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What is ADA Compliance for Websites?

Providing equal opportunity is one of the hallmarks of a just and free society. Despite the occasional shortcomings of the law, there are still plenty of hoops for businesses to jump through to make that dream a reality. One of the more overlooked ones is ADA compliance. 

The Americans with Disabilities Act was signed into law in 1990 with the aim of making all areas of public life accessible to individuals with disabilities – later in 2010, the Americans with Disabilities Act Standards for Accessible Design included all electronic and information technology under that umbrella, requiring that people with disabilities, such as hearing loss or a visual impairment, could access public information online. 

That means businesses that are non-ADA-compliant might find themselves on the wrong end of a lawsuit due to discriminatory practices. But what does ADA compliance look like, and why does it matter beyond avoiding potential litigation? 

How ADA Compliance is Applied Online

Accessibility is an important and ongoing discussion in the world of modern web design and user interfacing. We take our eyes and ears for granted too often, and forget about the importance of alt text, text-to-speech compatibility, and other methods of accessibility for the deaf, blind, and differently-abled. 

In the context of the law, ADA compliance helps avoid lawsuits. The ADA ensures that Americans with disabilities share the same civil rights afforded to their abled peers. 

While we are NOT a law firm and do not offer legal advice to our clients, we are always very vested in the success of our clients’ campaigns. ADA compliance issues, as they relate to web design, can be confusing and we always recommend consulting with an attorney who is well-versed in this topic.

- Eric Sachs

In the context of modern SEO and digital marketing, a compliant user interface is often one that has had more thought and care put into it than a non-compliant one, resulting in an improved user experience for all customers, while ensuring that your business is not inadvertently excluding over 10 percent of Americans who live with hearing and/or vision-related disabilities, not to mention other conditions such as epilepsy and cognitive disability.   

The ADA requires all businesses who qualify for “public accommodation” to adhere to ADA compliance guidelines. This refers to any and all businesses that operate for at least 20 weeks out of the year, and employ at least 15 full-time employees, as well as businesses that are public-facing, such as banks, public transportation, museums, hotels, swimming pools, and so on. 

Sadly, there is a clear lack of information on what standards must be upheld exactly for online content. In more concrete terms, we know that multiple businesses have been sued for failing to uphold the ADA on their websites, which sets an important precedent. 

For any public-facing business with an online presence, ensuring your content and services online are available to everyone is important. Many businesses have turned to the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines for a concrete example of what to do. The WCAG was established as far back as 1999 and has been updated multiple times since. Here are a few things the WCAG emphasizes in its 2.1 guidelines, last updated in June 2018: 

Perceivable

This is perhaps the biggest guideline. Does your content offer accessibility options such as alt text on images and videos, audio alternatives to visual content, compatibility with various assistive technologies that translate content into a different language, or allow for easier access of information to visual- or hearing-impaired visitors? Is your content seizure-friendly?

Operability

Is your content easily navigable? Are links and headers easily identifiable, even with assistive devices? Do you have keyboard navigation? 

Understandability

Is your content easily readable? Is it presented in a way that is plain to follow, and predictable? Is your formatting inobtrusive?

Robustness

This basically translates to device accessibility. How does your media translate across different devices, different browsers, different screens, and different technology? Does your website play nice with different forms of assistive technologies?

The WCAG helps provide a rudimentary set of standards for websites online to better serve all people with disabilities, globally. They attempt to set standards that may help not just the visually or hearing impaired, but those with neurological disabilities, learning conditions, language disabilities, and cognitive disabilities. However, as the guidelines themselves explain, these recommendations are not comprehensive enough to account for the needs and requirements of all potential disabilities. 

There are many common technologies that a website should prepare for, in general. These include text-to-speech screen readers and braille touch devices. Your web developers can test your content for keyboard navigation and compatibility with these technologies. If users report having problems accessing the information on your website, take care to acknowledge and review these issues, to avoid future complications. 

If you are interested in going the extra mile to develop a user interface that best serves your customers without compromising on accessibility, you may want to consider a consultation with an accessibility expert. 

It’s Not Just About Accessibility

Going one step further to help provide a seamless or enjoyable browsing experience to disabled visitors requires a significant investment in your overall UI and user experience. 

It means better testing, quality control of your content, and the creation of a uniform, legible web layout and formatting system that displays information accurately and consistently across various devices, resolutions, screen sizes, and more. 

It means better fonts, bigger texts, better contrast, sensible button placement, a simple menu, competent search functions, alt text and text transcripts for all visual media, as well as title tags and meta tags for language. 

These things all have their uses in SEO, as well as adhering to the law. 

Usability as a Key SEO Target

ADA compliance itself does not factor into Google or Bing’s opinions of your content. But most of the effort going into creating an ADA-compliant website almost immediately translates into better SEO, as well. 

Alt text, proper title tags, readable headers, consistent formatting, a better layout, simple navigation tools, linked anchor text, video transcriptions, and high contrast design are all positive website traits and can go a long way towards differentiating your content from your competitors in search engine rankings. 

In other words, great website design reflects positively on your business – and design that takes accessibility into account is often going to be good design. Furthermore, while ADA compliance itself does not factor into your ranking immediately, Google is continuing to place a growing emphasis on usability and user experiences – including recently highlighting the importance of conforming to the three Core Web Vitals. If you want your content to shine brightest, it’s high time to pay attention to UX. 

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SEO virtuoso, CEO @Sachs Marketing Group. Focused on being of service to business owners - helping to better position them in the eyes of their audiences.

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