Since 1990 when it was first passed, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) has helped ensure that those with disabilities may more fully and equally participate in the public sphere. Accessibility guidelines have expanded to include websites, and your business's website and digital presence must be ADA compliant to better serve your customers, meet regulatory requirements, and protect you from potential legal action.
When you routinely check for ADA compliance, you'll not only meet the needs of your customers - you'll exceed them.
ADA compliance online - what's involved?
The rules for online ADA compliance can be murky, at best.
The safest way to handle compliance online is to follow the Web Accessibility Initiative's Web Content Accessibility Guidelines(W3C's WCAG). The WCAG documents explain how to make your web content more accessible to people with disabilities by providing text alternatives for non-text content and captions for multimedia and by using structures that support assistive technologies.
The courts have ruled that commercial websites are part of the public and are therefore required to comply with ADA regulations. If your website has a commercial function, it falls under these regulations, and your business can be held in contempt for violating them.
As of late 2019, it's not federally required for your website to be ADA compliant - however, many states have accessibility laws, and not complying could lead to a lawsuit.
Of the WCAG's multiple levels of guidelines, the 2.0 Level AA is the most commonly used in the European Union, United States, and other participating countries. In June 2018 the WCAG updated its guidelines to 2.1 in an effort to better address new technologies. WCAG 2.1 includes additional accessibility requirements for mobile accessibility, people with low vision, and people with cognitive and learning disabilities.
Remember, ADA compliance is a strict liability law, so there are few to no legal defenses for violations.
What your website needs to be ADA compliant
There are 38 requirements for WCAG 2.0 AA. However, under a ruling from Assistant Attorney General Stephen E. Boyd, your website doesn't need to check off all 38 boxes to be considered compliant, nor does doing so mean it is compliant.
Your website will need several features to be considered accessible, from visual alternatives to presentation markups. It needs to address four main areas of accessibility:
Perceivable issues: These are accessibility issues that could affect users' ability to find information and process it, such as closed captioning or transcripts for audio content, audio descriptions for video, or images with text on them.
Operable issues: These accessibility points impact the viewer's ability to navigate your website, such as navigation, login fields, or sub-links.
Understandable issues: If your website in some way prohibits viewers from comprehending or discerning the information or navigation on your site, it may have understandable issues. These could include error messages or line prompt messages.
Robust issues: While a broader field, these issues are the most common and where ADA compliance is vital. Issues such as integration with common screen readers and the ability to adapt to current technologies are included in this category.
Why cognitive abilities matter for ADA compliance
Users who have to overcome cognitive differences such as ADD, memory retention, or reasoning or processing impairments may have a harder time navigating your website if it isn't ADA compliant.
However, if it's built with accessibility in mind, especially with a focus on cognitive abilities, it will better aid you in serving your online and digital consumers.
If you're a member, SHRM provides tools and samples to help you design and build your website with cognitive disabilities in mind.
Partner with professionals to ensure compliance
Engine Room is the perfect place to start from scratch or fix it now when it comes to making your existing website ADA compliant.