Updated March 26, 2021
The phrase “ADA compliance” has been echoing through the halls of the Internet for quite some time. At this point, it’s something that all businesses and website managers should at least be aware of, if not actively addressing. And if you’re not, it’s time to get with the program and consider performing an ADA compliance audit on your own website or mobile application.
Here’s a quick recap, in case you’re really in the dark (although we do encourage you to read up on the law beyond the following paragraphs—we’re not lawyers, after all).
The Americans With Disabilities Act is a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities, spanning all areas of public life including the accessibility of public spaces. Most items of compliance are pretty obvious and things we’re all used to seeing in everyday life: wheelchair ramps, braille on ATMs, automatic door openers, etc. Accessibility requirements have come to include websites and mobile apps as well, since they are technically “places of public accommodation,” especially for businesses that exist entirely online.
The tricky part is that there aren’t explicit guidelines for digital entities just yet—the Department of Justice is still determining the specifics. But it’s safe to assume that a website that is completely inaccessible to people with disabilities won’t fly. In fact, many law firms have been lining their coffers for a number of years bringing up cases against businesses with non-compliant websites.
That’s a legal and financial headache I’m sure most businesses don’t want to deal with.
Of course, ADA compliance is more than just a matter of legal obligation. It’s also a matter of providing a good user experience to your visitors. If your business depends on your website for marketing and lead generation, it doesn’t make sense for it to be inaccessible to a whole category of potential customers. Plus, taking steps to make your website accessible to people with disabilities isn’t just business-smart—it’s the kind thing to do as well.
Undertaking your own ADA compliance audit can feel daunting, but it’s important. And while there are no specific guidelines set by the DOJ, the WCAG 2.1 guidelines from the World Wide Web Consortium are widely regarded as the best standard for accessibility on the Web today.
So, let’s get into some of the things you should be looking out for while auditing your site.
1. How are you handling imagery and video?
According to a 2016 National Health Interview Survey (NHIS), 10% of American adults have some kind of visual impairment, ranging from needing glasses to complete blindness. That’s 25.5 million people! Furthermore, approximately 15% of American adults (37.5 million) have reported having some trouble hearing.
Therefore, one of your top priorities during an ADA compliance audit is making sure that everyone can see and hear the damn thing!
There are a few different questions you can ask yourself during your audit, including:
- Can images and videos be made more accessible by adding audio descriptions, including the narration of changes in setting, gesturing, and other details?
- Do your videos and audio-only content include transcriptions and/or text captions?
- Does your media (image, video, and audio) have descriptive alt tags that can be interpreted by screen-reading software?
- Do your graphics that only enhance the design and don’t serve to add to your page’s message have empty alt tags?
- Do you avoid using flashing images, video, and GIFs that may cause seizures?
- Do you use alt tags for image maps and for graphics associated with the image map so that a person using a screen reader will have access to the links and information?
Most, if not all of these items are things that you can easily take care of without technical assistance. If your content management system was built correctly, you should have access to add alt tags and update content across the site as needed. And if you’re currently in the process of building or redesigning your site, it may behoove you to work with your designer or agency to confirm that everything will be designed and coded to these standards.
2. How are you handling links and text?
Little thought is often given to users with visual impairments during the web design process or creation of marketing content. Many are simply unaware of these physical challenges unless they directly affect them or people in their lives (hence why the ADA exists in the first place—duh).
There are, in fact, many ways for visually impaired users to browse the Web and consume content the same as anyone else. Whether they can do so undeterred, of course, depends largely on how accessible that content is made, particularly regarding text and links.
When designing your site and/or auditing your text content, ask yourself:
- Do you allow for adjustments in text color and font size?
- Do your text links clearly indicate what the link is supposed to do (not just “click here”)?
- Do you avoid, where possible, using PDFs that cannot be read by screen-reading software?
- Is your HTML code adjusted to include headers for data tables (excluding tables used for page layout)?
This is definitely an area where design and content overlap, as many people with visual impairments depend on high-contrast colors to be able to read text on a screen. Therefore, you should work closely with your web designer or agency to make sure your site doesn’t include low-contrast color pairings, or that you at least include a high-contrast viewing option.
3. Can your website be navigated in multiple ways?
There are many tools out there that people with disabilities can use to navigate websites freely—and it’s up to those of us running those websites to not hinder them in any way. This can range from screen-reading software for the visually impaired (as mentioned before) to your average keyboard, which can be used in place of a mouse or trackpad for users with motor disabilities.
When conducting your ADA compliance audit, consider these points:
- Are all of your text and alt tags readable by screen-reading software?
- Do your forms have labels and field descriptions that can be read by screen-reading software?
- Do your pages have a “skip navigation” link that allows screen-reading software to move straight to the main content of the page?
- Can the keyboard be used to navigate your pages without landing users in a dead end from which they can’t navigate back?
- Do you avoid having keyboard focus get stuck on one particular element when tabbing through a page?
A good place to start here is to put yourself in the user’s shoes and try to navigate the site yourself without the use of a mouse. All of the dead ends that someone could potentially run into will make themselves immediately apparent, and you’ll gain a better understanding of how well your site does or does not flow.
There are myriad benefits to ensuring that your site is accessible, from avoiding legal action from eagle-eyed law firms to it just being the right, user-friendly thing to do. By performing an ADA compliance audit, you’ll be able to get more intimately acquainted with the nuts and bolts of your site in order to make it something available and valuable to all users.
It’s a time-consuming process, yes, but there are many more resources out there to refer to as you audit the site yourself, as well as third parties who can perform the audit for you and provide actionable recommendations.
Whatever way you decide to do it, it’s important to recognize when it’s time and to act fast—especially before you get one of those pesky legal notices in the mail or lose out on a great lead.