Are you routinely checking your digital properties for accessibility? Websites that serve the public should be free of barriers for all people, including those with disabilities. Organizations that do not wish to violate the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) – or discriminate against millions of U.S. citizens – should be aware that online accessibility is a civil right.
Unfortunately, non-compliance with the ADA is still widespread. Just consider that over 10,000 Title III ADA lawsuits were filed in U.S. federal courts in 2018, according to Seyfarth Shaw, an international legal firm that tracks these cases. This was the highest number ever. Almost a fifth, by their reckoning, appeared to address inaccessible websites.¹
Yet too many businesses continue to assert that they are simply unaware of the law as it applies to web accessibility, and that they’re being unfairly targeted. According to a recent news story by a Tampa-area TV station, many believe that people with disabilities, before lodging an official complaint, should be “reaching out to the businesses and asking for compliance.” One business owner even told the reporter, “I never in my wildest dreams thought a website would have to have accommodations. My builder knew about ADA compliance for my physical location. My web developer did not.”²
Yet the ADA has been enforced since 1990, and web accessibility obligations have been included in ADA settlement agreements for almost 20 years. If your web design team is not talking with you about online accessibility, perhaps you need a partner who has more expertise in this area.
How Websites are Checked
Websites are generally accepted as compliant with the ADA if they meet the technical requirements of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.0), Level AA. The success criteria listed in this popular resource are designed to ensure that websites can be used by people with vision disabilities, Deafness, limited hand dexterity, memory loss, attention deficit disorder, epilepsy and more. The latest version of the guidelines, WCAG 2.1, expands the guidance provided in the previous iteration to include more coverage of mobile accessibility and provisions for people with low vision and cognitive and learning disabilities.
How do you know if your website meets these criteria and is compliant with the ADA? There are automated checkers that you can download, or go online to use, that will search a web page or website and attempt to verify whether or not certain conditions are met. But they don’t catch everything – not even close – and they can misidentify barriers in addition to missing barriers altogether. In an ideal situation, a team of human experts will use automated checkers in combination with functional and manual tests to do a full evaluation of your digital properties. They’ll then let you know where the accessibility gaps are. This type of assessment is much more reliable and thorough.
You may be wondering how a website can present barriers to people with disabilities, and how it can be made more usable. Here are some examples of the various features that an accessibility partner will check for:
- Blinking or flickering content
If something on a web page is flickering or blinking too quickly, it can trigger a seizure in someone with epilepsy. Content shouldn’t blink more than three times per second.
- Content that uses color alone to convey information
If different colors are being used to indicate different things – for example, if all new products have red boxes around them, and older products have blue boxes – and that’s the only way this information is being conveyed, then people who are colorblind won’t be able to distinguish between the two categories.
- Images without alternative text
Many people with vision disabilities use a type of assistive technology when they go online called a screen reader. It literally reads aloud the text on the screen for them. Images on a website should be coded with text alternatives that provide a brief description or explain their purpose, so a screen reader can read them. A qualified ADA website checker will look for text alternatives for images. They’ll also check that the text is accurate and appropriate, and they’ll ensure that images that are decorative or otherwise not relevant have no alt text.
- An inaccessible CAPTCHA
Some designers make use of CAPTCHAs, online security tests that prove the website visitor is a human. But image-only CAPTCHAs (for example, those that require the user to click on all photos that have buses in them) exclude people who cannot see. Users should have the option to use an audio or text CAPTCHA.
- Audio content without a transcript
If a website contains audio, such as the recording of a radio interview with the company president, there should be a transcript available for people who can’t hear the interview. Importantly, that transcript should be checked for accuracy. It should be free of grammar and spelling mistakes, and should include descriptions of any relevant background sounds.
- Forms without labels, or without clear labels
Many websites use online forms – users are required to fill in various fields and then hit “submit.” Forms are used for ordering products, registering for seminars, contacting organizations, signing up for e-newsletters and so on. However, if form fields aren’t labelled properly, then many people with disabilities, including those who use screen readers and those with learning disabilities, may not be able to fill them out.
- Keyboard traps
Not every person has the ability to operate a computer mouse or trackpad. Many people with disabilities rely on the keyboard when they’re using a computer. They may use the arrow, tab and page up/down keys to move around a web page, for example. If there’s something on a web page that can only be used by clicking a mouse, these individuals are excluded. If the various elements of a web page are not coded in a logical sequence, so that users end up jumping all over the page when they’re trying to navigate with a keyboard, this can be frustrating. If users can move to a page element with their keyboard – for example, the search window – but then can’t move out of it again unless they click a mouse, this is called a “keyboard trap.” It, too, prevents many people from using the web page.
If you haven’t already had your website checked for ADA compliance, it’s a good idea to arrange for an assessment. Not only will you reduce the risk of violating a federal law, you’ll send a message of welcome to the vast community of users with disabilities, and their allies. You’ll also reap the many other business advantages of having an accessible site, such as better online visibility and easier use by more people in a wider variety of situations. With the ADA coming up to its thirtieth anniversary, organizations should be paying more attention to their obligation to remove online barriers. There’s no compelling reason not to.
Request a personalized assessment of your website accessibility from the experts at eSSENTIAL Accessibility today.
- United States: Number Of ADA Title III Lawsuits Filed In 2018 Tops 10,000, Mondaq, January 2019
- Businesses ‘sitting ducks’ for lawsuits because websites aren’t ADA compliant, WFLA News Channel 8, February 2019