ADA compliance may seem like something that is only relevant to a few industries. But in actuality, the disabled population in the United States accounts for over $175 billion per year in discretionary spending.
By law, all businesses with more than 15 employees are required to follow the guidelines set out by the ADA; as well as businesses of any size that receive government funding. But there are many other reasons why your website should be compliant:
- It makes financial sense to allow all users full access of your site
- It’s just plain old ‘good citizenship’ to be inclusive of all segments of our population
- The established guidelines are also good design principles
- Groups are beginning to take legal action against inaccessible sites
WCAG 2.0 Guidelines
Let’s start with the basics and look at the guidelines that have been established. The ones that matter are set forth by WCAG 2.0 (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines) because not only are they easy to understand, but they are what’s being used by the Department of Justice in court cases brought against non-compliant organizations. We’ll look at that in a second, but first – the WCAG 2.0 guidelines in a little more detail.
There are three levels: A, AA, and AAA. Most agree that AA are the best fit, and therefore widely accepted. Level A has very few standards and little effect on making a site truly universally usable. In contrast, level AAA is on par with government-supported sites (508 compliance), and puts a very heavy burden on public organizations. So that leaves level AA – its set of guidelines are strict enough to make sites inclusive to a wide range of disabilities, but not so stringent to control the ability to customize a site’s look and feel.
The WCAG 2.0 guidelines emphasize four principles in its framework for achieving accessibility:
- Perceivable: Pages should provide alternatives for text and media (i.e. have Alt Tags to say what the item actually does), create content that can be presented in different ways, and make it easier to see and hear content.
- Operable: Pages should make all functionality available by using just a keyboard, provide users with enough time to access features, avoid designs that are known to cause seizures, and provide tools to help users navigate the page.
- Understandable: Content should be understandable and predictable, and provide clear mechanisms for users to avoid and correct mistakes, not just give an error message.
- Robust: Websites should ensure the compatibility of their tags and code with both current and future assistive technologies, as well as a variety of browsers.
Meeting the Guidelines
Why should you go to all the trouble to make your site meet these established guidelines?*
Over the past decade, companies big and small have been brought to court because certain disabled groups cannot use their website as an able-bodied person can. The allegations are serious and the penalties real. Just look at these examples:
Class Action lawsuits have also been brought against Carnival Corporation, Disney, Reebok, and Toys-R-Us, among others. It’s interesting to note that when the ADA was established in 1990, the internet didn’t remotely resemble what it has become today. However, a key statement in the Netflix case was made asserting that it was clear the ‘ADA was intended to adapt to changes in technology’. That statement is the basis that the DOJ uses as it opts to cover websites under the ADA, and will not require that they be tied to any physical location. But everything will ultimately come down to the court’s interpretation of all of this information.
There are pending government regulations which are expected to be reviewed and released in 2018. But in the meantime, there are still many reasons to adhere to the current guidelines and be prepared for additional regulations that may be passed in the future.
In our next ADA post, we will look at how you can design to meet the WCAG 2.0 AA guidelines and some extensive testing you can perform to evaluate your site.
Here is Part I of this series.
*We are in no way saying that a site that is not Level AA compliant will end up in court defending itself. As stated earlier in this post, there are many social and legal reasons to follow the disability guidelines.