We all want our customers to feel taken care of. We want every interaction between our brand and our people to be a positive one, and creating an ADA-compliant website is extremely important for making this happen.
You’ll increase the number of people who are able to benefit from your site and improve the user experience for everyone by designing your pages for ADA compliance.
A Brief History of ADA Compliance for Digital Content
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was passed in 1990 as a civil rights law that protects those with disabilities from discrimination. While it has come to include the internet, it was originally designed to ensure that individuals had access to physical spaces, like restaurants, schools, public transportation, and other areas of public life. This is the law that requires wheelchair ramps, handicap parking spaces, and the like.
However, up until recently, the ADA has only stated that communication, including online communication, must be “accessible,” but has not specified a standard for that accessibility.
Enter: Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). These were created to define how to create accessible content for visual, auditory, physical, speech, cognitive, language, learning, and neurological disabilities. While the first iterations of these guidelines were undoubtedly helpful, they were not widely enforced—but that is projected to change with the introduction of WCAG 2.1.
WCAG 2.1: A New Standard for Web Accessibility
The internet and all other forms of digital communication have been around long enough now that the guidelines have had ample chance to catch up.
WCAG 2.1, the newest iteration of online accessibility guidelines, builds on the last version of the guidelines by addressing accessibility issues for mobile users as well as ensuring protection of individuals with low vision, cognitive and learning disabilities. All of the guidelines addressed in WCAG 2.0 still apply.
There are three levels of compliance: A, AA, and AAA.
- Level A: The most basic level of website accessibility. If you stop here, you’re probably not going to be in compliance with the ADA. This level allows screen readers to scan a site, but that’s about it.
- Level AA: This is the level most businesses aim for. It meets all Level A criteria while still allowing flexibility in design.
- Level AAA: The most comprehensive level of compliance, but also the most restrictive when it comes to interactive elements on your website.
Evaluating Accessibility Needs
Optimizing your site for users with accessibility needs can easily seem like a monster of a task. We’ve simplified it for you by breaking it into categories of needs.
Low Vision or Legal Blindness
For users who experience blindness or low vision, there are two main factors to consider: font size and color contrast. Make sure that the text on your pages is large enough, or include a function on your page that can enlarge the font. For the contrast factor, your best bet is laying black text on a white background. This ensures maximum contrast for maximum readability.
To make your pages truly accessible for these individuals, make sure that you have coded them to integrate well with the use of screen readers. Many visually impaired individuals use screen readers, a software that reads a page aloud, but for this software to work properly, the page must be designed in a way that the screen reader can easily understand.
Color Blind or Color Deficient
Individuals who experience total color blindness see all colors as some shade of black, white, or grey. Color deficiency is more broad and includes those with difficulty distinguishing between colors on opposite ends of the color spectrum, like red and green, or colors in the same family, like shades of blue and yellow.
To accommodate these disabilities, your site should not convey information by color alone. Any use of color in logos or designs should be accompanied by text or recognizable icons.
You’ll find one example of bad design for color blind and color deficient folks if you look at train line maps in most subway stations. They often label the routes by color on the map and announce the routes by color in the stations. You can see how quickly this could become a problem.
But one great example of design that accommodates individuals with color deficiencies is the common stop sign. While they’re all red, they do not use color alone to communicate—they also include huge white text that spells STOP.
Limited Motor Skills
These users have difficulty maneuvering the hardware that controls the computer, including mouses, trackpads, and keyboards. To make your site more accessible for these users, consider all of the fine movements necessary to navigate your pages. Ideally, you want your site to be navigable by the keyboard alone, since the arrow keys on the keyboard are much easier to operate for individuals with limited motor skills.
Deafness and Hearing Impairment
If you include audio or audio-visual content on your website, you’ll want to take a few extra steps to accommodate individuals who are deaf or who experience hearing loss. One easy way to do this is by including closed captioning on all video content and transcripts of all audio-only content.
Another important factor to consider in this category is the readability or reading level of the audio content. Many individuals who experience deafness or hearing impairment are more proficient in sign language, which differs greatly from standard written language. For this, you should make sure all the language you use is simple and clear.
If you’ve never considered the accessibility of your site for users with disabilities, it’s not too late! You will, however, have to evaluate whether your site needs a little modifying or a complete overhaul. With the above considerations in mind, perform a site audit. Take note of the pages that do not meet accessibility guidelines, and decide how you might alter the page to meet them. Read WCAG 2.1 carefully to make sure that you follow the guidelines fully.
If you’re creating a new brand, you’re in the best position right now to assess its ADA compliance! Think about every aspect of the branding, including logos, colors, promotional materials, and, of course, the website.
If you’ve got an established brand, your job is a bit harder. You might already have a logo that doesn’t meet ADA compliance standards. You might have a website that you paid big bucks for that does include closed captioning on videos or that is impossible to navigate without strong motor skills. This doesn’t mean you have to trash it all, though!
Rule of thumb: Make an honest effort. If your logo includes colors or color combinations that don’t meet ADA standards, consider creating a new iteration of your logo in black and white. If you’ve paid big bucks for a website with compliance issues, ask for tweaks. Do what you can reasonably do to accommodate your audience.
Partner with Content Experts
If you’re overwhelmed by the undertaking that is ADA compliance in the digital age, we hear ya. But you don’t have to navigate these waters alone! While you can perform your own site audit, it is helpful to have accessibility experts do the audit for you. This will allow you to see where your website stands and what needs to be changed to bring you into compliance. Contact Uptick Marketing to learn how we can ensure that your site content accommodates every individual in your audience.