The federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is often associated with physical locations and accommodations certain businesses must make for people with disabilities. These accommodations typically include wheelchair accessibility, access to service animals and the use of Braille for customers who are visually impaired. However, the ADA also extends to the digital realm, requiring businesses to ensure web content is accessible to all users.
DID YOU KNOW?
- The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires certain businesses to make accommodations for people with disabilities.
- Web content should be accessible to the blind, deaf, and those who must navigate by voice, screen readers or other assistive technologies.
- Businesses that fall under Title I, those that operate 20 or more weeks per year with at least 15 full-time employees, or Title III, those that fall under the category of “public accommodation,” are covered by the ADA.
- There are no clear regulations defining website accessibility.
- Failure to create an ADA-compliant website could open a business to lawsuits, financial liabilities and damage to your brand reputation.
What does an ADA-compliant website look like, exactly? There are no clear ADA regulations that spell out exactly what compliant web content is, but businesses that fall under ADA Title I or ADA Title III are required to develop a website that offers “reasonable accessibility” to people with disabilities. These guidelines will help you get started building a truly accessible website and help your business avoid the penalties associated with the ADA, including lawsuits, financial penalties and loss of brand reputation.
No clear website accessibility guidelines
When it comes to ADA website compliance, there are no clear rules. That doesn’t let businesses off the hook, though; they still must provide an accessible website that accommodates users with disabilities.
How to develop an ADA-compliant website
Accessibility of a website means ensuring that individuals who are visually impaired or hearing-impaired or those who must navigate by voice are still able to meaningfully engage with the content on your website. This can be done in many ways, including some that are not immediately obvious.
Here are some common ways businesses address accessibility issues associated with their web content:
- Create alt tags for all images, videos and audio files: Alt tags allow users with disabilities to read or hear alternative descriptions of content they might not otherwise be able to view. Alt tags describe the object itself and, generally, the purpose it serves on the site.
- Create text transcripts for video and audio content: Text transcripts help hearing-impaired users understand content that would otherwise be inaccessible to them.
- Identify the site’s language in header code: Making it clear what language the site should be read in helps users who utilize text readers. Text readers can identify those codes and function accordingly.
- Offer alternatives and suggestions when users encounter input errors: If a user with a disability is encountering input errors because of their need to navigate the website differently, your site should automatically offer recommendations to them as to how to better navigate toward the content they need.
- Create a consistent, organized layout: Menus, links and buttons should be organized in such a way that they are clearly delineated from one another and are easily navigated throughout the entire site.
There are other ways businesses can create an accessible website for users with disabilities. Consulting with an attorney who specializes in disability law is a must for businesses concerned about ADA compliance, but if you’re looking for a place to get started on your own, reading the ADA requirements is an important first step.
Liability for failure to comply
Failing to comply with the ADA means your business is susceptible to lawsuits, and it’s common for attorneys to seek out noncompliant businesses both in the physical and digital space.
Beyond regulatory consequences, failure to provide accessibility to users with disabilities means losing out on business. If users cannot navigate your website, you might be missing sales opportunities. Further, even if you’re not missing out on sales, ADA compliance makes it easier for search engines to crawl and index your website, pushing it up in the rankings and getting your web content in front of more users.
While ADA website compliance is a bit subjective and open to interpretation, it’s not too difficult to discern what is meant by “reasonable accessibility.” By making a good-faith effort to achieve reasonable accessibility for users with disabilities now, businesses can get ahead of the regulatory curve in developing a compliant website and avoid potential lawsuits. Moreover, designing a compliant website can lead to more sales and better ranking on search engines for a modest investment. To find out more about ADA website compliance and how you can protect your business, consider consulting with a disability attorney.