When you start a business of any kind, you are trying to attract as many customers as possible. You may have the best SEO practices and drive tons of traffic to your website through advertising to accomplish this. You may have an email list and message your contacts regularly to let them know about your newest products. But have you ever considered how your customers view your website? Is it accessible to all people, with or without accommodation?
People with disabilities encounter problems operating a computer and surfing the internet. These barriers often go unnoticed by web developers and site owners because they are not affected by them. These barriers may be keeping them from being able to access your store and make a purchase. Besides including a portion of the population, you’re leaving money on the table.
If you’re a business owner with an ecommerce website you need to make sure it is ADA compliant to avoid penalties imposed by the government such as lawsuits and fines. Even a first-time violation can net you a fine upwards of $50,000. If you get government funding and you’re guilty of failing to do this, you may lose your funding as well.
What is ADA compliance and does your website fit the requirements? You may not have given much thought to whether or not your website is accessible to people with disabilities, and although many U.S. businesses hit the mark, many do not. Keep reading to learn more about accessibility and how to make your website ADA compliance.
What is ADA Compliance?
ADA stands for the Americans with Disabilities Act, which was signed into law in September 2010. The Department of Justice (DOJ) ensures that all electronic information is accessible to all individuals. The standards set forth by the DOJ ensure that websites adhere to policies that make them accessible to all consumers.
Making information accessible is not a new concept. The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) first recommended accessibility guidelines in the early ‘90s for this purpose. Many organizations funded by the U.S. government are complying to protect themselves from potential issues based on ADA guidelines, while others are simply trying to expand their reach to a broader audience.
The Internet is a wide open source for all types of information including financial, education, and commerce. Many people with disabilities often use assistive technology to access information which is dependent on the website’s structuring. If it is not set up for accessibility, it restricts an individual’s access to the information contained within.
What Does ADA Compliant Mean for Websites?
The law was enacted, or put into law, in 1990 to make information readily accessible to individuals with disabilities. It is even more important now that technology has advanced and many people work from home or in online businesses. The most important part of this act in reference to websites is that businesses that cater to the public must take measures to accommodate disabled people. ADA compliance applies to websites since it is a form of information technology. If you run a business and have a company website, then the ADA applies to you as well.
How to Make Your Website ADA Compliant
There are steps you can take to make your website ADA compliant, and make sure that people using assistive devices can access your website.
1) Make Your Site Screen-Reader Friendly
The Internet has opened us up to visual technology through videos and visual content. However, people who are visually impaired access the Internet through assistive technology linked to a computer and can “read” with the use of a screen reader that enlarges the type so it is easier to see and some have a braille display or text to voice. The information can be read by a speech synthesizer making it accessible by audio.
2) Create Audio Descriptions of Visual Content
The guidelines suggest recording visual descriptions in audio that the readers can interpret. If the video has sound, it may not be loud enough for someone who is hard of hearing to pick up without help. However, if you include an audio description, people who are visually impaired can listen to the description and know what the content is about.
3) Look at Color From Another Perspective
Besides partial or total blindness, color blindness is another issue people with visual disabilities face. This condition affects a large portion of women and a small portion of men. There is more than just one type of color blindness and by seeking to accommodate them, you will boost your Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) and increase accessibility.
What types of color do you have in your website design? Do you have a lot of bold shades or contrasts? Colorful designs may be hard for people with visual disabilities to view. It would be better to use a minimum of colors in soft shades to keep things clean and clear.
4) Be Considerate of People Who Are Deaf or Hard of Hearing
Websites with a lot of audio elements may be difficult for people who are hard of hearing or deaf to interpret. People with visual impairments search the web just as often as hearing consumers and can shop in your store if you make your website more accessible by using text transcripts alongside the audio, so they can read the information if they cannot hear it.
If you have video on your site, make sure to equip it with closed captioning so deaf people can read the script along with the video to gain an understanding of what the content is about. Subtitles are very valuable as many people prefer to turn down the audio and just read the text. It is good to offer this option.
5) Offer Keyboard Control and Other Alternatives to Mouse Control
If someone is unable to access a mouse to interact with a computer, touchscreen technology or voice control is another good option. When updating your website, be sure to check that the software you use will work with these options. Make sure your site is easy to navigate using these methods as well. One of the guidelines specifically states that a must-have for ADA compliance is keyboard control. You must be able to navigate your website using just a keyboard. (Guideline 2.1.1)
You cannot have time-sensitive answers when clicking buttons (requiring people to hit the keys at a certain time) because it affects people with disabilities who may have slower reaction times.
6) Make Content Easier to Understand
Although snazzy layouts are tempting for an aesthetic design, a complicated layout is hard for some people to navigate. The simpler your design is, the better people will be able to understand the concept and find what they are looking for on your site. Although it may seem straightforward to you, what is easy for one person to understand may be harder for someone else. Making your website easier to navigate not only helps your visitor find what they need, but it helps with your SEO efforts.
Rather than redesigning your website, you could include an option to render the page in another format that is easier to read. Like when you hit the “print” key to view the content all in one page format. Break up the text and order it in columns to make scanning easier. Always consider that someone may not see this as well as you do.
If you have some of these accommodations in place and wonder if your website meets the requirements for ADA compliance, you can check using the free tools listed below. Once you meet all the requirements, you will have no worries about being hit with penalties or getting into legal trouble.
How to Check if Your Website is ADA Compliant
There are a few ways that business owners can check their website for compliance with ADA requirements. These include free tools such as Wave and Lighthouse, which take stock of your text size, image, alt text, and color contrast as well as other factors. It may take some time because you will need to analyze every page individually. There isn’t an option to check the whole website at one time.
These two sites are not your only options, either. If you like you can also check the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) for more free tools and ADA compliance website checkers. You can check specific ADA compliance issues like color, contrast, and etc.
With the move towards making the World Wide Web more accessible to everyone, these guidelines will help you check your website for compliance issues and fix things before incurring any legal penalties. These tips are not an exhaustive list, but they will get you started down the path to making your website available to people of all abilities.