ADA stands for The Americans with Disabilities Act, and it was established in 1990 to combat discrimination against non-able-bodied individuals. The act draws inspiration from the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which guaranteed provisions against racial, religious, and gender-based discrimination, extending those protections to individuals with disabilities.
The passing of this act led to some significant transformations, such as the introduction of wheelchair-accessible ramps and restrooms and other equal-access accommodations within workplaces. However, since the internet was not around for public use in 1990, lawmakers did not gloss over the technicalities of equal access for internet users.
The ADA is not explicitly clear on websites, leaving some room for confusion for users. The act does specifically mention online compliance, despite some amendments made to it during the early smartphone era of the late 2000s and early 2010s. However, it is up to the courts to decide how the ADA standards are applied to websites.
Title III of the ADA stipulates that every owner or operator heading a place of public accommodation must provide equal access for individuals who meet the standards for disability under the act. Many American courts have categorized websites under places of public accommodation, making them liable to follow ADA guidelines.
In some cases, courts have stipulated that sites are regulated by ADA guidelines if there must be a close relationship between the website and a physical location. However, without a clear roadmap for what constitutes a place of public accommodation, it can be hard to tell which websites are governed by ADA’s accessibility laws.
The US authorities are trying to adopt more extensive accessibility rules, which would have federal websites adhere to the WCAG 2.0 Level AA standards used in Europe and many other countries worldwide. However, for now, users are in limbo regarding the ADA’s scope in the online world.
The standards for website accessibility detail the four essential principles all websites must follow. All websites must be perceivable, understandable, and operable.
Perceviability is a user’s ability to find and process the information on a website. To avoid any perceptibility issues, websites must follow some of these guidelines:
All images must have alt text, video and audio-only content must have text transcripts, videos should feature subtitles, and audio descriptions should be present.
The website content must be appropriately structured, with a meaningful sequence, and not depend on color alone for communication. In addition, when using multimedia, there should be options for pausing, muting, and stopping the content.
The color contrast of 4:5:1 must be maintained between the text and the background. In addition, the text must be resizeable up to 200% without compromising readability, and text images should be avoided.
A website should not contain any content that flashes three times or more within one second. If the site features scrolling or moving content, users should be able to pause or stop it. There should also be a link that allows users to skip the navigation menu and head to the main content.
Remember, this is more than simply UX design. What works for the majority of users to bolster click-throughs and conversions may be wholly inadequate for someone who is disabled.
Understandable issues relate to the ability of the user to comprehend and make sense of the information on a particular website. Therefore, the following points must be kept into consideration to optimize websites for understandability:
Each website page should have a distinct title that is descriptive, and the users should be able to scroll through the site in sequential order. In addition, all anchor text must be clear and contextual to its link.
The site should have descriptive and systematic headers and labels, while there should be multiple ways to access information on the website, such as search bars, menus, and links.
All content must be easily navigable by keyboard, without needing a mouse. Keyboard users must be able to navigate every part of the website easily. If the website features time limits, it should be able to be turned off or extended.
Operability is tied to the user’s ability to navigate the entirety of the website easily. Some ways to boost operability include:
The navigation features should be consistent and uniform for each page of the website. For example, there should be no changes when any link is focused, or information is entered into a form field. The user must actively follow through with a command to carry out any changes to the page.
In the case of forms, any errors should be identifiable and easily correctable by the user. All form fields should be labeled coherently, with a consistent format. The HTML code should be free of errors and properly nested.
It is also important to determine the name, role, and value of UI components while ensuring their compatibility with assistive technology.
Incorporate some of the following key elements to make your website development and design more compliant with ADA standards:
It’s important to give the correct structure to your content to make it accessible for all readers. For example, users with a visual impairment might find it hard to read content with an irregular design. A proper content structure requires your headings to have a logical hierarchy, with the title or H1 at the top, followed by H2 and H3 for any subheadings. Stick to header functions instead of increasing your font size.
Readability should be the top priority for all website owners. Ensuring the readability of the content is not just important for users with cognitive disabilities but also for general readers, who must find the content easy to scan.
The key to this is to keep sentences short, break down content into short paragraphs, use bullet points, and use bolded font for emphasis. The hierarchy of the content should be from the most crucial text, starting from the top and ending at the least essential texts. All text should be left-aligned and obtuse words and slang should be avoided.
Websites must be navigable by keyboard for users with motor disabilities and even screen readers. For this, make liberal use of menus, tabs, buttons, and other icons to aid navigation. In addition, the navigation elements must indicate to the users where they are on the page.
Link text must be highlighted, and phrases such as “click here” should be avoided where possible. Instead, use descriptive text to clarify to readers the context of the link text and where it leads them. When linking PDF files, Word documents, and other files, ensure that these links are accessible.
All images must feature alt text, a few lines of text that effectively describes what is happening in the image for users with visual impairments. The alt text should be simple and steer clear of file numbers and other unnecessary information that can confuse readers. The alt attribute needs to be kept blank for decorative images.
To make videos accessible for users with hearing disabilities, content creators must make sure all videos have subtitles and transcripts, which should be descriptive in nature, along with audio descriptions for users with visual impairments. These three features provide equal access for all users and make it easier for people in crowded settings to make sense of video content.
It is recommended to limit the number of fonts on a page, keeping one font for the main body and one for the headers at most. Sans serif fonts are a good selection since they do not feature decorative extensions at the end of their letters. When selecting a font size, opt for sizes 12 and above while using bold for adding emphasis.
A significant amount of the world population is afflicted with some level of color blindness. This means that relying on color alone for communication is not an effective strategy. Instead, content creators must use alternative features and colors, such as whitespace, icons, patterns, and borders, to effectively communicate with readers.
In such cases where they use color, the contrast between the colors must be drastic enough for readers to distinguish and see the differences. The color contrast ratio set by the WCAG 2.0 level AA guideline is 4:5:1. You can also use a color contrast checker to make sure you’re on the right path.
Forms should be easy, keyboard accessible, and follow a logical hierarchy. The instructions for filling the form should be provided at the top and follow the required equal access guidelines for all users.
Each form field should have a label, allowing screen readers to understand what it asks of them. If any additional information is provided, such as password strength, give the instructions separately below the field label.
All call-to-action buttons should be accessible, with an aria-label and the text clearly displayed. In addition, readers should have no ambiguity regarding the CTA buttons, and they should be accessible for screen readers.
Since the authorities have not demarcated the jurisdiction and scope of the ADA regulations on any particular website, the answer to this question has to be no. But, it is advisable to still bring your website in line with the compliance standards followed within the industry.
Keep in mind that other US states have their accessibility laws and websites are at risk of potential lawsuits regarding equal-access cases. In addition, since the regulations are not clearly defined, website owners are at a greater risk of paying damages.
Without a clear-cut guideline, the best path for website owners is to follow the WCAG 2.0 Level AA recommendations, which are the standard for most countries outside the US. While the full Level AAA is considered the gold standard for website accessibility, it’s hard to follow for most websites. In that case, Level AA compliance is regarded as the standard for most websites. Contact us today to get your complete ADA compliance audit!
Ryan is the VP of Operations for DEV.co. He brings over a decade of experience in managing custom website and software development projects for clients small and large, managing internal and external teams on meeting and exceeding client expectations–delivering projects on-time and within budget requirements. Ryan is based in El Paso, Texas.