Website accessibility (ADA Compliance) is a critical component of what we do at Computer Courage. Websites exist to send and receive information with visitors, and website accessibility is important so that everyone be able to access information. When we consider all of the users who will access the websites of our clients, we must take every type of individual into account including those who have a variety of disabilities. This covers a large number of people – according to the US Census, one in every five individuals has some type of disability.
What is the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)?
In 1990, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was signed into law. It is a wide-ranging, comprehensive legislation that guarantees that people with disabilities have the same opportunities as everyone else to participate in everyday life including employment opportunities, purchasing goods and services, accessing public facilities, and participating in state and local government programs.
Initially the ADA focused primarily on physical barriers that prevented individuals with varying levels of physical and mental disabilities from accessing buildings and transportation. Wheelchair-accessible ramps, audio cues at crosswalks, automated door openers, and braille-raised signs have become common in most buildings.
How does the ADA relate to website accessibility?
Over time, the ADA legislation has evolved to include access to spaces in the digital world. And there have been serious consequences imposed by the courts for sites that fail to do so.
Since the intent of the ADA is to provide “full and equal enjoyment” for people with varying disabilities, this has wide-ranging implications on websites. These digital spaces must be accessible to individuals using assistive devices such as screen readers and speech recognition software for vision impairments. Users must also have the ability to interact with a website without using a mouse or touchscreen.
Making a website accessible means removing the technical barriers that limit the content or make it difficult for people with disabilities to navigate the site. And – as is the case for physical spaces – people who believe a website violates the ADA can file a legal complaint.
These complaints have been going up sharply in recent years to force companies and organizations to comply. Unfortunately, one of the most frustrating aspects to website accessibility compliance is that there hasn’t been a clear set of United States guidelines to follow – until recently.
Updates to national website accessibility requirements
In January 2017, the United States Access Board announced that they were updating national accessibility requirements under Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act. The standards in Section 508 describe accessibility specifically related to computer hardware and software, websites, and multimedia.
These updates align standards of website compliance with “other guidelines and standards both in the U.S. and abroad, including standards issued by the European Commission and with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.0), a globally recognized voluntary consensus standard for web content and ICT.”
American agencies and organizations affected by the updates in legislation had until January 2018 to become compliant. Currently, this update is limited to federal agencies and any organizations that sell to or receives funds from a federal agency. However, the updated Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act will have long-lasting effects across industries. This is a precedent that will likely be adopted by the Department of Justice as a standard for ADA compliance.
What are the WCAG guidelines?
Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.0) are a set of 12 technical standards covering a broad range of recommendations for making web content more accessible to all people. To develop these technical requirements, individuals and organizations around the world worked together in an open, collaborative process. The overarching goal of the WCAG is to provide a single, shared standard for website accessibility that meets the needs of individuals, organizations, and governments internationally.
The WCAG standards and guidelines fall under four Principles of Accessibility: Perceivable, Operable, Understandable, and Robust. These principles and guidelines aim to make web content “accessible to as many people as possible, and capable of being represented in different forms to match different peoples’ sensory, physical, and cognitive abilities.” For each guideline, there are testable success criteria.
Organized under these Principles, WCAG 2.0 asks website owners to follow these guidelines to make their content accessible to a wider range of people with disabilities, including blindness and low vision, deafness and hearing loss, learning disabilities, cognitive limitations, limited movement, speech disabilities, photosensitivity, and combinations of these.
These Principles and guidelines are as follows:
Principle #1: Perceivable
- Provide text alternatives for non-text content so it can be changed into other forms such as large print, braille, speech, symbols, or simpler language.
- Provide captions and other alternatives for multimedia.
- Create content that can be presented in different ways (e.g., with a simpler layout), including assistive technologies, without losing information or structure.
- Make it easier for users to see and hear content by, among other things, separating foreground from background.
Principle #2: Operable
- Make all functionality available from a keyboard
- Provide users with sufficient time to read and use content
- Design content in a way that does not cause seizures
- Provide ways to help users navigate, find content, and determine where they are on the website.
Principle #3: Understandable
- Make text content readable and understandable.
- Make web content appear and operate in predictable ways.
- Help users avoid and correct mistakes.
Principle #4: Robust
- Maximize compatibility with current and future assistive technologies on user computers and devices.
In reviewing these principles, a key takeaway is that website accessibility applies to people with a wide variety of disabilities beyond those that affect sight and/or hearing. These include (but are not limited to) individuals who:
- Have lost some degree of limb function
- Experience weakness and limitations of muscular control
- Experience vertigo and other vestibular disorders
- Possess some degree of color blindness
- Have varying levels of cognitive ability
- Are susceptible to seizures from bright, flickering lights
- May not have the motor function to operate a mouse or touchscreen
- Have age-related impairments.
As you can see, the WCAG covers many aspects of a website to make it more accessible to more people. The great news is that once you have an understanding of the guidelines, you’re in position to create a website that delivers a better site experience for all of your users. Plus, the guidelines often align with web design best practices – making your content available in different forms for different audiences, and making your site easy to use and technically sound.
Creating an ADA-Compliant Website
The United States government is making it clear that website accessibility following the WCAG is a legal requirement for many organizations – this trend will increasingly affect more businesses if the Department of Justice adopt these for websites both public and private (as many expect to happen).
To ensure compliance, Computer Courage can help you audit your current site. This initial process will identify all of the areas on your site that should be adjusted to better meet WCAG standards for ADA compliance. This includes navigation, design, content, code, forms and more. The results from our audit will give you a roadmap for the necessary work scope, timeline, and budget. We can also work with your leadership team to develop your internal plan.
Common ADA compliance issues include:
- Lack of alt-tags for images
- Videos and animation missing accurate captions
- Bad color combinations and lack of contrast between colored elements
- Missing labels for form inputs
- Content only available by mouse
- Small text that can’t easily be enlarged
- You can protect your organization from web-accessibility lawsuits and make your website accessible to all users by implementing a plan to ensure your content conforms to WCAG 2.0.
At Computer Courage, we assist many of our clients – including businesses, universities, health care organizations, nonprofits, and government entities – by performing WCAG audits and implementing compliance standards.
Want to find out if your website is accessible under WCAG 2.0? Contact us today about our ADA Compliance Audit.