Creating and maintaining a website is no easy task. Enterprising small businesses without large IT departments strive to ensure that their website regularly presents quality content, to quickly analyze traffic data, and to optimize their website’s visibility through search engines. But among all these important tasks, one important aspect of website building and maintenance often gets lost in the shuffle– ADA compliance.
What is the ADA?
Hopefully, most of us are already familiar with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Passed in July of 1990, the ADA outlaws discrimination against people with disabilities and ensures equal access to participation in public life, including employment, use of goods and services, and more. The ADA has ensured important strides towards equal protection and inclusivity, including mandating physical accessibility standards, outlawing employment discrimination, and providing accommodations for students and employees with disabilities.
What many fail to realize is that the ADA also applies to a larger variety of contexts– including website accessibility. There are a wide variety of disabilities that impact a website accessibility, including blindness, photosensitivity, and low vision, deafness or being hard of hearing, mobility limits and intellectual or developmental disabilities. All private businesses with 15 or more employees, any state or local government agencies, and any company operating for public benefit must comply with the ADA and provide accommodations for these users.
Consequences of Non-compliance
The importance of ADA website compliance cannot be overstated. First and foremost, ADA compliance is required by law. Noncompliance carries hefty financial, professional, and ethical consequences.
ADA violations can lead to fines up to $75,000 for the first offence and $150,000 for further offenses. For small businesses, failure to comply with ADA standards could lead to a devastating financial setback, if not bankruptcy.
On top of fines, website inaccessibility can open your business to lawsuits, which can be as expensive, if not more, than mandated penalties. These lawsuits are not a hypothetical consequence; since 2017, the numbers of website accessibility lawsuit filings in federal courts have increased steadily each year. In 2020 alone, 2,523 lawsuits were filed, representing a 12% increase from 2019 (Federal Website Accessibility Lawsuits Increased in 2020 Despite Mid-Year Pandemic Lull). Major companies like Amazon, Hershey’s, Apple, Netflix, and more have also been named in website accessibility lawsuits, with many resulting in major out-of-court settlements.
If your business does manage to survive such a financial hit, the publicity and reputation damage of such a lawsuit could very well provide the final blow, as accessibility and inclusion of people with disabilities have become more visible in recent years, the public has taken an increasingly hardline stance against entities that refuse to provide accommodations.
Diversity and Inclusion
More important than finances, however, are the principles of inclusion and diversity that the business world has yet to fully live up to. Information and participation in public life must be accessible to everyone, regardless of ability. According to the CDC, 26% of American adults face a type of disability. It’s time to expand access and provide accommodations for a large portion of the American public, and we can take the first step by ensuring that all our business dealings are available and accessible to everyone.
How to Make Your Website ADA Compliant
Step 1: Website Compliance Audit
The first step to making your website ADA compliant is a website audit. This will help you identify where your website fails to meet ADA standards and establish areas for improvement. There are several different options available for auditing.
You can, of course, manually audit your website. One great resource for this is the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) website; WCAG has developed international standards of accessibility and provides guidelines to meet ADA standards. Their guidelines follow four primary principles:
Perceivable: All website components and content (especially text, images, and video), must be perceivable to all users, either directly or via alternative accommodations.
Operable: All website components must be operable by all users, including navigating your website and engaging with its tools and features.
Understandable: All website components and content should be easy to understand; adding instructions to tools and adding content in plain language will assist all users in easily accessing your website’s features.
Robust: All website components and content must provide users an equivalent experience; partial efforts at accommodations or a reduced-feature version of your website will not provide equal participation for all users.
The WCAG is an incredibly useful tool; it contains comprehensive strategies for accommodating users of all abilities and provides multiple alternative approaches for ensuring compliance. For small businesses, however, a full manual WCAG audit may not be feasible; the guidelines are comprehensive, detailed, and may be complex for those unfamiliar with website building and maintenance.
The second option, then, is using free online tools to conduct your audit for you. The W3C (Web Accessibility Initiative) website provides a list of tools that can help you evaluate your website’s current accessibility and can point to specific areas of improvement. This list includes, but is not limited to, the ATAG (Authoring Tool Accessibility Guidelines) Report Tool and the WCAG-EM Report Tool: Website Accessibility Evaluation Report Generator.
Finally, seeking outside expertise may be the best way to get a full picture of your website’s accessibility issues and the road to fixing them. An experienced team with an eye for accommodations issues is often the most nuanced and comprehensive way to set your business on the way to full compliance. A PC40 web developer in St. Louis can help you determine where your website currently stands in terms of ADA compliance.
Step 2: Addressing Compliance Issues
Once areas for improvement have been identified, you can move forward with addressing compliance issues one by one. Some of the most common fixes that can be accomplished without outside assistance are adding transcripts for audio and visual content, providing captions for all videos, and adding alternative text to videos, images, and navigation tools. You can also ensure that your website layout is consistent and organized to confirm that navigation is easy and predictable.
More complex issues, however, might require installing ADA compliance plugins such as Wave or Accessibility Suite, or seeking professional assistance. This is a slightly more expensive, but significantly easier, faster, and more reliable solution for small businesses. And in comparison to the potential costs of failing to make your website ADA compliant, the cost of a professional audit and web (re)design is a small price to pay.
Need Help Making Your Website ADA Compliant?
PC40 Interactive is a creative content and digital marketing company in St. Louis that is devoted to providing digital solutions through interactive design and advanced marketing strategies. If you’re finding the stakes and complexities of ADA compliance overwhelming, come to PC40– we are happy to assist with all your compliance needs.
Call (314) 781-8880 to learn more!