Is Your Website ADA Compliant?


Is Your Website ADA Compliant? - Eric Sachs SEO

I’d like to preface this post by reminding you all that I’m not a lawyer. If you have any doubt as to whether or not your website’s online presence is in compliance with ADA law, please consult your lawyer.

That said, most of us want to make visiting our business a great experience for people from all walks of life – and all ability levels. This means making not only our storefronts accessible, but our online spaces, too.

While we should strive to make our sites easier for everyone to use, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) actually stipulates that certain businesses must have compliant websites. Here’s what you need to know.

How the ADA Applies to the Internet

The Americans with Disabilities Act, or ADA, first came into law in 1990. At the time, the internet as we know it today did not exist at all. There was no thought given to evolving technology and no one could have predicted the future web landscape.

While the ADA gave people with disabilities the right to sue brick-and-mortar businesses not fully accessible to them, it didn’t originally cover web content. Now, it does – and we’re seeing lawsuits from web users who feel their needs aren’t being considered.

What issues are we seeing?

Let’s say, for example, someone who is vision impaired visits your website. There are screen reading tools that can transcribe your written text to audio, but they won’t automatically acknowledge or describe any of the other visuals on your website, like images.

A hearing impaired person can read the text on your website. They can’t enjoy your video commentary unless it is transcribed to include subtitles.

In short, businesses who are regulated by ADA guidelines must comply completely. This means they must be accessible in their stores, online, by mail, or via the phone. Anyone who wants to make a purchase from a business is protected, no matter which means of purchase they choose to take advantage of.

There are several examples (including the National Association of the Deaf v. Netflix) in which a business selling products have had their websites deemed “places of public accommodation.”

Which Businesses Need an ADA-Compliant Site?

Any business considered a place of public accommodation has to be ADA compliant, online and off. This is where they grey area comes into play. People running a blog or informational website, without sales considerations, likely don’t have to be.

Should they be? They’d certainly win more friends and influence more people, not to mention helping to make our world more accessibility-friendly.

According to the Bureau of Internet Accessibility, the US Department of Justice (DOJ) often struggles with how the ADA applies to websites. The department acknowledges that the wording of the legislation isn’t specific, but at the same time notes it’s broad enough to include websites in the legal definition of a business.

The ADA contains two titles pertaining to businesses and the question of websites. The DOJ claims that businesses falling under either must be accessible online:

  • Title II – This section talks about discrimination based on disabilities in both local and state government offices.
  • Title III – This section talks about discrimination based on disabilities in “places of public accommodations.” Examples include doctor’s offices, theaters, restaurants, and museums.

How to Make Your Website ADA Accessible

So you’ve decided your website needs to be accessible. What next? You need to take different user types and variables into consideration as you work to create accessible content.

The DOJ has referenced the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 when discussing how to make the appropriate modifications. This framework ensures all content is perceivable (accessible to a person’s senses), operable (within a person’s abilities), understandable, and robust enough to be used with or without assistive devices.

Not sure how to get started? The first thing you should do is find an auditing tool; most install as simple browser extensions and/or work by scanning a URL link for issues (like a lack of captions). These tools will make it easier for you to determine what areas are compliant and which need work.

The harsh reality is that bringing a website into ADA compliance can be time-consuming and costly. A lot of companies choose to work with agencies, for both auditing and actually implementing changes. This simplifies the process and ensures you have expert eyes watching at all times.

Self-adjustment is rarely easy for entry-level site owners. Costs may range into the thousands or higher depending on the type of content you work with. Unfortunately, this sometimes leaves business owners stuck between a rock and a hard place.

If You Can’t Afford It All…

If you can’t afford full accessibility right now, you shouldn’t give up on accessibility altogether. Instead, focus on the minimums and add accessibility in the future.

At a minimum, your website needs to:

  • Have text captions and/or alternative images that describe what is being shown. This allows screen readers to help users who can’t see images understand what is on the screen.
  • Have labels on web form slots so assistive devices can explain what they represent or want the user to input.
  • Feature color schemes that contain enough contrast so that buttons and other features are identifiable.
  • Have written transcripts for all content that is otherwise made up of audio or visual elements.
  • Have a clear, consistent layout from page to page so that menus and other features are easy to find and use.
  • Feature images that are not animated. Flashing images should not flash more than three times in a second, as this can be a seizure risk.
  • Be keyboard-friendly for those who can’t use mobile devices, touchscreens, or a mouse.

The ADA offers an online checklist to help you verify which points you’re meeting or missing along the way. They recommend looking at it like this: if you answer “no” to even one question, your site is probably (at least partially) non-compliant.

Remember – if you’re ever in doubt, consult a lawyer. It’s far better to be safe, rather than sorry, especially where lawsuits are concerned. While private lawsuits usually only force businesses to comply, you may still have to pay the suing party’s legal fees. If you ignore compliance requests, the DOJ can then seek additional punishment in the form of fines and other penalties. It’s simply not worth the risk.

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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