Why Accessibility Is Important
Did you know that as many as 1 in 4 Americans have some type of disability? That is nearly 61 million people. (Source: CDC) To help protect everyone’s equal access to information and public services online, the U.S. Department of Justice has issued guidance on web accessibility and the Americans with Disabilities Act. Website owners should be aware — so-called “ambulance chasers” are out in full force, and ecommerce sites especially are being targeted with costly lawsuits. This article discusses ADA web compliance and the actions site owners should take to both protect their business and better serve people with disabilities.
Does My Website Have to Be ADA Compliant?
Chances are, the answer is yes. ADA compliance applies to virtually all businesses, including ecommerce stores, manufacturers, restaurants, and service providers.
The Americans with Disabilities Act applies to organizations in both the private and public sectors. Employers, state and local governments, businesses that are open to the public, commercial facilities, transportation providers, and telecommunication companies all must follow the requirements of the ADA. Some examples of businesses open to the public are:
- Retail stores
- Hospitals & healthcare providers
- Museums, libraries & galleries
- Parks & recreation places
- Schools & universities
- Restaurants & bars
- Theaters & entertainment venues
The ADA does not apply to religious organizations or private clubs.
It’s important to note that even if your organization is not legally required to adhere to the ADA, compliance can still be beneficial. Ultimately, all websites, mobile apps, and digital content should be ADA compliant, inclusive, and accessible to everyone.
What Does Accessibility Mean?
To know what website accessibility means, it helps to first understand the barriers and impacts of an inaccessible site. Just like they do in the physical world, people with disabilities navigate the web in a variety of unique, often adapted ways. People who have vision-related disabilities may use screen readers that speak the text that appears on a screen. People who are hard of hearing or deaf may use captions for video and audio content. People who can’t use a mouse may use a keyboard or voice recognition software to control their devices.
Just as a staircase creates a barrier for a person using a wheelchair, the ways that websites, apps, and digital content are designed and developed can create barriers that impede access to certain people. Some common features of inaccessible websites include:
- Poor color contrast
- Using color to convey information
- Missing “alt text” on images
- Lacking video captions
- Confusing or unusable forms
- Mouse-only navigation
What Does Compliance Entail?
The ADA itself does not itself contain specific, detailed standards for compliance. This affords some flexibility in how businesses and organizations can choose to make their information and services accessible online, but that openness can cause confusion for site owners looking for clear and simple direction on how to stay in line.
As for what accessibility entails, the DOJ’s guidance references World Wide Web Consortium’s Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) and Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. WCAG provides technical standards for website, content, and application developers, designers, and page authors. Giving further direction to government agencies, Section 508 specifies that agencies must conform to WCAG 2.0 Level AA.
By following the guidelines of WCAG, businesses can create better websites, apps, and online content for users with disabilities, and thereby be considered “ADA compliant”. WCAG 2.0 Level AA compliance is a widely recommended minimum standard for most businesses.
Accessibility Is for Everyone
If you have a disability yourself, then you already know exactly how important accessibility is. It is likely that you have benefitted from a business’s compliance with ADA guidelines in the physical world. It’s equally likely that you’ve experienced barriers from an organization’s lack of compliance.
At the baseline level, your website should be perceivable, operable, and understandable to all users on all channels and platforms. Nobody should be excluded from your information and services online simply because of their disability.
But truly, it goes deeper than that. Accessibility is not just about enabling people with disabilities. It’s also about meeting the needs of everyone who uses your website, app, or content, and enhancing their user experiences wherever possible.
That means accommodating vision, hearing, and motor disabilities. It can also mean adapting your site design to not potentially trigger migraines, panic attacks, or epileptic seizures. Or it might mean optimizing your site for users who have dyslexia, attention-related disorders, or cognitive disabilities.
At its loftiest levels, accessibility can even mean simply accommodating users’ preferences. Do you have a preference for dark mode vs light mode? Do you zoom in on your screen or highlight the text you’re reading just because you like to? Do you like to go “distraction-free” when you’re learning something new or composing content? Do you like seeing helpful prompts to guide you while you’re using an application? Then you can probably benefit from better accessibility tools, too!
How to Make Your Website Accessible
Everyone’s disability is different, meaning everyone has different needs. Any web designer can tell you that trying to be everything to everyone is an easy way to fail. There just isn’t enough time and resources to stretch that far. A better approach is to define what compliance looks like for your business and your users specifically. Start by asking yourself these key questions:
- What are my legal compliance requirements? This will establish your minimum starting point.
- Who are my users? Consider your actual users and the additional types of accommodations and adaptations they may need.
- What would make this even better? This will help you find above-and-beyond optimization opportunities for your UI/UX.
Once you know what you need to do, the next question is how. Or better yet — who?
Make Your Site Accessible With accessiBe
One simple solution to this complicated problem is to use a website overlay widget that lets users control how your website and content displays for them. A good tool for this is accessiBe. You can try it out right here on our website by clicking the accessWidget icon in the lower left corner of the screen. As you’ll see, accessiBe uses AI to make accessibility adjustments based on a person’s individual needs. You can select from a range of “accessibility profiles” that bundle up the most popular settings for a variety of user scenarios, or you can get really granular and tailor things like fonts and layout, colors, and much MUCH more to precisely meet your individual needs.
Once installed on your site, accessiBe will provide monthly reports of what adjustments are being made on your site to make it accessible, so you can further plan core design and development efforts to make your site more accessible without alterations. In the rare case of a lawsuit, accessiBe has your back with a Litigation Support Package including documentation and testing from their R&D team, suggested responses, and ongoing support.
accessiBe is a Blayzer Digital technology partner, which means we’ve closely reviewed their solution, met their awesome people, and found them to be a good option for some of our clients to consider for their needs. Take a look!