President H.W. Bush signed the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) in 1990, which requires any place of public accommodation to provide access to those with physical handicaps. According to data gathered from 3.5 million households for the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey in 2017, 12.7% of the population surveyed has some type of disability.
The World Wide Web went public on August 6, 1991, and courts are now deciding which websites are and aren’t “public accommodations” regarding the act. Whatever legislation may be forthcoming, the recent hyperbolic growth of website accessibility lawsuits is a strong indicator that careful consideration for adopting website accessibility standards for any business website is paramount.
What does website accessibility entail? Developers are accustomed to adjusting for different browsers, operating systems, keyboards, etc., to accommodate users that have different hardware in place. In order to comply with the ADA, accommodations for public businesses should address those who are sightless or vision-impaired, deaf or hearing-impaired, dyslexic or otherwise cognitively challenged, physically disabled, mobilized or have bandwidth and time limitations.
The Worldwide Web Consortium (W3C), which has been acknowledged by the Department of Justice as an authority to determine what criteria is required for a website to reach ADA compliance, has created a set of guidelines. These state that web content must be perceivable, operable, understandable and robust to comply with public accommodations.
W3C states 12 issues of compliance that will require expert programming skills to update a current website or develop a new one. Our agency has helped clients with ADA-compliant website development, and we adhere to all governmental guidelines when we do.
Based on these guidelines, here are just a few ways you can start tweaking your website to become more ADA-compliant:
1. Provide an alternative interpretation to time-based media, such as audio and video scripting.
Audio Narrations: Provide text descriptions that expound and interpret the visual details in a video or other auditory media for the hearing impaired. The text can be provided in sync with the media or in a separate file. The narrative must be verbatim for any spoken word and clearly descriptive of any visual presentation.
2. Offer simple formatting options to users who rely on assistive technology.
Defining Links: Many people who have disabilities will be using assistive technology, such as a screen reader if sight impaired, blind or learning disabled. One important function to address in making your website ADA-compliant is to always insert clearly stated link destinations in the alternative tag.
A directive such as “Click Here” or “Submit” is a serious barrier for a disabled user. They would have no way of knowing the purpose of the link or where it would take them otherwise. Other considerations would include providing large groups of information in a table that is more easily read by a screen reader than the aesthetically focused version of the website that may be presented in a graphical presentation.
3. Provide suitable contrast to distinguish foreground and background colors and background sounds.
High-Contrast Definition: This provision is designed to ensure that a reader with a sight impairment can distinguish text from background colors as well as buttons and icon elements, whether they are engaging an image, pattern or solid color. For example, if the developer uses light text and the image under that text is predominately white, that text may be difficult to read and is not compliant. The contrast of text and images of text require a 4.5:1 contrast ratio.
4. Eliminate any visuals that are known to induce seizures.
Photosensitivity Measures: Flashing lights, flickering or rolling images are reported to induce epileptic seizures in many people who suffer from the disease. Avoid intense lights, strobes, shimmering, highly contrasting colors and stripes. Parallax-designed websites are especially vulnerable to high-contrast patterns and must be closely monitored and muted for compliance in this respect.
Why Should Businesses Take This Seriously?
By mid-2018, there were more federal website accessibility lawsuits filed than in all of 2017. When comparing the cost of upgrading a website presence to be ADA-compliant as opposed to expensing a disabilities lawsuit, the conclusion is obvious.
Developing goodwill alternatives is not enough to meet the criteria set forth in the W3C Guidelines; the adaptations must be robust and anticipated. For example, in a 2017 California case, Gorecki v. Dave & Buster’s, the court ruled that an accessibility website banner giving instructions to contact a live representative for website assistance provided by Dave & Buster’s was not an acceptable alternative to accessibility. Why? Because the banner was not accessible to the plaintiff, who relied on a screen reader.
The WC3 also provides a methodology for testing. There is not a shortcut method to becoming ADA website compliant. Work through the process. There are many advertisements and offers of quick fixes for your website to become ADA-compliant when you conduct a website search on the topic. But caveat emptor. You could possibly spend a significant sum and not meet the qualifying criteria in the end.
Make sure the website development company you retain is familiar with current Department of Justice’s definitions of compliance and W3C qualifying criteria and that it has the skills available to streamline the transformation.