ADA Compliance for Websites: Everything You Need To Know

Is your website ADA compliant? If you’re not sure, now is the time to find out. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a federal civil rights regulation that was passed in 1990 making it illegal to discriminate against individuals with disabilities. However, ADA compliance is simultaneously straightforward and vague: businesses are required to provide disabled individuals with equal access to their goods, services, and physical locations. When it comes to your website, having an incomplete picture of the law can be costly.

In 2018 alone, there were 2,285 website ADA compliance lawsuits filed in the US, including many against high-profile names like Home Depot, Beyoncé, Nike, Harvard University, Blue Apron, and Domino’s Pizza. Despite these bigger names garnering national media attention, the vast majority of defendants in ADA website compliance lawsuits are small- to medium-sized businesses that aren’t able to invest dedicated resources in web development and legal protection. Penalties, fines, and settlements are extremely expensive in these cases, and can wipe out small businesses completely.

The ADA outlines specific rules for constructing facilities that are accessible to users with a wide range of disabilities. When it comes to websites, however, the ADA does not set specific requirements or guidelines for making a site accessible. This gets many companies into legal trouble, as their websites may not be noncompliant, yet they have no way of knowing.

With hazy regulations and a high risk of litigation, how can you make sure that your business is offering an accessible web browsing experience and is protected from legal action? Read on for everything you need to know about website ADA compliance.

Who is required to comply with the ADA?

Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Website Compliance Graphic

ADA compliance is mandatory for all “places of public accommodation,” defined as privately-owned, leased or operated facilities serving the public. This includes restaurants, hotels, retail merchants, private practice medical offices, private schools, daycare centers, gyms, movie theaters, and so on.

Essentially, any business that serves consumers, including online, is required to comply with ADA regulations. Even an eCommerce business without a physical location could potentially face a noncompliance argument if an online customer isn’t able to shop your site like any other customer. For the sake of your bottom line, don’t put your business at risk of legal ramifications for the sake of saving a few dollars on web development.

What accommodations are necessary for website ADA compliance?

The ADA covers a variety of disabilities and impairments, including visual, auditory, motor, and cognitive issues. In general, best practices for ADA compliance can be broken into three areas: focus, semantics, and styling:

  • Focus accommodations are ones that help users navigate your site with a keyboard rather than a mouse, which is critical in cases of motor and cognitive impairments.
  • Semantics accommodations are ones that allow your site to be compatible with assistive technologies for visual and auditory disabilities.
  • Styling accommodations are visual design choices that make your interface as flexible and usable as possible, and primarily help visually-impaired individuals and those with cognitive disabilities.

Google provides web accessibility guidelines for webmasters that include specific callouts for available HTML features that can help accessibility. While these guidelines aren’t strict legal regulations, following them will help you ensure that your site is at a lower risk.

Auditing your website accessibility

In order to ensure that your website is accessible to all users, including those with disabilities, you need to conduct an audit with specific factors in mind. Here are some questions to guide your web accessibility audit and avoid the most common issues raised in ADA lawsuits against digital brands.

Is your site easily navigable with a keyboard?

Individuals with motor impairments often choose to navigate websites with a keyboard rather than a mouse. During development, make sure that your site is navigable with arrows, tabs, and keyboard shortcuts.

Can your site be read by a screen reader?

Individuals with visual impairments use technology to read the text on their screen and understand the user journey. This is one of the most common ADA complaints filed against websites. Make sure your site is readable by including semantic markups and effective alt-text for all images.

Is all interactivity obvious?

Providing users with indications to scroll, click, or hover can help with ADA compliance. These indicators are called affordances, and they ensure that a user knows which elements are interactive as opposed to static.

Are you using headings effectively?

Screen reader users navigate by using headings. Making sure that your heading hierarchy—such as H1, H2, H3—is clear, tagged correctly, and implemented consistently across your site will help screen reader users move quickly and easily through your site. Properly tagging your headings doesn’t only help with accessibility—heading tags are also part of good SEO.

Are text and images high-contrast?

If your text doesn’t stand out well from the background or images on your site, it can be difficult to read for visually impaired users. Visual impairments can include partial blindness, color blindness, or poor vision, and your site needs to be legible by every individual.

Are you providing transcripts, captions, and text alternatives for non-text content?

Hearing-impaired users still deserve to enjoy your video and audio content. Make sure that all videos and audio content (such as webinars or podcasts) include closed captioning and/or transcripts for people with hearing impairments. Be sure to include image alt-text and captions for your visually-impaired users, too!

Does your site include sufficient white space?

Clear navigation, simple page flow, and abundant white space make your site easier to focus on for users with visual impairments or cognitive disabilities.

Unfortunately for businesses, many lawyers and legal groups are aware of how frequently businesses’ websites miss the mark on ADA compliance and specifically target companies that they can file an individual or class-action ADA lawsuit against. Because of the haziness of the web compliance regulations, businesses don’t have much recourse to defend themselves against predatory lawsuits.

If you need help making your website accessible, contact the Bayshore Solutions team to leverage our experience with ADA compliance and websites.


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