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5 steps for ADA website compliance

Nathan Dennis
August 26, 2022
Vision impaired woman uses ADA website compliant tablet

In 1990, President George H.W. Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Act into law, protecting people with disabilities from discrimination. The ADA ensures that public life is accessible to people with disabilities, meaning that jobs, schools, transportation, and places open to the public must offer reasonable accommodation to people with disabilities.

You may be surprised to know that, as a place open to the public, websites are covered under the ADA.

What does that mean? It means that your website needs to offer reasonable accommodations to people with disabilities so that they can engage with your content.

How can you ensure that your website is in compliance with the ADA?

Follow our 5 easy steps to make sure your website is in ADA compliance.

5 steps for ADA website compliance

    What is the ADA?

    ADA stands for the Americans with Disabilities Act. It is a United States law that extends legal protections to Americans with disabilities.

    The ADA is divided into five titles.

    • Employment
    • Public Services
    • Public Accommodations
    • Telecommunications
    • Miscellaneous

    Through these titles, the ADA spells out how Americans with disabilities are protected from discrimination, and how reasonable accommodations must be extended in in public and private spheres.

    What do these protections look like in practice?

    Here are some examples:

    • Accessible entrances (ramps and elevators) to buildings and public transportation
    • Admittance of service animals
    • Accessible websites
    • Protection against employment discrimination for disabilities and certain illnesses

    What is website ADA compliance?

    The ADA was made into law in 1990, far before the internet became a constant source of connectivity for every American. However, the protections from the ADA have come to be extended to websites in certain circumstances. In March 2022, the Biden administration released guidance that stated that “the ADA’s guidance requirements apply to all the goods, services, privileges, or activities offered by public accommodations, including those offered on the web.”

    Therefore, if your website is public facing, you have a responsibility to ensure your site is accessible to people with disabilities.

    Interestingly, the Department of Justice explicitly admits that they do not have regulation setting out a detailed standard on how to make your website ADA compliant. In this guide, we will cover five key ways to make your site accessible that are generally seen as sufficient for website ADA compliance.

    What happens if your website isn’t ADA compliant?

    If your website isn’t in ADA compliance, you risk being sued. This happened to HR Block in 2013 over claims that their software filing service discriminated against blind persons. Ultimately, HR Block agreed to make substantial changes to their website and pay significant penalties to the plaintiffs.

    5 ways your web store can be ADA compliant

    No one wants to be sued!  

    To make sure that your website stays on the right side of the law (and to ensure that all users can access your great website features), here are five steps that you can take to keep your website in ADA compliance. 

    Alt text  

    Image alt text is text that is displayed when an image cannot be loaded. When it comes to accessibility, alt text is used by screen readers, so a visually impaired user can still understand what is posted on your website.  

    It’s a critical component of ADA website compliance, and it only takes a few seconds to set up, so make sure you include it! 

    Captions and transcripts 

    Video captions allow hearing impaired people to interact with the video content on your site. Captions for audio clips and podcasts provide the same accommodation. This is another key step you need to take to make sure your site is in ADA compliance  

    Color contrast 

    Low color contrast (yellow text on a white background) is much harder to read than higher contrast (white text on a black background). To be in ADA website compliance, your contrast ratio needs to be 4.5:1 or greater. (Black to white being a 21:1 ratio, white to white being a 1:1 ratio). This helps ensure your language is accessible to those with colorblindness or other visual impairments.  

    Keyboard navigation 

    Many users may have motor disabilities, impacting their abilities to use a mouse. Instead, they’ll navigate your website using their keyboard. It’s important, therefore, that your site be fully navigable via keyboard. Make sure to avoid any “keyboard traps,” where a user cannot navigate out of an element by keyboard alone.  

    When in doubt, go to WCAG 

    These are some of the most basic steps you need to take to have your website be in ADA compliance, but they aren’t all the steps. The WCAG (web content accessibility guidelines) has a comprehensive set of guidelines you can use to make sure your site is in compliance with the ADA. The WCAG has three levels of compliance, ranging from A to AAA. The most basic steps include alt text and video captions, but they can also be quite foundational (present content in a logical order).  

    If you’re confused about if your website is in ADA compliance or not, you should probably take a look at the WCAG guidelines. This way, you can know for sure where you’re meeting the standards and where you need to spend a little extra work. 

    ADA compliance benefits us all 

    When you go through the WCAG checklist for ADA website compliance, you’ll notice that these components are beneficial for all of us. Presenting order in a logical manner? That’s beneficial for everyone.  

    Accessibility expands your consumer base. By adding captions to your video demo, you allow a hearing impaired prospect to discover how your product will help their business.  

    Being ADA compliant isn’t only legally required, it’s an ethical business practice that benefits your customers, and ultimately your business in return.  

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