In 1990, a civil rights law known as the Americans with Disabilities Act was passed, prohibiting discrimination against those with disabilities. This law ensured that businesses and public service providers adhered to accommodating to people with disabilities, like having wheelchair accessible ramps, accessible water fountain spouts, adding raised and braille characters to signs, and more.
28 years later, accessibility has a new landscape – technology. New standards have been set for businesses to provide accessible websites to those with disabilities.
The benefits of having an ADA compliant website
Having a website that is ADA compliant and accessible to people with disabilities is beneficial to businesses for several reasons.
Accessibility makes the internet a more valuable resource for everyone
As of today, many websites aren’t setup to accommodate to those who have vision, hearing, learning, and other disabilities. For those who are disabled, being able to easily navigate through websites would alleviate many usability frustrations that exist with most current websites.
Businesses open up a new demographic for company websites
By not having accessible websites, many businesses are missing out on the opportunity to have people with disabilities buy their products, use their services, engage with their brands, interact with their content, and more. Business owners need to understand the importance of web accessibility and treat it as a necessity, not a feature.
Avoiding potential lawsuits
According to the New York Times, approximately 751 lawsuits have been filed against businesses regarding ADA compliance since 2015. All of those lawsuits involve businesses whose websites weren’t accessible to people with disabilities. Many of those lawsuits include restaurants and retailers, but other industries have also been involved. Lawsuits can easily be avoided, however, by having a website that’s fully accessible to everyone.
Improving your SEO
Having an ADA compliant website can be very beneficial for improving your SEO. By enhancing functionality and usability on your site, you can be awarded higher rankings by search engines, like Google, when your site is crawled. Adding alt text to images, transcribing audio files, providing text and audio descriptions for videos, adding captions to videos, having keyword-relevant link titles, descriptive H1s, and more can all benefit your SEO efforts and allow you to rank higher in search engine results pages (SERPs), potentially driving more traffic to your site.
It’s the right thing to do
Simply put, it’s always nice to help people and provide everyone with equal opportunities. By having an accessible website, you can show that your company is committed to diversifying and helping others by doing things the right way.
When looking at data from the American Community Survey (ACS), an annual survey conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau, 12.8% of the U.S. population in 2016 reported having a disability. More specifically, 3.5% of the U.S. population in 2016 had a hearing disability, while 2.4% had a vision disability. The total number of Americans with disabilities has gradually increased every year since 2010, in which 11.9% of Americans had disabilities.
As the data indicates, the total number of people living with disabilities in the U.S. is growing every year. These rising statistics make having a fully accessible website more important now than ever before.
What is ADA compliance?
The ADA was enacted to ensure that people with disabilities are given the same opportunities that are provided to the non-disabled.
The ADA protects people with disabilities from facing discrimination from:
- State and local government
- Public accomodations
- Commercial facilities
This impacts all businesses that provide goods and services to the public, including grocery stores, restaurants, bars, movie theaters, banks, hotels, medical and dental facilities, schools, forms of public transportation, museums, daycare facilities, theme parks, fitness centers, consumer goods stores, law offices, and more.
So how do businesses ensure that their websites are compliant? By meeting WCAG standards.
What is WCAG?
The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) are a series of guidelines that explain how to ensure that the content on websites is accessible to those with disabilities. It provides uniform website standards to ensure accessibility for all, no matter what device an individual is using.
Unlike the ADA, which is a law that ensures the fair treatment of people with disabilities across various facets of life, the WCAG focuses mainly on HTML accessibility, and serves as a roadmap to help those who want to make their websites more accessible to people with disabilities.
The WCAG is composed of 12 guidelines regarding web accessibility for those with disabilities, which they’ve condensed into four main principles.
- Provide text alternatives for non-text content
- Provide captions and other alternatives for multimedia
- Create content that can be presented in different ways, including by assistive technologies, without losing meaning
- Make it easier for users to see and hear content
- Make all functionality available from a keyboard.
- Give users enough time to read and use content.
- Do not use content that causes seizures.
- Help users navigate and find content.
- Make text readable and understandable.
- Make content appear and operate in predictable ways.
- Help users avoid and correct mistakes.
- Maximize compatibility with current and future user tools.
Along with the guidelines and principles, there are also varying, testable levels of success criteria, which are known as Level A, Level AA, and Level AAA. These success criteria components help determine exactly how accessible websites are, with A being a low level of accessibility and AAA being the high level of accessibility. The type of business you have will determine what level of compliance (A, AA, or AAA) your website will need to have.
Increasing demand for corporate diversity
Many companies are spending thousands of dollars, some even millions, annually on corporate diversity. This money is going toward hiring diversity officer positions, as well as implementing company diversity training programs. These decisions are being made to not only diversify internally with employees and the hiring process, but also to ensure that companies are choosing to work with diverse suppliers.
While it’s great that companies are making at least some effort to think about equal opportunities and treatment for all, they’re still neglecting their websites and one particular audience: people with disabilities.
Web accessibility tends to fly under the radar when thinking about equality for all. What companies are failing to realize is that by not investing into making their websites ADA compliant, they’re actually excluding people with disabilities by not providing them with web accessibility.
If companies truly want to commit to being diverse both internally and externally, ensuring that their websites are ADA compliant is a simple, yet necessary step they’ll have to take.
Web accessibility outlook
The future of web accessibility is constantly evolving to better serve those with disabilities. New software is being developed to make websites more accessible now than ever before. One particularly evolving element of accessibility software for businesses to keep an eye on is the screen reader.
For individuals who are blind or have other vision disabilities, screen readers can help make content on websites accessible and understandable. In November of 2017 at the Boston Accessibility Conference, experts from MIT, Open Access Technologies, Aira, and the Massachusetts Association of the Blind gathered to discuss how artificial intelligence (AI) technology could help with screen reader advancements in web accessibility for people with disabilities.
These experts talked specifically about how AI could improve screen reading software through facial and object recognition, utilizing algorithms to elicit sensory response, and using virtuality reality (VR) technology, all to help people with disabilities navigate through various types of web content.
While more research needs to be conducted for future screen reader capabilities, businesses need to keep these technological advancements on their radar and stay ahead of trends, rather than try to play catch up.
Making your website ADA compliant
Moving forward, it’s very important that businesses are proactive, rather than reactive, when it comes to web accessibility. Switching to, or building, an ADA compliant website can only help your business and expand your offerings to people with disabilities who previously haven’t been able to access your website.
As the world continues to gravitate more toward digital, websites are becoming the most vital salesperson and storefront for many businesses, so it only makes sense to invest in having an ADA compliant website that’s accessible to all.
For businesses looking to build or update their current websites to be ADA compliant, the best option is to partner with a digital agency that has a plethora of ADA and WCAG compliance knowledge and experience.
While there are online tools and checklists available that can help with accessibility, having a digital agency to identify and implement best practices and techniques will better equip your website to comply with ADA and WCAG standards. We’re proud to have earned AAA ADA compliance with our website designs, allowing our clients with websites to offer accessibility to all audiences.
We’d love to chat about how we can help make your website ADA compliant. Contact Us