Danielle St. Cyr
Making your Small Business Website ADA Compliant
This year marks the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), legislation passed in 1990 to ensure all Americans have equal opportunities and access to all aspects of society. In 2015, there were a reported 56.7 million Americans with a disability, and between 110-190 million Americans with significant functional difficulties, and that number has likely increased in the years since. That means 1 in 5 Americans has some difficulty navigating a website that is not accessible. While there is no formal language that has ever been added to the ADA to include the internet, federal courts have ruled that website accessibility falls within the spirit of ADA, and there are an increasing number of high profile lawsuits that have been brought – and won – by people with disabilities against companies with websites that were difficult or impossible for them to navigate.
The predominant standard usually used to determine accessibility for non-government websites is WCAG 2.1. WCAG is a set of guidelines published by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), listed under four categories: perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust. Perceivable deals with visual aspects, such as offering options for how text is displayed, including captions or sign language for audio and video, providing simpler layout options without losing structure, using text rather than images of text, and the ability to separate the foreground from the background. Operable describes how the site works and how a user interacts with it, including making all interactions accessible from a keyboard (not just a mouse), allowing sufficient time for a user to read or make decisions, making sure that any moving, blinking or scrolling information can be stopped, paused, or hidden, ensuring nothing on the page flashes at such a frequency that can cause seizures, and making certain that there are multiple ways to navigate the site, find content, and understand the structure of the site. Understandable means that the language of the site can be selected, making all text readable using common language and words (and when jargon or abbreviations are used, they are defined or otherwise able to be understood), ensuring the web page operates in predictable ways and the navigation and functionality remains constant throughout the site, and making it easy for users to avoid or correct mistakes. Compatible ensures that the site maximizes compatibility with current and future assistive technologies.
So how do you make sure your website meets these standards?
The most thorough and unquestionable way is also the most difficult, time consuming, and expensive: redesigning your website from the ground up with accessibility in mind. Sometimes this means putting off doing anything for a bit until you have a planned site update, at which point you can rework your navigation, your color schemes, your content, and the back end of your site. If you can afford to do so, hiring an accessibility expert, possibly a freelancer, can be extremely helpful in getting you started off on the right foot. Unfortunately, this isn’t a realistic option for most small businesses.
There are things you can do to make your site more accessible right now. Take a good look at the WCAG 2.1 Guidelines, and do an accessibility audit of your site as it currently stands, making a list of any problem areas you see. Create a Web Accessibility Statement for your website that describes your company’s commitment to creating a website that is accessible to all individuals. When you start making some updates to your site, a few of the things you might want to focus on are listed below.
Accessible Documents: PDF files can cause problems for assistive technologies, so it’s good to provide documents in Rich Text Format as well
Accessible Forms: use larger fonts, and a clean, simple design to make them easy to read and navigate
Alt-Text for Images, Videos, and Audio Files: screen readers read this text aloud to describe these files to the visually impaired
Avoid Media that Plays Automatically: individuals who use a screen reader often get frustrated by this as it interrupts the audio
Avoid Automatic Navigation: not all people read at the same speed so this may prevent some people from getting all of the content
Consistent Organization: menus, buttons, and links should be easy to find and consistent, and should work in a logical manner
Have Audio Transcripts of Videos: blind and deaf users use Braille and other assistive devices to access this content
Keyboard Friendly: often individuals with disabilities use adaptive keyboards to navigate the internet, so having a keyboard friendly layout and navigation makes your site easier to use
Language: unless it is a highly technical or specialized site, write like you would talk to a person on the street, using common words and language, and explaining unusual terms
Use Correct Headers (H1, H2, etc.): this helps structure your content to make it easier to navigate for those who use a screen reader
Visual Design: use an easy to read font, and make sure that there is enough contrast between elements on your page that they can be easily distinguished (such as between the background and the text)
It is not enough to pay lip service to inclusion – we must make it a part of our corporate lives. This means ensuring that our websites are accessible to individuals with disabilities of all kinds. We can start by making small changes that make it much easier for those who have been marginalized to become a part of all aspects of our society and businesses. While we are not accessibility experts, we can help you take some beginning steps towards having a more accessible website – contact us for more information!