A Beginner’s Guide to Web Accessibility

In the United States, Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires that information and communications technology be accessible to people with disabilities. In other words, people who are blind or have low vision must be able to access an online website just as easily as someone who can see. There are many steps you can take to make your website compliant. 

What is Web Accessibility?

So what does it mean when a company says their site is “accessible?” It means that nothing is stopping disabled users from accessing all content on the site and that your site is friendly to adaptive technologies that may be used. 

Oftentimes, people think of accessibility as something that is only for those with disabilities. However, it’s about making sure everyone has equal access to your site or online content. Some aging people, for example, may have a hard time on websites that have low contrast or small letters. 

What is the ADA?

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a federal law guaranteeing people with disabilities equal opportunity to employment, public services, and accommodations. It defines who is considered disabled and what must be done to accommodate them in public accommodations. 

Why You Should Care About Website Accessibility

The ADA was created considering places of public accommodations, historically where people would go in person. The world changed and several courts have ruled that websites are often the first place people use to learn more about a product or a service and are therefore a place of public accommodation.

This new reality demands that your website be ADA compliant if it’s targeted to clients and arguably even if it has a job application form, for example. The trend recently has been a 10x increase year-over-year in these types of lawsuits, and they are nearly impossible to defend against if you are being sued. Most of these cases are settled before they ever go to court. The cost of settlement can easily reach into the tens of thousands of dollars.

Is Your Website ADA Accessible?

Sadly, the ADA does not provide any clear standard of web accessibility. Further, the court’s guidance is conflicting and even some critical definitions such as how applicable Title III is to websites. What we know so far is that some Federal courts already consider a website as a public accommodation. 

This means that if your website is for clients, it has to be accessible. This isn’t an issue if it’s a B2B website unless you have an application page. 

The Department of Justice hasn’t provided any guidance about this issue. The DOJ, however, states that even with the lack of regulation website owners still can be penalized for noncompliance. The idea is to make the user experience on your website the best – and fullest – for all your visitors. If you’re not sure how to do that, there are some guidelines from the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.0), which some courts have used as the standard to meet ADA compliance

Broadly they state that every website should be:

  • Perceivable: all visitors should be able to perceive the information on the site.
  • Operable: navigating through your website should be possible for all visitors.
  • Understandable: user interface should be readable, understandable, and predictable.
  • Robust: all content should be available and compatible with a variety of visitors and assistive technologies.

Some of the good practices suggested by the WCAG 2.0 is to have a version of your page that’s more simple, and have closed captions or sign language available. You’ll find the complete guidelines here.

ADA compliance is critical to your business. You must have a structured, well-thought-out plan in place before making any big changes. Our team of experts can help you with this process and all other aspects of website accessibility consulting, including development review and testing. We’ll work closely with your company to ensure your site meets the standards for accommodations under the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA). Contact us today if you need assistance!

Many attorneys have no idea they violate these laws because their websites were not designed with accessibility in mind when they first constructed them years ago. It’s an important thing to look at though, all it takes is one unhappy client or a party that was sued by the attorney for this to become an issue and the case gets filed.