Is Your Website ADA Compliant?

A guide to creating an accessible web experience. 

When creating an ADA compliant website, you need to understand your audience and those that frequent your website most. If your audience requires specific accessibility on your website we have put together a guide to creating that accessible web experience. 

You may not be able to achieve 100% compliance, as custom website functionality, animations, images, video, and other interactions would not work as intended. In this case, ensure the most critical components of your website are accessible: access to your company information, products, or services; access to account logins if you utilize authentication; and access to support and contact information to assist with anyone that requests help.   

Web accessibility is an increasingly mandatory trend in creating websites, and for a good reason.

With a 200% rise in lawsuits targeted against large companies citing inaccessible websites, it’s important for corporations to take a more inclusive approach to their digital branding. However, lawmakers don’t make it easy for companies to avoid these legal snafus and there is a lack of documented best practices to address the needs of special populations.

If you’re confused, you should be. Understanding website accessibility is frustrating from a digital brand perspective and here is why.

Research shows that 70% of websites are not ADA compliant, likely due to vague and confusing regulations and enforcement. 

In 2017, the Department of Justice issued an “Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking'' (ANPRM) which outlined accessibility for web information under the ADA, but in practice these guidelines were cloudy at best. To make matters more worse, the courts had backpedaled and withdrew the ANPRM, leaving website accessibility guidelines unenforceable and ignoring how most special populations need to receive online information. 

Currently, there are no clear and enforceable government guidelines to help those with needs on the web.

A vague statement issued by the Department of Justice not only muddies the water on clear regulations but also gives the Department of Justice an incredible amount of flexibility in ruling web ADA-infringement lawsuits on a case-by-case basis. There are no finite guidelines to uphold but will be viewed on whether or not a disabled person can access a company’s information, goods, or services.  

This leaves companies in a sort of guessing game, making them vulnerable to criticisms against web standards that are essentially incomprehensible to those without a law degree. This puts companies between a rock and a hard place:

  • On one hand, you can create a that can be boring, overwhelming, potentially irritating, and cumbersome for typical users—making them not want to interact with your brand.
  • Alternatively, you can make an experience over-optimized and so simple for the typical user it lacks the capabilities and tools for special populations to access the information they are looking for—making your brand perceived as insensitive and inauthentic to your values of inclusivity.

A recent example is the 2019 Supreme Court ruling victory for Guillermo Robles. Robles is a man living with a visual impairment and the court ruled against Domino’s, citing their website left him unable to order food through his website reader — inexcusable for a company committed to diversity and inclusivity. While there is no specific law that lawyers can cite in litigation, they always come back to everchanging guidelines and Federal Trade Commission (FTC) which mandates having “effective communication” in marketing. 

When building an ADA compliant website, ensure information accessibility is a key component in your brand and content structure.

Know your customer. When your brand holds the needs of the customer at its core, it sets up your customer experience for success. If your brand stands for inclusivity, the perspective shifts, and the conversation widens to accommodate markets you wouldn’t have considered before. For example, with only 30% of websites accommodating customers living with blindness, industries are missing out on $6.9 billion of potential sales revenue. 

When learning about your personas, make it a prerogative to bring special populations into the conversation. Even better, invite members of these populations to be a part of your process either as an advisor to the project or as a key contributor. 

The fact is, different users experience websites in their own unique ways through the sense of sight, sound, and touch–whether or not they may self-identify as a member of a special population. Fortunately, there are a lot of things marketers can do to navigate these murky waters towards the North Star of effective communication for all.

Here are some tips for how to design digital experiences and websites for ADA Compliance. 

While there are many kinds of special populations, below are some of the main audiences that will be needing information from your website in a specific way and what to consider when creating that experience for them. 

  • Visually impaired This includes, and is not limited to, people with blindness, color blindness, blurred vision, cataracts, and more. It’s important to pay close attention to color contrasts between your text and text background, font-weight at different sizes, ability to zoom in to enlarge text, and the order hierarchy of your written content to ensure automated readers interpret the content in the correct order. Images also need descriptive captioning through development code as “alternate (alt) text.” Website experiences that take accessibility the extra mile will allow users to invert colors, increase color contrasts, and change font families to a type that is more conducive to users living with reading impairments. 
  • EpilepsyThis condition can be triggered by flashing lights or contrasting light/dark patterns. Even the overuse of more fanciful UI behaviors can make users feel unwell and uncomfortable. While most websites give a warning for users before they enter the full experience of the website, consider minimizing the use of any patterns that moiré or create unintentional visual movement or dizzying for those living with or without an epilepsy condition. Another way to optimize the experience for these users is to offer them an opt-out of animations or intricate transitions with a conspicuous button or toggle.
  • Motor & MobilityConsider those living with limited mobility like nerve damage, arthritis, and other conditions that affect how a user inputs information on their phone or tablet. Ensure your buttons and links are at least 44px in diameter. Remove any instances that require precision on your forms or navigation, allowing your user to move across and into your website with as little friction as possible. Depending on the device, voice activation is making its way into website experiences as a tool to give more people access to information they need without a mouse, keyboard, or touch screen interaction. 
  • Hearing ImpairedWhen creating media for your website, especially for video and audio content, consider how someone living with a hearing impairment might access information. Ensure your content has subtitles, are captioned, and have detailed descriptions of what something may sound like in a video or audio track. Many podcasts will offer their listeners transcribed episodes.
  • Cognitive ImpairmentCustomers living with a cognitive impairment can experience a wide range of frustrations on an inaccessible website. Using clear navigation menus, imagery, icons, and intuitive behaviors helps decrease the mental strain on users on your website. Use clear, actionable, and concise language on each page. Tell users what they can expect to find when comparing products, clicking on links, or using quick visual cues like icons to illustrate ideas and categorize content for easy scanability. The good news is all these tips are basic best practices for the mainstream population as well. 
  • AgingWith a growing aging demographic, it’s important to keep them top of mind in website planning. The population of US citizens over the age of 60 is projected to grow 29% by 2050. Many design considerations need to be taken into account for a population that can be simultaneously technologically savvy and yet remains web illiterate. Create an opportunity for a familiar human-to-human connection. Post a phone number where a user can use an alternate means of getting information from your company. Even a chatbox can help navigate a user to the content they need most rather than forcing them through a labyrinth of links and buttons. 

Your website is going to change as you build awareness and develop empathy for those who rely on ADA compliance. 

The ruling guidelines are currently dictated by the Accessibility Guidelines Working Group. They have put together a working draft of the Web Content Accessibility Guide 2.2. While this document is constantly changing and evolving –– having an expert on your side is beneficial to optimizing your website’s experience for special population customers. This is even more crucial if your brand reaches an international audience where web accessibility is more enforceable –– with more opportunity for lawsuits and litigation. 

It takes practice. The more your team designs for accessibility, the easier, faster, and more enjoyable the process will be. Even if your customer base will not typically need the use of accessibility tools to move through your website, it’s better to be prepared.

Build your website experience with thoughtfulness, empathy, flexibility, and heart. 

Know that special populations are people and their needs are not meant to be a crux in your customer experience. If your brand is built around creating a better life for your customers, then ensuring your web experience is accessible to all is a keystone in your web planning. ADA compliance lawsuits are growing in popularity, whether we like it or not. We’re constantly learning about new tools and technologies to be more inclusive of special populations. It is important to be on top of your marketing best practices and to ensure your brand is inclusive for people from all walks of life.  

If you want to know more about ADA compliance, web accessibility, or are looking for an expert to be on your side for your next website build, contact us.

Is Your Website ADA Compliant?