You may be asking yourself: do websites have to be ADA compliant? When it comes to designing your website, accessibility is an extremely valuable trait for those with disabilities that impair their ability to use your site. Having an online presence as a business website owner means making sure that anyone is able to see what you have to offer. That includes using accessibility features that work with assistive technology on your user interface.
One of the best ways to ensure your site is readable for those with disabilities is through compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (also known as the ADA). ADA regulation has various guidelines and procedures to make sure your website is easy to read and access for those who engage with technology differently.
For those wondering if websites have to follow ADA compliance standards, and what ADA website compliance is in the first place, these should be all the answers you need, both to achieve it and improve your site’s viewing experience without an accessibility issue.
What Makes Websites ADA Compliant?
Unlike many other types of accessibility, website ADA compliance doesn’t require a specific seal of approval or certification process. Instead, it more relies on how well you’re following the WCAG, which stands for Web Content Accessibility Guidelines. These exist to help make a compliant website that is accessible to users of any ability, and provide a basis that your company can be assessed and audited through.
There are various different editions of WCAG, as the guidelines are updated every few years to ensure they capture the advancements of websites and technology. The most recent version of the WCAG is version 2.2 from 2021, but has been revised from version 2.0 from 2008 as website standards and trends have changed over the history of the internet.
You might not need or be able to follow every guideline, but you should ideally follow as many as possible to give your site an accessible design with as few barriers as possible. This primarily means using clear language and links that don’t trick consumers, having clear description text to ensure your website is easy to comprehend, and giving users with physical disabilities the option to navigate your site without different devices hardware setups.
Do Websites Need To Be ADA Compliant?
If your website is considered commercial or providing a service, then you should strive for ADA compliance. Failing to provide this won’t mean your site is forcibly shut down, since there aren’t direct laws in most cases that state that you must be accessible, but not complying to ADA standards puts you at risk for descrimination lawsuits on account of your website being actively challenging for those with various disabilities.
This is because engaging in commercial activities on a website requires users to be able to interact with your site. Having a website that turns away users due to poor accessibility options means you won’t be able to do business with them, and various court trials have ruled in the past that this can come across as similar to refusing service in physical businesses.
Beyond that, these options are also just helpful to have for users of any ability. It makes little difference to those who are comfortable with your website’s standard appearance, but if anyone with or without disabilities might have trouble with a given feature or page, having such options can make customers feel more interested and satisfied doing business through your website.
Levels Of ADA Compliance
When striving for ADA compliance, there are a few different tiers you can achieve that determine just how compliant you are. This is often based on how many different accessibility considerations you have according to the WCAG, and how well they’re being implemented, and auditors can usually use these levels to tell you how well you’re doing.
This is the lowest rating of compliance, which essentially states that some users can access your site, but that there are large groups that can’t. This isn’t to say you’re completely inaccessible, as many people with certain disabilities can interact with standard websites quite easily, but this rating dictates little consideration for the WCAG.
This is the moderate level of compliance, and generally the minimum ranking you want to achieve. It essentially means that most users are able to access your site, but there may be certain additional features your site is lacking. There’s definitely more you can do for those of different capabilities, but this ranking generally means you aren’t actively harmful to those with disabilities.
This is the best and most ideal level of compliance, essentially meaning your site is navigable and usable by nearly any user. This means you have a large amount of common features that ADA compliance asks for, resulting in an easy-to-read website with multiple options for those who have trouble viewing its standard form. This is not only great for those with disabilities but also for standard users who might not be comfortable with your website’s default style, making it an excellent goal to work towards.
Categories Of ADA Compliance
There are tons of features you can add to your site to improve its accessibility, and some of the best additions you can make will be listed later in this article. That said, the ADA’s guidelines are incredibly long and have wide varieties of criteria that can be followed, and understanding what accessibility looks like is much easier when divided into these five categories of the WCAG.
This section is meant to refer to alternate ways that users can consume the content of a given web page, primarily helping those with visual and auditory disabilities. For example, if your website is entirely based on visual images, you need to make sure there’s alt text or captions that can explain what the images appear to for anyone who can’t properly view them.
This also includes having closed captioning and audio descriptions of any audible content for those with hearing issues. This text also must be clear and comprehensive, as those with reading challenges need to be able to understand the meaning of the text without too much time or difficulty.
Rather than alternative options, the presentation section of the WCAG mainly refers to the layout being easy to comprehend, primarily in terms of a visual sense. This includes having meaningful orders of text and items to easily understand the flow of the page, text resizing options through the website or browser, and strong color contrast to ensure your text is always readable.
Many of these can often be done through the browser itself, but it’s important to make sure these functions work properly with your site and don’t harm the flow of information, or the readability of your text. Presentation can also involve some non-visual options, such as having control over any audio that appears on your website, including the ability to mute or pause any sound that plays from video or audio files.
This category is much more broad, but mainly involves your users being able to interact with your site easily and quickly. Some examples include clear links to skip certain headers or menus, options to pause any content that moves or scrolls along the page, and avoiding any time-based restrictions that might interrupt someone’s user experience.
Most importantly, this section also specifies that your site must be accessible solely through keyboards, since many forms of disability make use of a mouse difficult or impossible. To do this, you have to make sure any links and options can be accessed through just the use of a keyboard, and they should be able to go back and forth between pages without needing to reload your site.
Understandability is much more about the quality of the text and language used, making it easy to comprehend for those reading or listening to the content. This can include features like language options, descriptive headings and page titles that clearly indicate what to expect, and alternate ways to access pages to make it easy to find specific content or resources.
Many of these are also accomplishable through browsers that feature automatic translation functions, but your site still should be written clearly in ways that these programs work effectively. Your website shouldn’t be challenging to understand, both by those with disability and those without.
The final aspect of the WCAG that should be followed for ADA compliance is predictability, which is to say your website shouldn’t be doing anything unexpected or unexplainable. This can include things like error pages giving clear feedback and support, links sending users to reasonable and related pages, and consistent labels.
One of the most interesting aspects of this section is in the coding for your site itself, as there’s one area that specifies your HTML elements are free of errors and properly nested. This is mostly because errors will make your site harder to navigate, and less compatible with other accessibility programs that your site should be able to work with.
How To Improve ADA Compliance
The short version is to add as many features as possible from the WCAG. As mentioned earlier, many of these features can be accomplished through the browser itself, but any options and support you can give to users with disabilities will result in a higher ADA compliance rating, and be more supportive to any potential users of your website.
How To Check ADA Compliance
The main way to verify just how compliant you are to the ADA and WCAG is through accessibility audits, which can be provided by digital marketing agencies and accessibility departments. These will give you a clean and clear description of what things are fully missing, what can be improved, and what you’re doing well.
Following these guidelines on their own is a great way to start improving your website’s accessibility, but having a third party check it out is still the best way to confirm your ADA compliance.
Following ADA compliance is not just about being helpful to those with disabilities, but also contributes to making a better website overall. Many of the different features listed by the WCAG improve the experience for all users, and make your site much easier to navigate and use. That said, the ability to make your site welcome to all users is a great value to uphold, and ensures that anyone is able to engage with your website or business if they choose.