ADA Website Compliancy: Key for U.S. Businesses

By Mike Karfakis

Imagine this: Your company is being sued because your website does not meet the Americans with Disabilities Act’s (ADA) new regulations. You update the site as best you can but the law firm is still not satisfied. This is the reality for many businesses across the U.S.

Over the past year, there has been an increase in ADA compliancy lawyers suing businesses whose websites are not in compliance. And once a lawsuit is underway, it is extremely difficult (and costly) to make it go away. So the best approach, is a proactive one. Vitamin has successfully helped multiple clients bring their websites into compliance preemptively in order to prevent potential litigation.

What Exactly is ADA Compliancy?

ADA compliancy for websites helps ensure that visitors with visual, hearing, motor and cognitive disabilities are able to successfully understand and interact with your website. Users must be able to communicate and control all interactive elements using a mouse, keyboard or an assistive device, such as an audible text reader. The challenge is that there are no concrete rules and standards in place for companies to follow in order to bring their site into compliance — there are only vague guidelines, which can be difficult to assess, and are often open to human interpretation.

How Did ADA Compliancy for Websites Get Started?

The ADA was passed by Congress in 1990 as the nation’s first comprehensive civil rights law addressing the needs of people with disabilities. At the time, the ADA focused on prohibiting disability discrimination in public places (such as restaurants, movie theaters, schools, day care facilities, recreation facilities, etc.).

However, as the Internet became a critical component of everyday life, the ADA expanded its regulations to include requirements for the web. In 2008, the World Wide Web Consortium published “WCAG 2.0”, a technical standard made up of 12 guidelines for web content developers, site designers and web authoring tool developers to use.

What Are the Levels of Compliancy?

There are three levels of ADA compliancy:

  • A: Level A contains the foundational building blocks for web accessibility. Level A guidelines include providing text alternatives for non-text content, presenting content in a meaningful order, making the site navigable by keyboard and ensuring that presentation does not rely solely on color.
  • AA: Level AA builds on level A, including parameters that require text and background color to have a minimum contrast level of 4.5:1. Additionally, level AA addresses removing text from images; using clear headings and labels; and maintaining consistent use of menus, icons and buttons.
  • AAA: Level AAA adds the final layer of compliancy and increases the minimum color contrast requirement to 7:1. Additionally, the site needs to be free from time limits, abbreviations and pronunciations must be explained, and alternative text or media must be provided for all video or audio content.

What is the ADA Landscape Today?

Since 2014, law firms focused on ADA litigation have begun sending demand letters to businesses to make their websites compliant or else face litigation. The law firms have been banking on the entities paying to settle the suit (which many have). But the alternative approach is to thoroughly update the website, which requires a much less significant investment and ultimately provides immense benefit to your disabled customers or clients.

How Can You Become Compliant?

There are five main components to ADA compliant websites: color, content, calls-to-action, imagery and testing.

Color
WCAG 2.0 Level AA requires a contrast ratio of 4.5:1 for normal text and 3:1 for large text. Level AAA requires a contrast ratio of 7:1 for normal text and 4.5:1 for large text. Large text is defined as 14 point (typically 18.66px) and bold or larger, or 18 point (typically 24px) or larger. While your brand colors matter, if the goal is to meet AA or AAA standards, the brand standard colors have to become secondary to meeting regulations.

Content
For disabled visitors using an audible web tool to listen to and navigate the Internet, the audible tool will read the same top-level navigation every time they load a new page of the site. That’s repetitive and time-consuming for the user. Providing a “skip to main content” functionality will allow visually impaired visitors and those using hands-free technology to easily bypass the repeated navigation on each page and jump right to body content on the page they just loaded.

Images
Adding alternative text (“alt text”) for images is one of the founding principles of web accessibility and alt text tagging is one of the most difficult tactics to properly implement. Vitamin determines what copy will best represent each image on a site so that search engines and site reader tools can interpret the image to visually-impaired visitors.

Calls to Action (CTAs)
When it comes to ADA compliancy, general CTA buttons are unacceptable. If you’re using a hands-free device or audible web browser, general CTAs such as “Learn More” or “Read More” don’t effectively convey what content the button will drive to. When it comes to ADA compliancy, all CTAs must clearly describe their purpose so that users can make meaningful decisions to click.

Testing
After all changes have been incorporated, testing the site is key. The challenge here is that every scanning tool will all show you varying results. Vitamin uses multiple tools in combination in order to effectively achieve true AA compliance.

How Can Vitamin Help You?

Since there is no real standard in place for ADA website compliancy, it can be incredibly time consuming and frustrating to attempt to bring your website into compliance. Vitamin is a strategic partner with extensive experience in optimizing sites for ADA compliance. We are well-versed in the ADA’s regulations and can take the stress out of the process for you. Our process includes:

  • Designing a new user interface with accessibility in mind — this includes everything from colors, type styles, way-finding and imagery
  • Creating clean, valid semantic markup best practices
  • Conducting thorough accessibility tests — this typically takes between two to four weeks for a comprehensive effort
  • Addressing all WCAG 2.0 issues and update code as necessary
  • Scanning the site each month to ensure all new web content meets regulations

We have partnered with a number of our clients to retool their websites to be ADA compliant. Check out a few of our case studies for a deeper understanding of how we work with companies to bring their sites into compliance:

ADA Compliancy Questions? Project to Discuss?

Contact Mike Karfakis by email or phone 410-732-6542.

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