When building a new website, there are many things to consider, from creating the right content that will help to engage users, to creating a clear and attractive design that’s responsive for 2019’s mobile-using Internet users. In addition, in Europe, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) criteria must be met, so if you have any international users, you need to make sure you’re getting the correct permissions before acquiring any data. Additional precautions must also be taken to show users how you’re collecting data through cookies and how this data is being used. What’s less known about, though, is the Americans with Disabilities Act, which applies to certain businesses and describes how companies must make themselves accessible to those with disabilities. This includes both in the physical world as well as digitally.
What’s the ADA?
The ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) was passed in 1990 with the purpose of ensuring that those with disabilities weren’t being discriminated against. The act means that actions must be put into place, so that people that are visually impaired or have hearing impediments, for example, can access business in the same way that abled-bodied people can. This was at first designed to ensure that buildings were accessible to those in wheelchairs, for example, and the benefit can be seen across the country. All companies that are for public use, like hospitals and schools, should have access for those with disability, lifts for those in wheelchairs, and braille where important information needs to be read.
How does this relate to websites?
As we entered the digital age, the same precautions need to be put into place. We gather so much information online that websites need to be ADA-compliant. What makes the issue complex is that there are no specific ADA site compliance guidelines for websites, although the risk of prosecution, if they aren’t met, is still real.
In several court cases, it was found that websites are definitely covered by the ADA, as a website serves as a close partner to the physical location of a company and is where a significant amount of information is gathered. Unfortunately, because of the grey area in the law, it’s difficult to understand what exactly needs to be done.
When building a website, and especially if your company falls under the criteria of the act, the best strategy is to overdeliver on the act rather than ignore it. It may cost a few thousand extra dollars in development, but this is worth it to avoid a potential lawsuit.
Some actionable recommendations are to focus on people that may not be able to view your website due to vision issues, or are deaf and can’t consume audio information. For the former, they will most likely be using a voice reading software to navigate your website, so make sure that these systems can easily read and navigate your website. Adding alt tags to your images will mean that the descriptions of these can be read out and understood. It’s also important to consider the accessibility of your PDF documents. These documents are not accessed in the same way by people with disabilities. People with impaired vision or other disabilities might not be able to access your documents with their screen readers if they’re not optimized. Government PDF remediation is usually done to address these issues to fully give access to people with disabilities and adhere to ADA’s guidelines. For any videos, make sure to include either captions to go along with the audio or a video transcript, so that it can be understood by anyone browsing your website.