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ADA Compliance for Websites

The American with Disabilities Act (ADA) was signed in July 1990 by President George H. W. Bush to ensure that businesses and public entities provide accommodations for those living with disabilities. While the law does not define required accommodations for websites as they were not in common use at that time, this law has been applied to websites in court cases many times in recent years. 

What does ADA compliance for websites mean?

While there is no one simple checklist or instant solution such as a toolbar, widget, or plugin that will make your web site is ADA compliant, it is generally assumed that web sites should be made user-friendly for those who are vision-impaired, hearing-impaired, and those who use adaptive technologies of any kind to use the internet.  

To achieve ADA compliance, web developers are making the following changes to their web sites: 

  • Creating alt tags, which describe the object on the web page, for all images, videos and audio files.  This helps users to read or hear alternative descriptions of the content.
  • Adding text transcripts for video and audio content for the hearing impaired. 
  • Identifying the site’s language in header code. It may sound like a no-brainer, but this makes it clear for text readers in what language the site should be read. 
  • Offering alternatives and suggestions when users encounter errors. If users encounter errors because they navigate the website differently, your site should offer suggestions to help them navigate successfully.
  • Providing a consistent organized layout that allows all users to easily navigate the site.

Is ADA compliance mandatory?

The ADA is a strict liability law which means there is no excuse for not complying.

There is no deadline for changes to be made to your website, but the specter of costly lawsuits looms if users find your site inaccessible. Recent lawsuits include: Etrade.com, Weight Watchers, and Domino’s Pizza, who were sued for failure to provide an accessible website for visually-impaired customers, NetFlix.com, Hulu.com, Amazon.com, who were sued for failure to provide closed captioning on streaming web videos for hearing impaired subscribers, online retailers like Target.com and SafeWay’s online grocery service, who were sued for failure to provide accessibility for products appearing on their sites. 

Do all websites need to be ADA compliant?

The short answer is yes. All government agencies, any business that “relies on the general public or for their benefit,” and all privately held businesses that have 15 or more employees must be ADA compliant by law, and by extension, so should their websites. In addition, businesses that provide “public accommodations,” such as retail stores, restaurants, and hotels to name a few, should be especially cognizant of ADA compliance. 

Especially important sectors for website compliance are retail and healthcare.  People with disabilities may visit healthcare providers more than average, and also have a vested interest in researching healthcare options online.  Online retailers and food delivery services must make their sites accessible because an individual’s disabilities may be the very reason it is too inconvenient or in fact impossible to visit a brick and mortar retail site; online retail is an extremely valuable resource and alternative for many people with disabilities. 

What are ADA standards?

The ultimate goal is to ensure that everyone, including persons with disabilities, can enjoy the “full and equal” use of your website, meaning they can access content, navigate your website successfully, and engage with all of the elements (forms, shopping carts, videos, etc). There are two sets of guidelines to help web designers make web pages as accessible as possible to the widest range of users.

 

  • In the United States, Section 508 Standards have been established for federal agencies to follow for their new web pages. 

 

What is an ADA compliant website?

To create an accessible website, a developer must modify the website to meet the WCAG standards. The goal is to ensure that your website provides for “full and equal” use and enjoyment of your content and functions to all users, whatever disability they may have, or assistive devices they may use.

While there are widgets and toolbars available to help some disabled users, these often amount to a band-aid covering up the problem, rather than a true fix. Many people with disabilities use assistive technology to enable them to use computers and access the internet, and these devices do not necessarily work properly without code in place on the back end of the web site. The widgets may help the visually impaired or the hearing impaired only, leaving many other disabled users and the assistive technology they use without access to the full functionality of your site. The most effective way to make websites accessible is at their source.  

To get started making your site accessible, develop a plan to make your existing content more accessible. Many companies prioritize their most-highly trafficked pages as a starting point. It may be helpful to describe your plans for change on an accessible web page and encourage input on improvements. You may even consider enlisting disability focus groups to test your pages for ease of use from time to time and use this research to enhance accessibility. 

Boomtown Internet Group has experience developing ADA compliant websites for a variety of different industries. Contact Boomtown Internet Group today to discuss how to make your website ADA compliant. 

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