Love All – Serve All with ADA Compliant Websites
By the year 2030, the roughly 71.5 million Baby Boomers that are over the age of 65 will be demanding products, services, and environments that meet their age-related physical needs.
Living more independently and participating more actively in their communities, these potential customers want to patronize businesses that welcome customers who have disabilities. “Studies show that once people with disabilities find a business where they can shop or get services in an accessible manner,” the U.S. Department of Justice points out, “they become repeat customers.”
This sentiment radiates onto the web, wherein 2010 the DOJ published the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Standards for Accessible Design. These standards state that all electronic and information technology must be accessible to people with disabilities. In addition to installing ramps for sidewalks, creating accessible parking spaces, and ensuring that restrooms are ADA-compliant, organizations must meet certain design standards in the virtual world.
The Web is a Public Place
The ADA standards apply to commercial and public entities that have “places of public accommodation” which includes the Internet, and people are holding companies to these standards. Three years ago, for example, a blind Domino’s customer filed an ADA Title III lawsuit against the restaurant for having an allegedly inaccessible website and mobile app.
Domino’s is contesting the claim that ADA covers mobile apps or websites, which effectively did not exist in modern form when the law was passed in 1990, The Verge reports. The customer alleged the ADA does cover the web and software because Domino’s has physical locations and also solicits customer online. A federal court agreed.
The restaurant is now arguing against the judgment, but the point has been made: websites and apps must be able to accommodate people with disabilities. Not only is it just smart business, but it also supports a more inclusive business approach that sends the message that your company “loves all and serves all” (to borrow a line from the Hard Rock Café).
“Case studies show that accessible websites have better search results, reduced maintenance costs, and increased audience reach, among other benefits,” WC3 points out, noting that accessibility is essential for developers and organizations that want to create high-quality websites and web tools, and not exclude people from using their products and services.
9 Steps to ADA Compliance Online
With the number of ADA-related lawsuits on the rise, eradicating the barriers that prevent interaction with or access to websites should be an imperative for all e-commerce companies. That means presenting information through multiple sensory channels, for example, or allowing additional means of site navigation and interactivity beyond the typical point-and-click-interface.
Here are nine important accessible design principles to incorporate into your site:
- Provide appropriate alternative text. If a blind or sight-impaired customer can’t read or see the words and images on the page, you can use alt text to describe everything to them.
- Utilize appropriate document structure. Pay attention to the type of tagging that you’re using on your site, be it XML, XHTML, or HTML.
- Include data table headers. These provide a tabular format of data, where the top section is for the headers. Tabular data utilizes a different kind of HTML and makes sites more accessible when using screen readers and other devices.
- Make sure users can complete and submit all forms. You don’t want someone to have to click on a button to submit a form. Instead, they should be able to tab through form data, hit return, and submit the form automatically.
- Don’t rely on color alone to convey meaning. This is a major issue for anyone who is color blind, who might not be able to discern among different types of text. For example, don’t use dark text on different backgrounds/colors and assume that it will stand out.
- Ensure links make sense out of context. For a link to be readable by screen reader users, it has to either contain plain text or alt text describing where the link is going (in the case of a linked image).
- Caption and/or provide transcripts for media. For disabled customers who are blind or have low vision and need screen readers, you’ll want to add some texts and/or readable content like alt text or transcripts for the media. That way, the screen reader will read through it for them.
- Make sure non-HTML content is accessible This includes PDF files, Microsoft Word documents, PowerPoint presentations, and Adobe Flash content.
- Allow users to skip repetitive elements on the page. This allows users to tab through the elements (i.e., form fields) instead of having to click on them.
This is by no means an exhaustive list, but these are some of the low-hanging fruits that can be implemented on your site today. To measure your site’s accessibility, check out either Axe or Wave, both of which are free to use.
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