Creating an Inclusive Online Experience: How to Achieve ADA Compliance for Your Website
Plaintiffs filed more than 3,200 federal website accessibility lawsuits in 2022. This was a 12% increase from 2021.
ADA compliance for websites is a legal requirement. It's also good for your business.
An accessible website benefits all users. Accessibility means your site is easier to understand. It's easier to use.
Learn more about ADA website compliance requirements and how to ensure your site complies.
What Does the ADA Require for Websites?
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) protects the rights of people with disabilities. It applies to many aspects of public life. The two sections of the law that are the most relevant for websites are:
- Access to government services
- Access to businesses
The ADA requires that all programs, services, and goods offered online are accessible to people with disabilities. Two main components of accessibility are nondiscrimination and effective communication.
Nondiscrimination means that businesses must give people with disabilities full and equal access. Under the ADA, a person with a disability is someone who has a mental or physical impairment that substantially limits at least one major life activity. The ADA also protects people who may be regarded as having an impairment.
Effective communication means that businesses must ensure that people with a disability can:
- Communicate with the business
- Receive information
- Convey information
Businesses must provide communication aids and services when necessary. Aids that apply to websites include video captioning and content that a screen reader can process.
Published Standards for an ADA Compliant Website
The government doesn't provide detailed standards for ADA website compliance. Businesses can choose how to create an ADA compliant website. Existing technical standards provide a good framework.
Web Content Accessibility Guidelines
The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) are an international standard for website accessibility. WCAG is the most widely-accepted standard for accessibility.
The World Wide Web Consortium developed and maintains WCAG. WCAG 2.1 is the most current version. An updated version of the standard is scheduled for release in 2023.
WCAG divides its guidelines into four main principles. To be accessible, web content must be:
Each guideline has three levels of criteria for success. To conform to WCAG, website content must meet at least the minimum level of success criteria for each guideline. Conforming to WCAG helps ensure your web content complies with the ADA.
Conduct an Accessibility Audit
Achieving ADA compliance for websites needs a comprehensive strategy. An accessibility audit will show any gaps in your ADA website compliance. You can use an automated or manual inspection process.
Automated tools may seem like an easy solution. Some online tools are free. They don't give you a complete picture of your website accessibility, though.
Professional website accessibility consultants will conduct a thorough analysis of your digital properties. Manual inspections are more reliable than automated tools.
The inspection team will partner with you to address any accessibility issues. They can create a personalized ADA compliance checklist. They'll work with you to develop a cost-effective strategy to implement the checklist.
Make Your Website Perceivable
To make a website ADA compliant, it must be perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust. Perceivable means that a user must be able to perceive your online content using one or more of their senses. You need to provide content that allows for multiple means of perception.
Include Image Descriptions
You probably use images to convey information on your website. A vision-impaired user will have difficulty perceiving images, though. The solution is to add alt text to your images.
Alt text is a full description of the image. It tells someone using a screen reader what the picture shows.
Most content management systems offer a way to add alt text using the image optimization module. You can also add alt text directly into the HTML code.
Provide Alternative Forms of Access for Audio and Video
Audio and video content may not be perceivable to users with a hearing or vision impairment. You can provide a transcript for content that is exclusively audio.
Video content can also have a transcript available. Captioning is another useful solution for videos.
Make Your Website Operable
An operable website has UI elements that a user can control. Using a mouse is difficult for some people. Your website needs to support other navigation methods, like keyboard or voice.
Alternative navigation includes filling out forms on your site. Assigning an HTML label to each field makes using the form with a screen reader easier.
Aria labels help screen readers identify page elements like an "X" to close a pop-up window. The aria label tells the user what the button does.
Make Your Website Understandable
Ensuring that users can understand your web content may seem like a vague standard. WCAG includes guidelines for language and page organization.
Language should be clear and without unnecessary jargon. Use simple sentences and make content skimmable.
Your web pages should appear and work in a logical way. The navigation structure should be consistent.
Providing input assistance helps users avoid and correct mistakes. Input assistance includes clear instructions and suggestions for fixing common errors.
Make Your Website Robust
A robust website functions reliably across browsers and devices. Following web development standards will help your site work with assistive technologies. Ensuring that your site has clean code lets you offer a better experience on many devices and platforms.
Cleaning up any duplicate elements or unfinished tags is another important step.
The Importance of ADA Compliance for Websites
ADA compliance for websites is an important part of your overall compliance strategy. Following WCAG will help you design a perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust website.
An accessibility audit can help you identify areas where your website can improve. You can partner with a consultant to make your website ADA compliant more easily. An accessible website gives all users a better experience.
Looking for more ways to give your business an advantage? Check out our other articles for more practical guides like this.