In the United States, various laws seek to help ensure all people have equal rights. The Americans with Disabilities Act or ADA helps to create equal rights for people who have disabilities.
The ADA can impact your business in many ways. You may already have an idea of the effects on your physical location, but you also need to consider how to make your website ADA compliant.
Background on the ADA
According to the U.S. Department of Justice, the ADA became law in 1990 when President George H.W. Bush signed the bill. The act was quite similar in structure and design to the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
It is a comprehensive act covering civil rights for individuals with disabilities of any kind, acting as equal employment legislation, along with covering equality in other areas, such as housing and business. The goal was to create a fair environment where people with disabilities could enjoy life and have the same opportunities as non-disabled individuals.
The ADA extends protection to anyone who has an impairment, either mental or physical, that limits his or her life in a significant way. The disability must alter the person’s life so that they have substantial limitations of at least one major life activity. It also covers anyone who others may perceive as having a qualifying disability even if they do not.
When considering the impact on your business website, some key points of the law to keep in mind include:
- Everyone can assess the website and all of its content
- You put accommodations in place to make the website easy for everyone to use
- The site feels welcoming to all users
Relationship to Online Business
In a brick-and-mortar business, ADA compliance means adding ramps for wheelchair access when a building has stairs or providing braille menus at a restaurant.
It’s a little different for online businesses, but Business News Daily explains that you want to create a website that is accessible to people with disabilities. There are a few good reasons for doing so.
Having an ADA-compliant website helps protect you against lawsuits from consumers who felt discriminated against by your business due to not having accessibility features. It also will protect you against government fines for non-compliance.
Most of all, it makes your business more consumer-friendly. You show you care about all your customers and potential customers. It also gives your business a favorable reputation of being aware and addressing the needs of your customers. Some things to consider for your website include:
- Visual content and adapting it to visual-impaired users
- Audio content and adapting it for hearing-impaired users
- The layout of buttons and other interactive content and adapting it for users with dexterity issues
How to Make Your Website ADA Compliant
As you begin to think about ADA compliance, you want to keep in mind the audience you will target with your website’s modifications. For web content, the ADA recommends making your website easily accessible by those with vision and hearing issues as well as users who use assistive technology, such as voice navigation.
However, you should note that the ADA does not provide specific regulations or guidelines for what you must do to comply. The only reason that it is clear you must make your website compliant is because there have been lawsuits where the courts state that websites have a duty to comply with the ADA.
There are some general guidelines that you can follow:
- Content allows the use of assistive technology
- Assistive technology on the site is easy to use
- Content is easy to understand when using assistive technology
Assistive technology is programs and other tools that people would use to access and use your website. It could include screen reader programs that read-aloud text or tools that help with dexterity issues and allow for voice navigation of your site. You may be able to add some assistive technology to your website, such as closed captioning on videos. Still, this technology is usually something the user provides for him or herself.
Ways to Meet Guidelines
There are a variety of ways you can meet these guidelines. Approaches include:
- Working behind the scenes in your site’s coding
- Directly offering assistance to the user
- Including overall good practices that will make your site easier for all users
Start with checking all the alt tags on your website. You will have alt tags for every media file. Make sure that these tags provide adequate descriptions of the content. For example, if you have an image of a brown bear cub, then you want the alt text to say brown bear cub. These tags help someone who cannot access the media file content to know what it is.
You can go a step further with your media by creating additional content to make them accessible. For example, if you have a video, then provide a transcript of the audio, or if you have an image, create audio that describes it.
It is helpful if you incorporate suggestions into your error codes. If users with disabilities encounter error codes, you can include information that will help them navigate to where they were trying to go.
You should also create a site layout that has good organization and is consistent. For a user who has to use assistive technology, navigation is much easier when there is a straightforward layout to your site. You want to make it simple for these users to find menus, click buttons, and links or find where they want to go. Keeping things simple and clutter-free benefits all users because it makes site navigation easier overall.
The ADA was an incredibly positive piece of legislation. It helps a group of individuals who often face discrimination and obstacles in daily life. The ADA helps to make things easier and ensure people with disabilities can be independent and not let their disability define them.
When it comes to your online business, it is smart to focus on ADA compliance. While you may not have a legal obligation, it is good public relations to do it anyway. Customers will respect you and be more likely to encourage others to patronize your business when they see that you care about all your customers and have the foresight to anticipate disabled customers’ needs.
If you are ready to make your website ADA compliant, you can start by ensuring you completely understand the act and apply it. Consider taking a course covering the ADA.