Introduced in 1990, the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) is a comprehensive civil rights law prohibiting discrimination on the basis of disability in all areas of public life. We often think about ADA as it applies to wheelchair-accessible ramps, audible sounds at crosswalks, brail on ATM machines, etc.
ADA Website Lawsuits
But now, as marketers, we must also address how this act affects our websites. Due to recent court rulings, private companies are being sued if their websites are not easily navigated by people with disabilities. The first ruling came in the 2017 Gil v. Winn-Dixie Stores, Inc case, but rulings have accelerated dramatically since then. According to a Wall Street Journal article, the law firm Seyfarth Shaw has found that the “number of website-access lawsuits filed in federal court reached 2,250 in 2018, almost three times the 814 filed in 2017.” In fact, Domino’s Pizza has petitioned the Supreme Court to hear its case, after a federal appeals court ruled that the company had to make its website accessible to comply with the ADA.
UsableNet’s research team tracks and documents all digital accessibility-related lawsuits filed in the U.S. and built a first-of-its-kind ADA lawsuit tracker for sharing this data.
Guidelines for Website Compliance
ADA compliance is still vague as it applies to websites, there is no true accessibility standard provided by the government at this time. Court cases site a set of guidelines called “WCAG 2.0 AA” which was established by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). These guidelines are based on 4 principles:
- Perceivable: Can people see and hear the content on the site?
- Operable: Can people use the site with a mouse, keyboard, or an assistive device?
- Understandable: Is the content clear? Does the site operate in predictable ways?
- Robust: Is the site accessible with assistive technologies (i.e. screen readers)?
Although it is currently impossible to guarantee 100% compliance, it is important to show an effort is being made to make your site accessible, in the event your company is sued.
Ways to Improve Accessibility
Here are some adjustments that can help improve your website’s accessibility for people with disabilities (visual, hearing, motor, cognitive, etc.):
- Contrast: Colors used for text and clickable elements must have sufficient contrast for readability. For example, text should not be a very light color when placed on a white background, or vice versa.
Some helpful tools are at Color.review and Wave accessibility browser extensions. The Wave browser extension flags accessibility issues. The example of the BSA website, below, shows common issues with contrast:
- Color Use: Color should not be the only indicator for interaction. For example, when hovering over a clickable element, it should not just change color. An underline, box, or other indicators should also appear. Required fields on forms should be marked with an asterisk, not just be indicated by a different color.
- Color Blindness: Red/green color blindness is the most common type, so try not to “overlap” these colors. Don’t use green to indicate “good” and red “bad” for buttons, for example.
- Text Size: Text should not be too small, larger is better for readability. Although there is not currently a set minimum, it is generally agreed that 16 point text is a good minimum for body copy.
- Navigation: The site must support keyboard navigation and screen readers to enable users to easily access all content on the site. There must be an ability to skip over repeated blocks of content (i.e. navigation menu) to go directly to the page content. Depending on how your site was built, this can be a significant undertaking or require reprogramming.
- Descriptions: Photos and graphics on your site must include Alternative Text (“Alt Text”) so that screen readers can “narrate” what is being shown. Alt text should be included even if the image has a caption. This is very easy to do in WordPress, just edit the image right in the post, or from the Image Library, and add alt text:
- Videos: Videos on your website should also be accessible and include closed captioning for visitors with hearing impairments as well as descriptive audio for those with visual impairments.
- Downloadable Documents: PDFs and other documents that you make available on your site must also be ADA compliant. To avoid this added complexity, consider converting these types of content to regular web pages, whenever possible.
Making Your Site ADA Compliant
Although ADA compliance for websites is a complex undertaking, it is important that we all start making updates and improvements towards better usability for all site visitors. Once the overarching design and programmatic changes are made, keeping your site compliant, as you add new content, becomes an easier process.