What is ADA and How Does it Relate to Web Design?
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a federal civil rights law that aims to ensure equal opportunities and access for individuals with disabilities in various aspects of life, including employment, transportation, public accommodations, and telecommunications. Making an area accessible can include enhancements such as ensuring there are elevators or ramps in multiple-story buildings or providing braille signage and menus.
In terms of websites, the ADA means that digital spaces, including websites and other online applications, are accessible to people with disabilities, including those who are blind, deaf, or have limited mobility, as well as those with cognitive disabilities. Individuals with disabilities must be able to perceive, understand, navigate, and interact with a website using assistive technologies and accessible design practices. This includes providing alternative text for images, using proper heading structures, and ensuring that the website can be used with keyboard-only navigation and screen readers.
However, while the Department of Justice (DOJ) maintains that ADA laws apply to websites as they’re considered places of public accommodations, web accessibility is not actually written into the law, nor are there universally agreed-upon requirements. Still, the DOJ maintains that our digital landscape must be accessible to all, and companies can be punished accordingly for failing to make their websites accessible. The ADA applies to all public and private entities that operate websites and digital content, including government agencies, private businesses, and non-profit organizations in the United States.
Despite the requirement for accessibility, many websites are still not fully compliant with the ADA. This puts businesses at risk of legal action and potentially losing out on customers who may have difficulty accessing their sites. Additionally, website accessibility has a direct impact on a business’s conversion rates, as an accessible site can provide a better user experience for all visitors, including those with disabilities.
The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.1
While there are no official guidelines for web accessibility found through the DOJ, many court cases involving web accessibility have referenced the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines when citing issues. WCAG 2.1 is the latest version of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), which are international standards for web accessibility. WCAG 2.1 provides guidelines for making web content accessible to people with disabilities, including those with visual, auditory, motor, and cognitive impairments.
WCAG 2.1 defines criteria that must be met in order for a website to be considered accessible. These criteria are organized into four principles: perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust. Each principle contains a set of guidelines that detail specific ways to make web content accessible.
For example, the perceivable principle requires that web content be presented in a way that can be perceived by all users, including those with visual or auditory disabilities. The operable principle requires that web content be usable with a keyboard and that it be operable with assistive technologies. The understandable principle requires that web content be easy to understand and navigate. And the robust principle requires that web content be compatible with a wide range of assistive technologies and devices.
The Financial Burden of Non-ADA-Compliant Websites
In recent years, there has been a significant increase in lawsuits related to non-ADA-compliant websites. This is due, in part, to a rise in what is commonly referred to as “ambulance chasers,” or individuals and organizations that actively seek out and sue businesses for non-compliance. These ambulance chasers mainly comprise twenty or so law firms that hope to scare businesses into settling before going to court. This has created a financial burden for many businesses, as they are often required to pay settlements or retrofit their websites to meet ADA standards. This may cost your business a fortune. Fines for violations average from $55,000 for your first violation to $110,000 for each subsequent violation. However, over 90% settle out of court for $10k to $20k. Unfortunately, they can get multiple demand letters. Over 75% of sites that are getting demand letters are eCommerce sites. It is crucial for businesses to prioritize making their websites ADA-compliant.
There have been numerous examples of businesses facing legal action for non-compliance with the ADA. For example, in 2019 Parkwood Entertainment, an entertainment company founded by American singer Beyoncé, was sued due to www.beyonce.com not being accessible per the WCAG 2.1, Section 508 accessibility standard(s). The plaintiff alleged, amongst others:
- Lack of alt-text on graphics
- Inaccessible drop-down menus
- Lack of adequate prompting and labeling
- Denial of keyboard access
- Empty links that contain no text
- The requirement that transactions be performed solely with a mouse
In 2018, Domino’s Pizza was sued for having an inaccessible website and mobile application, resulting in a settlement of $1,000,000. Other companies, such as Target and Netflix, have faced similar lawsuits and settlements. This does not affect only large companies. 70% of companies sued have revenues under $50 million.
The cost of retrofitting a website to meet ADA standards can vary, but it can be significant, particularly for larger businesses with complex websites. It may require a complete overhaul of the site’s design and development, as well as the implementation of accessibility testing tools and processes. This can include the cost of hiring a professional accessibility specialist, as well as the cost of any necessary legal settlements. Still, even with those costs, they’re still significantly cheaper than dealing with the massive fees tied to going to trial in federal court.
By proactively ensuring that their websites are ADA-compliant, businesses can save both time and money in the long run and avoid the financial burden of non-compliance.
