What Is ADA Compliance and What Does It Mean for Your Website?
Is your website following the ADA compliance standards?
In 2010, the United States Department of Justice released specific guidelines for all public organizations to follow to become accessible to all people with disabilities. That includes all disabled people that use computers and smart devices.
Becoming ADA compliant is a proactive effort to not only make all organizations inclusive, but by becoming accessible to all people, it’s a proactive way for organizations to grow. If you want to learn more about the ADA compliance standards and what it takes to become ADA compliant, then keep reading.
What Is ADA Compliance?
ADA compliance is short for the Americans with Disabilities Act Standards for Accessible Design. What that means is that all electronic information and technology—i.e, your website—must be accessible to those with disabilities.
ADA compliance is often confused with 508 compliance. However, ADA compliance differs in that it’s more of a civil law that mandates the inclusion of all people, especially those with disabilities, in all areas of public life. That includes the workplace, schools, transportation, and any other places open to the general public. Both ADA and 508 have the same goals, only Section 508 is only applicable to Federal procurements.
The two compliance regulations also work alongside the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). The WCAG, however, is more of a set of formal guidelines used to improve accessibility. The focus of WCAG is primarily HTML accessibility throughout all platforms.
So, to recap, ADA compliance is the civil law that guarantees equal opportunity for disabled individuals in the public spheres of accommodation.
Who Should Follow ADA Requirements?
If all public spheres must adhere to ADA compliance standards, does that mean you do too?
Because ADA applies to all electronic information and technology, i.e., the world wide web and all its websites, ADA compliance applies to virtually all businesses and web developers. To be more specific, ADA compliance applies to the following:
- State and local government organizations
- Private organizations that employee 15 employees or more
- Organizations that work for the public’s benefit (i.e., public transportation, schools, restaurants, bakeries, grocery stores, hotels, banks, accountant offices, law offices, social service centers, gyms, healthcare providers, the United States Postal Service, and so on)
- Places of business that would be considered a place of public accommodation
Ultimately, all websites should be ADA compliant and inclusive to everyone, even if the ADA standards don’t apply to you and your organization.
What Happens if Your Website Isn’t ADA Compliant?
In most cases, when ADA compliance standards are left unmet, it’s not intentional. However, that doesn’t matter because if your website isn’t ADA compliant you’re at risk for a hefty lawsuit. Even if you unintentionally skipped the guidelines provided by the U.S. Department of Justice, you could still end up paying thousands of dollars in lawsuits if you’re website isn’t accessible to everyone.
In addition to a lawsuit, you’ll also be facing the following for being non-compliant with ADA compliance standards:
- Legal fees
- A possible settlement
- A possible public relations problem
- The costs involved in rebuilding your website so that it’s ADA compliant
In addition to all of the above, you run the risk of losing customers for not making your website accessible to those that are disabled. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the number of people with disabilities increases by the millions every few years. As of 2010, there were over 56 million people with disabilities—that’s A LOT of people potentially being turned away due to a lack of accessibility.
How to Meet ADA Compliance Standards
So, how do you make sure that your website meets the ADA compliance standards? The first recommendation you’ll receive across the board is to go by the WCAG 2.0 guidelines (mentioned above). The WCAG 2.0 guidelines have a three-tiered grading system:
Level A: Your website is only accessible by some users
Level AA: Your website is accessible by almost all users
Level AAA: Your website is accessible by all users
It’s usually good enough to meet Level AA compliance standards. However, your best bet is to build (or rebuild) your website to be 100% compliant so that you don’t leave anybody out.
Here’s a breakdown of what the core principles of the WCAG 2.0 guidelines look like:
All users should have the ability to perceive any and all information that appears on your website. That includes things like text, images, videos, and so on.
When we say perceivable, we’re talking about offering alternatives to create accessibility. For example, if your users can’t see, there should be an option to listen to the text. If they can’t hear, there should be an option for closed captioning.
All of your users should be able to navigate your website with ease. Any user should be able to utilize every feature you offer, such as site tools. This is something that likely has to be written into your HTML, which means you’ll need a web developer who is current with ADA compliance standards.
Aside from being able to “view” your website and navigate through it, your users also need to be able to understand what they’re reading, listening to, and so on. One way to implement this concept is by providing instructions that come with the site tools, navigation menu, forms, or any other features your website offers.
Even if your disabled users are supported by assisted technologies, you still want them to have the same overall experience as your non-disabled users. That means no matter how the content of your website is delivered, it should all be universal. Don’t shorten descriptions, directions, explanations, etc. Treat all users the same by providing them with the full user experience.