You’ve likely heard of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Enacted in 1990, this law protects the rights of those with impairments that impact how they use and interact with the same services as everyone else. More explicitly, it prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in all areas of public life.
Your first thoughts probably jump to accessibility of physical spaces — like a wheelchair ramp to the entrance of an office building or business — but did you know that the ADA applies to your website as well?
Quick note: we aren’t lawyers, and this blog is not legal advice in any way.
What is ADA compliance?
ADA Compliance for websites refers to how easily someone with a disability can use your website.
How important is ADA compliance?
To understand how important ADA Compliance is becoming, just look at grocery retailer Winn Dixie, who lost a lawsuit last year to claims that its website discriminated against users with visual impairments who rely on screen reader software.
This is one of multiple lawsuits to spring up in the past few years and months alleging that websites aren’t quite up to snuff when it comes to accommodating the needs of all users. In part, the increased attention likely stems from our growing reliance on websites, apps, and digital tools to access common services and communicate with brands. E-commerce sales, for example, jumped by 16% in 2017. By comparison, in-store sales grew by 3.6% during the same time frame.
This, of course, carries the conversation past basic legal compliance and raises the argument that websites should be ADA compliant simply because everyone — including people with disabilities — should be able to use them.
According to the 2012 Census, it’s estimated that nearly 57 million Americans live with a disability — including:
- about 8 million with a vision impairment,
- more than 7 million with a hearing impairment,
- 15 million with a cognitive, mental, or emotional impairment, and
- nearly 20 million with an impairment that affects their ability to lift or grasp objects.
People living with disabilities interact with technology, websites, apps, and digital resources differently — often with the aid of tools like screen readers, special keyboards, or captioning software. Making your website incompatible with tools like these alienates a potentially large portion of your audience. It’s not just bad PR; it’s also bad business.
Who needs to be compliant?
You can probably guess our answer to this: everyone should be compliant. More specifically, though, all federal government websites had to meet certain levels of ADA compliance as of January 2018, and those lawsuits we mentioned expand required compliance to anyone providing a “public service.” Specifically, healthcare, finance, large retail, and other major industries should be making web accessibility a priority if they haven’t already.
How do I become compliant?
Your first step toward compliance is evaluating your website to find out how much work you have ahead of you. If you’re wanting to dig into some data, SiteSort from PowerMapper is a downloadable tool that will identify accessibility issues across your entire site — plus a lot more.
Assuming your website is in decent shape otherwise, meeting accessibility standards won’t require an entire rebuild. Typically, even minor updates can make a huge difference for people living with disabilities who want to use your website. This can include everything from adding alt tags and increasing font sizes to restructuring your content or navigation to better interact with screen readers.
The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) is the de facto authority on establishing web standards and provides comprehensive guidelines for improving accessibility across desktop, tablet, and mobile experiences for people living with all kinds of disabilities.
Where can I find a compliance checklist?
If you need help making your website more accessible to your audience, we’re here to help. Tell us about your project.