The federal ADA or Americans With Disabilities Act requires most businesses to make reasonable accommodations to disabled individuals, including measures like wheelchair accessibility, the usage of Braille, and access for service animals. Along with such physical considerations, part of the ADA requires companies to maintain accessible websites. Though the meaning of the term “accessible website” isn’t clear, the following guidelines should help you build an accessible website, make your company more inclusive, and avoid troubles associated with ADA non-compliance.
Which Businesses Must Comply With the Americans With Disabilities Act?
The most important thing to know about the ADA is which companies must comply. Under Title I, any company with at least 15 full-time workers, operating for 20+ weeks per year, is covered by the ADA. According to Title III, companies falling into the ‘public accommodations’ category, such as banks, public transportation, and hotels, must also comply. The entire law applies, from digital to physical accommodations. If your company falls under Title I or Title III and you’re not sure of its compliance, a disability lawyer may be able to provide some guidance.
Website Accessibility Standards Aren’t Set in Stone
Where business websites are concerned, there aren’t any clear-cut accessibility rules. However, this doesn’t let you off the hook; you must still offer an accessible, disability-friendly website. How, though, can you build an ADA-compliant site if you don’t know what it involves? There are some simple steps you can take to start on the path toward compliance, or, at the least, prove to the courts that you’ve made a reasonable effort.
Where to Begin
Website accessibility involves ensuring that those who are deaf, blind, or physically limited can still engage with your site’s content. This may be done in various ways, including some that aren’t so obvious at first glance. Reworking a website to be fully ADA-compliant may be costly, but it protects your company from future litigation.
Your company’s IT department or the firm you hire should design the site so disabled people can easily access it. For instance, if a visitor is blind, a designer can install a screen reader that narrates the on-screen text. Refreshable Braille for touchscreens is also useful.
In the absence of regulatory guidance, you should refer to the same regulations that cover federal websites, as well as relevant case law, to learn more about ADA compliance. Building an accessible website without regulatory help is risky, but it may protect your company once those rules are set.
How to Make Your Website ADA-Compliant
Here are just a few ways to address accessibility issues on corporate websites:
- Create alternate tags for audio files, videos, and images: Otherwise known as alt tags, these allow disabled users to hear or read descriptions of content they wouldn’t otherwise be able to see. An alt tag describes an object and the purpose for which it’s used.
- Create transcripts for audio and video content: A text transcript will help a hearing-impaired user understand content that, through conventional channels, would otherwise be inaccessible.
- Identify a site’s language in the header code: By stating the language in which to read the site, you’ll help those using text readers.
- Offer suggestions and alternatives after users make input mistakes: If a disabled user is encountering errors because of their unique navigational needs, your website should automatically make suggestions that help them find the content they’re looking for.
- Create an organized, yet consistent layout: Links, buttons, and menus should be clearly delineated, and it should be easy to move from one menu to the next.
- Find a web design agency that specializes in ADA compliance: Though many designers are unaware of the concept, some focus on it. Find an agency that uses the same framework or web platform you’re on, and ask how their workflow addresses concerns over accessibility. Most of today’s platforms have partner directories; from there, you can verify an agency’s accessibility experience.
- Audit your site’s code: The next logical step is to audit your site. These widely-available tools will crawl your entire website, identifying areas that do not meet ADA-compliant accessibility standards. The results of such an audit will give you an idea of the effort required so you can weigh the advantages and budget accordingly. You may even find out that your site is fairly compliant as-is, especially if you’re on a progressive platform and you adhere to a set of coding best practices.
There are many other ways you can create an ADA-compliant website. Consulting a web design expert and a disability attorney will help you stay in compliance, but if you’re looking to get started on your own, reading the ADA’s requirements is a crucial first step.
What Happens If You Don’t Comply
If your site doesn’t meet the ADA’s requirements, your company is open to lawsuits. It’s more common than you might think; quite often, attorneys actively search for non-compliant companies in the digital and physical spaces. Other than forced compliance, which is expensive, you may have to pay legal fees, which can add up quickly.
Beyond these regulatory penalties, failure to create an accessible website means losing traffic, leads, and customers. If a user can’t navigate your site effectively, you’re missing a valuable sales opportunity. Furthermore, if you’re still making sales, ADA compliance makes it much easier for the search engines to index your site, increasing your rankings and getting your content in front of a wider audience.
While there’s little regulatory guidance for businesses seeking to make easily accessible ADA-compliant websites, it’s pretty easy to understand the concept of reasonable accessibility. By making good-faith efforts toward providing disabled users with reasonable accessibility, you can get ahead of the regulators and avoid the potential for future litigation. Additionally, designing a compliant website will increase your sales and your search engine rankings, all for a relatively modest investment. To learn more about the Americans With Disabilities Act and how your company can become more compliant, read the law or consult a specialist web designer.