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Website Accessibility and Conversion Rate Optimization
An accessible website can provide a better user experience for all visitors, including those with disabilities. Features such as alternative text for images, keyboard navigation, and accessible forms help to ensure that users with disabilities can access and understand the content of a website. Alternative text for images provides a description of the image for users who are unable to see it, while keyboard navigation allows users who are unable to use a mouse to access and interact with the website. Accessible forms ensure that users with disabilities can complete online forms, providing them with equal access to online services and information.
By improving the overall user experience, accessibility can directly impact a website’s conversion rates. Great web accessibility leads to:
- Improved user experience: Many CRO improvements with site colors are in line with accessibility improvements. Accessible websites are designed with the needs of all users in mind, which leads to a better overall user experience. This can result in improved engagement, higher levels of satisfaction, and ultimately, increased conversions.
- Better search engine optimization (SEO): Accessibility is a ranking factor for search engines, and an accessible website is more likely to rank higher in search engine results pages (SERPs). This can result in increased organic traffic and higher conversion rates.
- Better brand image: By making your website accessible, you are demonstrating your commitment to inclusion and diversity, which can improve your brand image and reputation, leading to increased brand loyalty and higher conversion rates.
How Can Businesses Ensure ADA Compliance?
Conduct an Accessibility Audit
The first step in ensuring ADA compliance is to conduct an accessibility audit of the website. This can be done through accessibility testing tools, manual testing, and web accessibility experts. An ADA audit should involve a comprehensive review of the site’s design, code, and content. The audit should identify any areas of non-compliance, as well as any potential barriers to accessibility. These can include but are not limited to:
- Keyboard accessibility: Ensure that all functionality on the website can be accessed using a keyboard, without requiring a mouse.
- Alt text for images: Ensure that all images and PDFs on the website have descriptive alternative text (alt text) for users who are unable to see the images.
- Color contrast: Ensure that the contrast between the text and background is high enough to be easily readable by users with visual impairments.
- Heading structure: Ensure that the website has a logical and meaningful heading structure, using H1, H2, H3, etc. tags.
- Text size and zoom: Ensure that the text size can be easily increased and that the website is usable when zoomed in.
- Navigation: Ensure that the website navigation is intuitive and easily accessible, using clear and descriptive links.
- Audio and video: Ensure that all audio and video content on the website is accompanied by captions or transcripts for users who are deaf or hard of hearing.
Note: Having a plugin or widget that changes your site’s fonts and colors does not make your site ADA-compliant and leaves you open for lawsuits.
“The most common issues we see are color contrast for text and call to action buttons. We see this when doing conversion rate optimization testing too. The second issue we see is lack of alt tags on images and elements that are used to navigate the site. Alt tags only improve accessibility, but they also help with SEO ranking, so it is something that should always be implemented.”
-Greg Ahern, Founder & President of Ometrics
While some of these things can be tested by a business, more complicated tasks require the expertise of an ADA web consultant and experienced developer. After performing your own manual checks and identifying areas of improvement, it’s important to reach out to experts to double-check and ensure that the website is actually up to ADA standards. Remember, while the initial costs of bringing in experts might seem intimidating, they are prohibitively lower than any fees associated with future lawsuits.
In conclusion, the importance of ADA compliance for websites cannot be overstated. By taking the necessary steps to ensure accessibility, businesses can position themselves for success in the long term, and ensure that their websites are accessible to a wider audience. This not only reduces the risk of legal action, but can also lead to improved user experience, better SEO, and increased conversion rates.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is web accessibility?
Web accessibility is the practice of making websites and web applications usable by people with disabilities, including those with visual, auditory, motor, and cognitive impairments.
Why is web accessibility important?
Web accessibility is important because it ensures that all users, regardless of their abilities, can access and use the content and features of a website. This promotes inclusivity and equal access to information and services online.
Who benefits from web accessibility?
Web accessibility benefits everyone, including people with disabilities, older adults, and people with temporary disabilities (such as a broken arm). It also benefits businesses by improving their search engine optimization, increasing their conversion optimization and audience reach, and avoiding legal penalties.
How does web accessibility impact SEO?
Accessibility is a ranking factor for search engines, and an accessible website is more likely to rank higher in search engine results pages (SERPs). This can result in increased visibility and higher conversion rates.
What tools and technologies can help with web accessibility?
There are many tools and technologies available to help with web accessibility, including accessibility checkers, screen readers, and keyboard navigation software. These tools can help businesses identify and fix accessibility barriers on their websites.
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