As an English-speaking American, I’m used to walking into any store, restaurant, government building, or transportation center and being able to communicate with people through written or spoken word. But if you’ve ever been in a foreign country where you don’t speak the native tongue, you’ll know the frustration that comes from being unable to communicate. Pointing at pictures to choose your dinner or fumbling through Google translate can hinder your ability to explore unfamiliar places or try new things.
That’s what it’s like when a disabled person tries to use a website that doesn’t comply with ADA standards. People with disabilities can face challenges in doing everyday tasks that most of us take for granted, like using a computer mouse or reading a screen clearly. When a website fails to consider their needs, it makes for a frustrating experience.
Today’s technologies, research, and innovation have led to standards that help websites become more accessible. However, many business owners don’t even know that these capabilities exist, or where to start with making their site ADA compliant. If you’re new to website accessibility or simply need some assistance, here is an overview of what accessibility is and how you can make your website accessible for all users.
What makes a website ADA compliant?
The WCAG (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines) 2.1 is considered the standard for defining website accessibility. These rules were compiled and published by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). Guidelines range from simple content considerations, to design methods, to more complex coding standards.
The WCAG defines accessibility with four categories:
Perceivable – Can users easily see and hear the content, and are there alternatives and captions for non-text content?
- Transcribe all audio clips and video clips (with audio)
- Provide a clear description for any data including tables, graphs, and charts
- You must use accurate (no keyword stuffing), contextual alt text descriptions for all website images.
Operable – Can users operate your website with commonly accessible tools?
- The website must be navigable by keyboard, not just a mouse or scrolling tool
- Does your website contain images that suddenly and repeatedly flash? It shouldn’t. The ADA wants to ensure users who have a heightened risk of seizures can use your website with no issues
Understandable – Does the content of your page make sense, and is it predictable? Does your design follow a common pattern?
- Include intuitive, easy ways to navigate the website menu items, buttons, and features
- Make sure mobile menus and dropdowns with content are clearly labeled
- Have large, easy-to-spot exit icons or text to close out any popups
- Give sections straightforward labels. Don’t try to be too clever as accessibility tools may not be able to interpret the content
Robust – Is your content and website code able to be read and understood by assistive technologies?
- Is your website markup (HTML) semantic? Is it readable?
- Is the coding hierarchy correct? Are titles listed with H1s or title tags? Do you have subheading listed out of order?
A, AA and AAA website compliance guidelines
To provide more clarity, the W3C created three levels of compliance, A, AA, and AAA. When a website meets the minimum standard, it can be considered to have A-level compliance, with AAA compliance being the highest.
These levels get really granular. (To see the full list, check out the W3C list of standards here.) While it’s best to be as compliant as possible, the accepted goal for most websites is AA compliance. Even the W3C admits that AAA compliance is impossible for most websites: “It is not recommended that Level AAA conformance be required as a general policy for entire sites because it is not possible to satisfy all Level AAA Success Criteria for some content.” [Source: W3C]
How does my website measure up against the ADA Compliant Guidelines?
There are a number of helpful tools to test your website for compliance. None of these will give you a full view of the site because their ability to crawl pages is limited, but you can use them as a starting point to get your site on track.
Here are resources to test how your website stacks up. For our purposes, we’ll list some tools that work with WordPress websites, but there are similar apps for other CMSs.
Online URL Test: WebAccessibility.com
Chrome Browser Extension: SiteImprove Accessibility Chrome Extension
WordPress Plugin: WP ADA Compliance Checker
WordPress Plugin: Accessibility by UserWay
What to do if you failed the ADA compliance website test
By becoming aware of your website’s accessibility weaknesses, you’ve already taken the first step that many people never even begin. Even Beyoncé was sued earlier this year for having her website out of compliance!* Reaching A-level or AA-level compliance is less difficult than it may seem, and doesn’t have to be done in a day. Here are four practical steps you can take to start:
- Put up an accessibility statement page on your website. You can generate one here.
- If you’re using WordPress, consider this accessibility plugin that adds accessibility-friendly features to any website immediately.
- Using the tools we listed above, make a spreadsheet of all the errors.
- Divide and conquer. Have someone go through the website content (pages, blog posts, images, and attachments) while your developers work on coding and backend updates.
The internet should be accessible to all users. Companies that strive to be inclusive and meet ADA standards in other areas of their business shouldn’t neglect to meet disabled persons’ needs on their websites. If your website is behind, take the time to make these updates. And if you’re looking to redesign your site, make sure the team doing the work makes accessibility a priority.
* Are you facing an ADA compliance lawsuit? First of all, don’t freak out! But there are some things you’ll want to do right away. If you’re facing a lawsuit, we recommend taking a few steps immediately and then hiring an agency with experience building accessible websites to thoroughly evaluate and update your site to meet ADA compliance. If you have an in-house team, send them this blog and have them comb through the links. It could be a long night!