Most entrepreneurs have spent a lot of time, effort, and money ensuring that their websites are engaging and informative for potential clients and partners. The website serves as many people’s first introduction to you and your company. In the enthusiasm to make that great virtual first impression, however, it is sometimes easy to overlook the fact that not everyone uses the internet and interacts with web pages in the same ways. For example, people with limited hearing may not be able to engage with an audio clip, and someone with limited mobility may have trouble navigating certain contact forms without a mouse. Despite the fact that there have been many advancements in technology that have made the internet more accessible to people of all abilities, these technologies are not yet used in all websites. This makes it important to ensure that your website is accessible. Below, we’ll define what it means to have an ADA compliant website, discuss its legal implications, and provide reasons to be compliant as well as an ADA compliance website checklist.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was signed into law in 1990. It mandated that all “places of public accommodation” be accessible for those covered by the act. Of course, the internet was still in its infancy at that time, and the ADA did not specifically address how the accessibility requirement applied to websites in general. Although legislation has been proposed to clarify this point, nothing has been finalized in law regarding non-government websites. Because of this, the ADA is open to interpretation when it comes to the internet. Many websites have been sued for being inaccessible, and rulings have gone both ways on the issue.
Because there is no specific standard set by the ADA to determine website accessibility, ADA compliance is difficult to define. Most people default to the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) commonly used in Europe when legal issues arise. These standards are also usually what is referenced by the terms “ADA compliance” and “ADA compliant website.”
The question remains then: Is ADA compliance mandatory for your website? The answer in most cases is YES. Even if the law does not explicitly require you to adhere to some compliances, it is still a good idea to be fully compliant for multiple reasons. We have outlined six of them below.
If you don’t have an accessible website or you are not on your way to making an effort to making
your website accessible to everyone who wants to use your site you are excluding a whole group of individuals. Creating an ADA website will make sure you include everyone. Think of your web presence just as you would a physical location. You want to make your are accommodating for everyone and everyone can comfortably navigate through your space.
Despite a lack of explicit guidelines from the ADA, the potential for lawsuits exists as long as your website is not accessible as defined by the WCAG. As noted above, many websites have been sued for not being accessible. Although these court cases have gone both ways, even a ruling in your favor would still take a lot of time and money. Save yourself the legal fees and the ruined company reputation and instead make sure you have an ADA compliant website.
Think about it. If there is a subset of your target audience that is unable to use your website, those people are not going to be able to do business with you. In addition, they will make sure their friends and families know that your company is not welcoming to all people. Again, the negative PR will negatively impact your company image and growth. On the other hand, if people of differing abilities see that they are important to you and your company, they will be more likely to recommend you to others.
A lot of flashing lights on the side of the screen can be dangerous for people with epilepsy, but others may just find it annoying. People with limited hearing will need a transcript to fully engage with your video, but even someone with average hearing could benefit from it if they are without headphones in a public place. The accessibility measures that are necessary for some people can also be useful or convenient to other members of the population. Additionally, accessibility has the potential to increase your SEO ranking. For example, some of the features required for accessibility, such as alt text on images, have been known to impact SEO ranking. This can in turn have a ripple effect. As site traffic is generated by more people being able to engage with your website, your SEO ranking can further improve.
Your business is innovative and likely uses technology in new and creative ways. We have written before that entrepreneurs should be leaders in embracing new technology. Why not apply this mentality to website accessibility? When some websites adopt accessibility, others will take notice and be encouraged to do likewise. Additionally, it is quite possible that legislation will eventually pass making ADA compliance explicitly mandatory. At that time, you will already be ahead of the curve and not scrambling to bring your website up to date.
Okay, it can be hard to determine whether or not you have an ADA compliant website, but it doesn’t have to be. The WCAG guidelines are admittedly dense, and there are a lot of things to consider. The easiest way to make sure your site is accessible is to work with a company that checks the accessibility of your site such as Accessibe. They will scan your website, send you a report, and work with you to implement changes that make your website usable for everyone. Additionally, don’t assume that your website is compliant just because you outsourced its creation. It is absolutely still worth a check.
Though not exhaustive, this is an ADA compliance website checklist you can use to see how your website fares in terms of accessibility. It is adapted from the ADA’s requirements for government websites.
Is there a “skip navigation” option for pages with navigation links?
Do links have a text description?
Are all documents available in a text-based format?
Do subparts of forms have HTML tags?
Do drop down lists describe what is being asked?
Do table cells have HTML to associate them with columns and rows?
Do all graphics have alt text?
Do videos have audio description?
Do video files and audio files have captions?
Does the color and font of your website adapt to the user’s settings?
Do you have a written policy on accessibility that can be easily located?
Is new content checked for compliance?
Does your staff have appropriate training on accessibility and compliance?
Do you have a plan for any content that is currently inaccessible?
ADA compliance is a legal gray area. While there are no explicit guidelines, many websites have been sued for lack of accessibility. In general, it is a good idea to play it safe. Make sure your website adheres to WCAG guidelines, which is most easily done with the help of a professional service. This will also help to expand your client base, likely increase your SEO ranking, and help lead other companies to do the same.
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