorer or can’t be understood by a screen reader.
Websites that meet these standards are accessible to everyone, so they meet ADA site compliance.
Why Should My Website Be ADA-Compliant?
As I’ve already highlighted, making your website ADA-compliant is a challenge—which may make it seem like a drain on resources, especially for businesses that don’t need to comply by law.
However, just because ADA website compliance isn’t always a legal obligation, that doesn’t mean there aren’t any benefits. For example, website compliance can be an opportunity to future-proof your site for SEO and AI.
Let’s review a few more reasons you should be paying attention to compliance:
It’s a Legal Issue
Maintaining an inaccessible website isn’t just cutting your potential visitor base. While you are leaving out up to 27 percent of the population, there are other implications.
One of the most financially devastating consequences is the risk of getting sued.
Beyonce, Nike, and several other brands have had to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to fix their websites after being sued—and that doesn’t include the cost of legal representation, payouts, and loss of revenue from upset members of the public.
Ensure you have an ADA-compliant website. The cost and the bad press of not doing so aren’t worth it!
It Increases Your Audience
Having an ADA-compliant website increases your potential target audience.
One in four people in the United States has a disability, and many use assistive technology to access online content.
With alt text, captions, keyboard-accessible pages, and other alterations, your products and services become open to those audiences.
If someone can’t access your online platform, they can’t make a purchase.
From a business standpoint, better accessibility means more potential profit. That makes it a no-brainer.
ADA Compliance Builds Your Brand
Branding is vital to business success.
Why? Because we fall in love with brands, not products.
Good branding brings us back to the same companies over and over again—even if they aren’t the cheapest options.
Brands that go the extra mile to ensure website compliance, even when they don’t need to, show their audience they care about people, not just profits.
A commitment to your audience says a lot about your brand and the values you hold as a company, which can help strengthen the relationship with your customers.
ADA Compliance Can Help SEO
I’m sure you’ll be happy to know making your website accessible can also help your SEO.
A double win!
That’s because ADA website compliance supports SEO-friendly components like alt text for images, transcripts of videos and audio, proper heading tags, and consistent and predictable structures.
The more accurate and descriptive your alt text is, the better it works for screen readers and search engines. Here’s an example from my YouTube channel.
Video transcripts give search engines information to scroll, meaning they have more keywords to work with.
Likewise, the more precise your headings are, the better it is for search engines and people.
The takeaway? Accessibility is good for your bottom line.
Why wouldn’t you put in the extra effort?
How Do I Make My Website ADA Compliant?
Now you’re convinced—it’s time to begin making your website ADA-friendly. Where do you start, though?
While the idea behind accessibility seems simple, the path to compliance is another story.
Why is it so challenging to achieve ADA website compliance?
Some of the issues lie in coding, which isn’t something many site owners are familiar with.
Plus, if your site’s structure is complex or unpredictable, you might need to start over entirely.
Also, some of the ADA website requirements are hard to understand.
If you are stressing yourself out and unsure where to start, I’ve got good news:
Creating an accessible website doesn’t have to be hard.
I’ll show you exactly what to do—and explain when you might want to consider calling in a professional.
Here’s what you need to know.
Conduct An Accessibility Audit
How do you know what compliance issues need to be fixed? That’s where an audit comes in.
You don’t need to spend a ton of money, and you don’t necessarily need to hire a professional.
Start with free website accessibility checker tools to assess the current performance of your site. The W3C also maintains a Web Accessibility Evaluation List, which includes resources helpful for conducting an ADA assessment, like checklists, color wheels, and developer tools.
This is what the results for my site look like:
These ADA website compliance checker tools can help you see where you stand accessibility-wise and figure out your first steps.
If you just need to add a few alt tags and adjust your navigation bar, you can likely do these things yourself.
However, for more extensive changes, you might consider getting some expert support.
Optimize Your Content for Accessibility
To help with your website compliance, here are some tips to improve content accessibility.
- Use heading tags for structured content (H1, H2, H3, etc.) for better readability and improved SEO.
- Avoid jargon and complicated language. Write content in layman’s terms so it’s easy to absorb.
- Consider color contrast. You’ll want to check there is adequate contrast between text and background colors for easier readability. accessiBe’s website is an excellent example of contrast ratios:
- Use descriptive anchor text. Avoid generic text like “Here” or “Find Out More.”
Optimize Your Design for Accessibility
As with your content, you can do plenty with your design to help keep it in line with ADA website compliance.
For video content:
Add captions and transcriptions to videos to make content accessible to visitors with hearing impairments, and add audio for visually impaired visitors.
Also, remember to make your titles and descriptions detailed. Write accurate content representing the video to make it easier for people using adaptive technologies.
For fonts and colors:
- Use accessible fonts: Helvicta, Open Sans, Arial, or Verdana are good choices. Alternatively, use specifically designed fonts like OpenDyslexic or Tiresias.
- Font size is vital, too. It should be at least 12 points,
Perform a Manual Accessibility Review
Fixing what you can on your own is a great place to start. However, it’s likely you can’t fix everything.
That’s where a manual accessibility auditor comes in. They’ll sift through all pages to ensure you have an ADA-compliant website and list any issues that need addressing.
Also, consider working with an accessibility consultant or an attorney to ensure your website compliance update is adequate. This action is to reduce the chances of a compliance lawsuit later on.
Tackle Your Website’s Code
With the manual review completed, you can start to tackle the hidden ADA compliance issues on your site. If you can edit the code yourself, you’ll probably save yourself some cash! However, this is a job usually best left to the experts.
Another option, particularly for WordPress users, is to switch to an ADA-compliant WordPress theme. You’ll still have to add alt tags and ensure link anchor text is descriptive, but the site’s core should have ADA website compliance right off the bat.
Whichever way you go, hiring someone to make ADA website compliance updates is much more affordable when you already know what’s wrong.
What is ADA compliance?
Being ADA-compliant means businesses, public facilities, and website owners must provide equal treatment and ensure accessibility for people with disabilities.
Do websites have to be ADA compliant?
Having an ADA-compliant website is compulsory for sites receiving federal government funding. It’s also mandatory for local, state, and government agencies, companies employing 15 or more employees, and if you own a business that benefits the public.
However, even if it’s not mandatory for your site, it still makes sense to ensure you have an ADA-friendly website to ensure it’s accessible to a person with disabilities and to avoid the possibility of lawsuits.
The bottom line is, if you’re not sure, get legal advice regarding what ADA for websites looks like and if the guidelines apply to your site.
How to make a website ADA compliant?
Some of the things you can do to ensure you meet ADA website requirements include adding Alt text to images, using captions and transcripts for visual content, ensuring you’re compliant with Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, and using the WebAIM’s Color Contrast Checker to help people with limited vision or color blindness. The ADA website has a list of common website accessibility issues you can refer to or run a free accessibility test check to see how you’re doing now.
Ensuring you have an ADA-compliant website should be on every business’s to-do list.
While you might not be subject to laws and there’s a lack of ADA standards for websites, ADA website compliance is a no-brainer for healthy businesses looking to grow—and, as you grow and laws change, you may end up required to meet ADA standards anyway!
An inaccessible website cuts your business off from a broader audience, looking for exactly what you offer.
Building an ADA-compliant website might be a bit challenging and time-consuming, but it’ll be worth it.
Do you have an ADA-compliant website? What were the biggest challenges? Let me know in the comments!
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