Hey, it’s Brian. This article is for informational purposes and is NOT legal advice, cool? Onto the article…
The Americans with Disabilities Act, popularly known as ADA, was a landmark law passed in 1990 to prevent discrimination and help make businesses and public spaces more accessible to folks with mobility problems, hearing and vision impairments, and other issues.
That’s why you see wheelchair ramps on sidewalks and buildings… Braille and headphone jacks on ATMs… and other accommodations. It’s all about providing equal access to all our citizens.
But accessibility also applies to websites. According to some estimates, as much as 20% of the population has a disability that restricts their ability to navigate the online world.
As the U.S. Department of Labor puts it:
“The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities and guarantees equal opportunities for individuals with disabilities in employment, transportation, public accommodations, state and local government services, and telecommunications.”
But it’s not just in the “real world” that folks with disabilities might need assistance. We live much of our lives online these days. We shop, order food, make travel arrangements, pay bills, conduct business transactions, file our taxes, trade stocks, research vital information, and engage in hundreds – if not thousands – of other online activities.
The Department of Justice, in charge of enforcing ADA compliance, puts it this way:
“Inaccessible web content means that people with disabilities are denied equal access to information. An inaccessible website can exclude people just as much as steps at an entrance to a physical location.”
That’s why making your website accessible is so important. And… might even be required by law. Notice in the quote above that it says “telecommunications.”
Websites that receive federal funding are required to be ADA-compliant. This means websites for government agencies, nonprofits, schools, and the like must follow the law. But private businesses are also on the hook, although the exact standards and requirements are not set down in the law or entirely clear.
Thus, making your website accessible makes a lot of sense. And could also shield you from any potential legal issues in the future.
The Department of Justice has taken the stance that businesses open to the public, including retailers, should make appropriate accommodations for people with disabilities. That includes online businesses that offer goods and services to the public. And the DOJ is pretty serious about it.
The department has gone after Rite Aid, H&R Block, and other businesses for not making their website accessible to all and preventing people with disabilities from using their online platforms effectively. And frustrated users could bring lawsuits on an individual basis.
So, from a legal standpoint, this should be a priority for you too.
Plus, if you think about it, making your website accessible is not only the right thing to do… but it also benefits your online business.
Your goal is to bring in leads to your business and turn them into customers, right?
Making your website accessible makes it easy for a whole other segment of the population to do just that, it doesn’t affect your non-disabled customers at all, and, as you’ll see in a moment, it’s easy to set up and maintain accessibility standards for your business’s web presence.
What is Website Accessibility?
Overall, when we look at what accessibility actually entails, what you should keep in mind is the needs of people with disabilities when visiting your site. These disabilities included hearing impairment, vision impairment (including blindness), and movement limitations, among others.
All of these folks should be able to navigate your website, absorb its content, and interact with it just like everyone else.
What does that mean on a practical level?
- For any videos or audio content, there should be text captions.
- Images should have Alt text (so that screen reader software can pass on the information to the reader)
- The text size and font you use should be readable
- You should be able to zoom in on your website content
- Online forms should be easy to use (for example, don’t use only red text to indicate a required field – color blind person would not recognize it)
- Colors should also contrast to enhance readability (for example, don’t put light gray text on a white background)
- And more
At this point, I think it would be useful for you to understand how people with different disabilities navigate the web. It will be key to understanding how accessibility works and why it’s important.
People with vision problems use screen readers, which speak the text on the screen out loud.
Those with hearing impairment use captioning for any video or audio content – like subtitles on a TV show or movie.
People with mobility issues that prevent them from using a mouse or keyboard, might have software that helps them control their devices with voice commands.
How Do I Make My Website Accessible?
The Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division does provide guidance documents on the technical aspects of making your website accessible to those with disabilities of all types.
You could try to implement those yourself. Or send the “list” to your web designer to implement.
But that can take time, and expert knowledge can go a long way to ensuring that you don’t miss an important aspect of this compliance.
Fortunately, there are specialized services out there that can quickly, thoroughly, and affordably make your website accessible and compliant.
They will conduct an audit of your site to determine what accommodations are needed, make the appropriate changes, and then have disabled users test your revamped site to make sure everything is up to par.
Two well-regarded providers in this space include:
Collectively, these two services have improved accessibility in more than a million websites for companies from around the U.S. and the world, including Fortune 50 companies and major brands.
I would encourage you to check out these services for more information. It can only benefit your business to improve the user experience for all users.
Interacting with the digital world is a must in today’s world. And people with disabilities should not be left out of this key part of life. And that includes your website.