Our guest blogger today is Jacob Riff, the co-founder, COO and President of Monsido US – a SaaS company focused on web governance and accessibility compliance. He is responsible for implementing overall company strategy, including how to bring more accessibility features to customers.
A lifelong developer and entrepreneur, Jacob has been a founder or partner in a number of Danish IT companies where he was responsible for business strategy and implementing new IT systems, as well as developing web applications and websites. In his free time, he enjoys skiing.
To make a website ADA compliant, here are some good starting points:
- Ensure that the website is accessible by screen readers
- Provide textual alternatives for audio and video files
- Be mindful of colors used on the website
There are a few other important things (discussed later in this article) that you must address to ensure that your website is ADA compliant.
But first, let’s take a step back and understand what it means for a website to be ADA compliant.
What is ADA Compliance?
The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) is a civil rights act that was passed in 1990 to prevent discrimination against people with disabilities in all areas of public life. What it did not account for at the time of its passing was the important role that the internet would play in the coming years.
Do Websites Have to be ADA Compliant?
Yes, websites have to be ADA compliant.
With the massive growth of the Internet, there was ambiguity as to whether the act covered this new space.
As a result, many websites have come under fire for being inaccessible. In 2018, more than 2000 websites were hit with an ADA lawsuit. Last year marked a tipping point for web accessibility under the ADA when the Supreme Court rejected an appeal from Domino’s Pizza for having an inaccessible website, leaving the company to face a lawsuit filed by a blind user.
Current Landscape of Website Accessibility
Despite the rise in lawsuits and increasing awareness on the issue, there are still no set official guidelines for web accessibility under the ADA.
For those looking to make their site ADA compliant and avoid legal issues, the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) is currently being used as a reference by courts as the standard for sites to comply with. The compliance level that websites should achieve is set to a minimum of WCAG 2.0 Level AA.
What is an ADA Compliant Website?
To meet the WCAG 2.0 AA standards, a website should focus on four fundamental principles, commonly known as POUR:
Perceivable – Perceivability refers to the information and elements of a user interface that must be presented in a manner that can be perceived by the senses. To most web users, perceivability is based primarily on visuals but for those that are unable to see, sound and touch are used instead.
Operable – Interactive interface elements such as controls, buttons, navigation, and more, should be operable. This means that a user must be able to operate interface elements by first identifying them and, for most, by physically clicking, tapping, swiping, or rolling. For those that can’t interact in these ways, they must be able to employ voice commands or the use of other assistive devices like head wands and eye trackers.
Understandable – This means that technology should be clear and consistent in its presentation and format with predictable patterns of usage and design. End users should have no issue in comprehending the meaning and purpose of the information presented in the content while discerning the user flow and operation of the interface.
Robust – Robustness is the ability for content to function reliably across a wide variety of technologies, including assistive devices.
How to Check A Website for ADA Compliance?
To assess where your site stands in terms of ADA compliance, you should audit it against the guidelines from the WCAG. The WCAG provides an extensive checklist of things to review for accessibility and will require some technical knowledge.
6 Suggestions on How to Make Your Website ADA Compliant
Here are some examples of recommendations for web accessibility from the WCAG:
1 – Ensure your site is readable by screen readers
The internet is an extremely visual medium so this poses an issue for users who are blind or visually impaired. To overcome this impediment, users with visual impairments employ assistive technologies like screen readers to navigate computers and the web. A screen reader is a software that enables text and descriptions of imagery to be read aloud to users. However, for a screen reader to work well, there needs to be textual descriptions of visual content. This includes providing audio descriptions of videos to convey more information on the visuals than the pre-recorded sound can and providing alternative text to images to describe the content of the image.
2 – Be mindful of your website’s colors
Ensure that you have an accessible color contrast ratio on all the visual elements on your website. People who are color blind or have low vision can have difficulties reading or differentiating visual elements that have low color contrasts. According to the WCAG, the minimum contrast ratio is at 4.5:1 with the exception of large text, logos, or intentional low contrast on the web. Also, avoid relying on color alone to convey meaning in visuals like graphs, buttons, etc. People with visual impairments cannot always interpret information presented in this way so be sure to add other visual or textual identifiers to ensure comprehension.
3 – Provide text alternatives for audio and video
While people with hearing disabilities can navigate the visual elements of a website, media like videos, recordings, and podcasts can be an issue. Be sure to include captions on your videos so that people with hearing disabilities can watch and understand a video with ease. For most deaf people, sign language is the first language they learn, so it may also be beneficial to embed a clip of sign language translator signing the audio of the video. For recordings and podcasts, include a written transcript.
4 – Be able to meet all functionality with keyboard-only commands
Keyboard control is a crucial part of web accessibility. Some people have physical or motor disabilities that can limit their use of a mouse so they have to employ other ways to navigate the web, such as through a keyboard. People with visual impairments also use a keyboard to tab between elements on the site and have them read aloud to them via a screen reader. To accommodate the needs of these individuals, your site will have to be navigable through only keyboard controls. Also, include skip navigation links so that users can directly navigate to the content that they need.
5 – Provide user controls
Users must also be able to control elements of the site like videos, animations, or audio. Animations that flash rapidly can be detrimental to people with conditions like epilepsy and having auto-playing videos or audio can be debilitating for someone with attention disorders. Be sure to include controls that enable users to pause, close, or turn down the volume of these elements.
6 – Don’t forget the documents
To comply with the ADA, any document available on your website must be accessible – meaning that it has to be readable by screen readers. This includes documents like PDFs, Word documents, slideshows, etc. To be screen reader friendly, documents must have complete metadata, searchable text, images marked with an alt text or as decorative if they serve no meaningful purpose, proper tag structure, bookmarks for documents longer than 9 pages, and logical reading order on tables.
ADA Compliant Website Example
The official website of Monsido (https://monsido.com/) is a very good example of an ADA compliant website. It follows WCAG guidelines which ensures that the website is accessible to people with disabilities.
We rely on the internet more than ever and with that comes the need to accommodate the various abilities of all users. This is why ADA compliance is an important aspect of web design and management that cannot be ignored. By taking the initiative to make an accessible website, you won’t just be keeping your business safe from lawsuits, but more importantly, you’ll be improving your site for people with disabilities and making the web a better place for everyone.