Did you know that 1 in 5 people have a disability that is recognized by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)?
And that most of them are unable to use a computer the same way that an abled person does?
The inability to use a mouse or keyboard is just one of the ways a person’s disability can affect their online presence. Visual and hearing impairments also hinder a portion of the population’s ability to navigate through a website.
In order to be competitive, and responsible, in today’s digital world, addressing the needs of the entire online community is a must.
Over the course of a few posts, we’ll look at the definition of ADA, why being compliant is important, and some ways you can assess and then design your site to meet these requirements.
What is the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)?
Let’s start with a simple definition of what the Americans with Disabilities Act is:
Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) ensures that businesses and nonprofit service providers make accessibility accommodations to enable access to the disabled public the same services as clients who are not disabled within the physical space. According to the United States Justice Department, the ADA also applies to the cyberspace “world.”
You may know that your office building has ramps and automatic doors to meet the necessary ADA physical space requirements, but what about your website? Does it provide the same level of customer experience to all users? And moreover, why should it really matter?
First, for legal reasons. As stated above in the ADA, it’s the law for your site to be accessible to all people. And it’s just plain good citizenship. If that isn’t enough for you, consider your bottom line.
Think about your entire user pool. It’s likely that 20% cannot have a ‘normal’ web experience because of a physical disability. And if they can’t use your site, they can’t be a conversion.
Add to that the current statistics that tell us our ‘over 65’ population is growing; right now they account for about 14%, but will grow to be over 20% in the next 25 years. They are, or will, face challenges with their sight, arthritis and mobility, hearing impairment, and/or many other medical conditions that make it harder to use a computer. These folks comprise part of that ‘functional limitation’ percentage above, and are part of the customer base for most businesses with an online presence.
When you put those two groups together, it can easily make up a significant portion of your online users. Why would you alienate anyone who wants to be a patron of your site, when you can make small changes to accommodate them? It’s like putting up a sign that says ‘No Blonds will be served.’
ADA and the Web
When it comes to web compliance with ADA, it’s important to define the level of compliance needed. The official governing requirements are maintained by the W3 Consortium and are called Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0.
There are currently three different levels of WCAG compliance – Level A, Level AA, and Level AAA. In addition, there are distinctions between requirements, future requirements, recommendations, and suggestions. The most commonly used level of compliance is currently WCAG 2.0 Level AA.
Is Your Site ADA Compliant?
There are some very simple tools you can use and exercises you can do to see how well your site meets the needs of different types of disabilities.
Taking the time to do these tests really gives you a better idea how a portion of our population must surf the web everyday. And what changes can be made on your site to make it more accessible.
Here are three quick tests you can do right now to preliminarily assess your site. (We will dive into more detail in upcoming posts)
For Users Who are Colorblind
Approximately 1 in 12 men & 1 in 200 women are colorblind, about 4.5% of the total population. It means that they cannot detect differences in color.
You can test your own site with a simple download the WCAG color contrast checker. (there are others, this one works well with Firefox). This program dynamically evaluates colors on a page and indicates if the contrast ratios meet WCAG regulations that were mentioned previously.
There are also color blindness simulation tools, including a Chrome extension called Spectrum that allow simulation of web pages with different forms of color blindness. How does your site look to these millions of users? Do your images still pop? Are your buttons and navigation easy to understand? Is your content readable?
Usability without a Mouse
Now let’s think about a user who is an amputee or has motor control issues due to a condition like Parkinson’s. This person is unable to use mouse, and in some instances even a keyboard, to navigate through your site. Many will rely on a mouth driven joystick or even eye tracking software.
To perform this test, simply unplug your mouse and navigate the functions of your site with just your TAB and arrow keys. Are you able to ‘click’ where you need to? Is the site tabbing in a reasonable order – or does it jump around? Can you turn video on and off or submit forms?
Experiencing a Site with a Screen Reader
Finally, try to mimic the user experience of someone who is visually impaired. Your site should be navigable using a screen reader or magnifier, and when zoomed to larger sizes.
Download a common screen reader tool such as NVDA (Windows) or enable VoiceOver (Mac). Turn off the monitor (or just close your eyes) and navigate the site based solely on the verbal commands you hear. How is your customer experience now?
Ideally, web developers/designers should include ADA compliant features in the original site and application plans. And each time changes or updates are made to the design of your site. But many of us already have a site that is mature and don’t have the budget or the resources to start again. Or we simply overlook the need to be ADA compliant. In upcoming posts, we’ll look at ways you can thoroughly test and assess your site and steps to make your site fully compliant and user friendly to the entire population.