Person looking at phone screen
ADA compliance for websites is a widespread issue for which there has not been much legal regulation. — Getty Images/PeopleImages

Having a website that is accessible to those with vision, hearing or other impairments is the online equivalent of putting out the welcome sign on your business’s front door.

However, the lack of standards for what constitutes compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) discourages some companies from making website accessibility a priority — but it doesn’t have to be that way.

“I think most businesses could very easily bring their sites into compliance, and the side benefit of doing so is that Google, or other crawlers, would most likely give those sites a boost to their SEO,” said Kevin Richards, CEO and founder of Ventura Web Design. “It’s also just the right thing to do, which should be enough of a reason all by itself.”

Jessie Jackson, senior consultant, FitForCommerce, agreed. “The whole point is [that] everyone should be able to shop equally,” she told CO–. “It’s better for everyone to be able to access your content and, if they can’t, you are doing yourself a disservice as well as the customer.”

A surge in lawsuits claiming violation with ADA has heightened awareness. “People are either scared they are going to get sued or have been sued,” said Jeff Kosc, partner, Taft Stettinius & Hollister LLP.

[Learn how to protect your business from an ADA compliance law suit.]

To help ensure your website is ADA compliant, start out with the following steps.

Create alt-tags for images

The first thing you can do to make your site ADA friendly is to ensure that images are accessible to everyone. You can achieve this by labeling each image with “alt-tags.” Alt-tags are HTML code containing text descriptions to help create a mental picture of photos some people cannot see. Assistive devices used by vision-impaired people convert these alt-tags to Braille or read them aloud. For example, an alt-tag on a photo may say, “curly haired toddler playing with yellow toy truck.”

Other types of images, such as pull-down menus, PDF icons and functional buttons, like “Submit” and “Buy” displayed as graphic elements, also need their own alt-tags so assistive devices will announce their presence, enabling consumers to navigate to the “About Us” portion of a website, download a PDF document and activate the “Buy” command.

And, if your site utilizes video, be sure that you don’t forget to include captions on the video so hearing-impaired visitors can enjoy the full experience, Richards added.

It’s better for everyone to be able to access your content and, if they can’t, you are doing yourself a disservice as well as the customer.

Jessie Jackson, senior consultant, FitForCommerce

Test site accessibility

To gauge your site’s accessibility, do not use your mouse to navigate your site. Instead, use only the up and down keyboard arrows, the tab button and other keyboard commands.

This exercise will reveal where additional text-based navigation will help those who rely on keyboards exclusively. Using only a keyboard, can you click on a link? Close out a dialogue box? Select and deselect an item?

Remember — it’s not only vision-impaired people who are unable to use a mouse that requires hand-eye coordination. Sighted users with poor muscle control or limited use of their hands also rely on assistive devices instead of a mouse to navigate websites.

Another test is to go image-free by turning off image display. This will let you view a site in text mode only, also revealing where more alt-tags may be needed.

There are myriad other recommendations to improve accessibility, involving text contrast, links, use of colors, avoiding flashing effects that can trigger seizures, CAPTCHA to distinguish humans from bots, mouse hovering and more.

At this time, the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) is the go-to resource covering every conceivable aspect of accessibility for those willing to confront a complex, but manageable, set of voluntary guidelines.

“I work with several website developers and we are seeing more and more clients seeking to add a condition to development contracts [to ensure] that the site is compliant with the WCAG standards,” said Kosc.

Until legal website accessibility standards are established, the voluntary WCAG remains the de facto roadmap for now.

CO— aims to bring you inspiration from leading respected experts. However, before making any business decision, you should consult a professional who can advise you based on your individual situation.

Published April 18, 2019