As a business owner, you may not have given much thought to whether your website is accessible to people with disabilities. And so far, U.S. organizations aren’t legally required to adjust their sites toward any particular ADA guidelines.
What is ADA-Compliance? “The Department of Justice (DOJ) published the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Standards for Accessible Design in September 2010. These standards state that all electronic and information technology must be accessible to people with disabilities.” (Interactive Accessibility)
However, many forward-thinking businesses have been working toward better accessibility since 1999, when the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) first recommended guidelines as such. Some, especially those funded by or involved in trade with the U.S. government, are trying to protect themselves from potential litigation that could be based on ADA guidelines (regardless of the significant gray areas involved). Some are seizing the opportunity to expand their audiences. And others simply view better accessibility as the right thing to do.
“The internet provides global access to information, stores, education, financial institutions, audio and video, but often remains restricted or dependent on assistive devices for millions of people to gain unhindered access,” notes Kim Krause Berg in Search Engine Journal.
“Fortunately, there are standards in place that unify development and allow the world to use web-based solutions with universally accepted protocol.”
Why worry about WCAG?
The latest version of those standards, known as Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, was just released in February as WCAG 2.2. The document includes 13 guidelines and recommends organizations focus on four keywords as they make changes: Perceivable, operable, understandable and robust. Its goal is to encourage organizations to make their sites as functional as possible for people who are blind or vision-impaired; deaf or hearing-impaired; speech-impaired; limited in movement; subject to photosensitivity; or hindered in the use of mobile internet-access devices. Certain accommodations are also advised for people with learning or cognitive limitations.
While the recommended changes may require an investment of time, money and manpower, experts advise that the organizations could benefit in the following ways:
- The improvements could make your site available to entirely new audiences and/or markets. Americans with disabilities make up a full 26% of the U.S. population. And research shows discretionary income for U.S. working-age people with disabilities is a whopping $21 billion — greater than the working African-American and Hispanic market segments combined.
- The changes could better protect your organization from lawsuits, particularly if it benefits from any kind of government funding or trade. In 2018 alone, one group of attorneys identified at least 2,250 federal court lawsuit filings across the nation related to allegedly inaccessible websites — a 177% increase over 2017 numbers.
- Compliance could generate better Google rankings for your website, as Google favors sites that offer a wider range of usability.
- Compliance can position your organization or brand as one that actively promotes inclusiveness. Many will tell you that it’s the right thing to do from an ethical standpoint. As of now, Americans with disabilities are nearly three times as likely to stay completely offline than those without disabilities. That could be a huge hindrance in their lives. “We can use our smartphones, equipped with any number of apps, to complete a huge variety of tasks from information searches to purchasing tickets, using public transport or paying bills,” notes the Bureau of Internet Accessibility (BOIA), an advocate for universal internet availability. “These tasks have been identified by the Department of Justice as essential for modern living, and it is therefore vital people with disabilities are not prevented from also being able to take advantage.”
Choices for change: Expanding your digital horizons
Ready to get started with your website conversion? Much can be achieved by simply walking through your site and thinking about how its main features might be difficult or impossible to navigate if you were visually, verbally or hearing impaired. But you may also wish to hire a professional audit service that can determine whether your product works with assistive technologies and meets WCAG standards. After that, you could assign an internal team member to regularly audit your site and/or recruit people with disabilities to conduct testing.
[Read More: Brandpoint’s Customer-First Web Design]
In the meantime, here are some basic best practices for making your site more WCAG-friendly.
Think keyboard, not mouse
The visually impaired often can’t follow a cursor through use of a mouse, but can aptly utilize tab and arrow prompts via their keyboards. Optimize shortcut tabs that can skip to main content, jump to prior pages, take users to their cart and otherwise direct actions.
Be strategic with color and contrast
Visually impaired users can struggle to see text and images that are close in color. Consider also describing product colors instead of just showing them.
Be generous with correct alt text
Optimize this handy tool to describe images included in web content and to identify links, menus and CTAs.
Maintain logical patterns of content
Randomly placed text and images can confound those with 20-20 vision and be a dealer-breaker for the visually impaired.
Divvy up copy
Break up lengthy, hard-to-follow paragraphs and use heading tags to maintain logical order.
Ditch placeholder text
Placeholder text can’t be seen by screen readers and must be exchanged for labels within contact forms and login pages. To designate required fields in forms, use an asterisk, an exclamation mark and the word “required” in lieu of pop-ups.
Avoid automatic navigation and media
Captions, video transcripts and audio descriptions all make multimedia more accessible. Ensure your video player is keyboard friendly, your videos aren’t on auto-play, your slide shows include alt text and your slides can be forwarded via keyboard commands.
Use descriptive text that tells visually impaired users where links will take them, avoiding vague words like “read more” or “click here.”
Screen readers often can’t handle chronological translation of tables with complex rows and columns. Where possible, add in descriptive headers that explain what’s being viewed, using HTML scope attribute and HTML table captions to their full advantage.
Reach your full audience with these changes
Ultimately, changes that align with WCAG will make your website easier to navigate for all.
“Incorporating accessibility features such as captions or text-to-speech capabilities in a website does involve additional costs to organizations and developers,” advises the BOIA. “But there is also opportunity cost associated with not providing those features, effectively preventing customers from being able to access your site and services.”