Website accessibility isn't often the first thing that comes to mind when thinking of compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) regulations. Yet to ensure your company's information is accessible for those that are vision and hearing impaired, this is exactly what you need to be thinking of.
Federal watchdogs recently announced plans to scrutinize employer websites to make sure they aren't violating accessibility standards for the vision and hearing impaired under new ADA regulations. This crackdown makes it absolutely necessary for HR to review all company websites for ADA compliance. How do you make your site web-accessible and stay in line with ADA regulations?
In a BLR webinar titled "Is Your Website ADA-Compliant?: How to Prepare for the Newest Enforcement Push," Jonathan R. Mook of DiMuroGinsberg and Jon Mires of the Center for Accessible Technology outlined some guidance for determining whether your website has accessibility problems and some steps you can take to overcome them and meet ADA requirements.
Does Your Website Meet ADA Requirements?
During the webinar, Mook noted that "as part of the nondiscrimination mandate of the ADA – particularly with respect to employers – there is a reasonable accommodation requirement for employers, and that means that employers need to make accommodations to individuals with disabilities in order to enable them to participate in the workplace. And this can take various forms that would affect the need for ensuring that your websites and computer communications are accessible to individuals."
How do you determine the level of accessibility of your site? Here are some questions to ask when checking to see if you are in line with ADA regulations for accessibility:
- Can you navigate the site with the keyboard only? Can you fill out and submit forms without using a mouse?
- Do color contrast and text size look reasonable, even for someone who has low-vision? Can your mother/grandmother read the text?
- Does the link text make sense on its own (i.e. not "read more" or "click here") for users who utilize screen reading software to navigate, such as those who are blind?
- Do your videos have captions or transcripts for the hearing impaired?
- Does the site rely on being able to distinguish colors?
Beyond the basics, there are also slightly more advanced things you can check, such as checking the alternate text of images. In the webinar, Mires noted: "almost every site uses images in some way, and that's one of the biggest barriers for blind users – is images that don't have text equivalents." For images of text (which should be avoided if possible), alternate text should match the text in the image. For other content images, alternate text should provide a short description of the image. For decorative images, alternate text should be empty (that doesn’t mean missing!).
For even more advanced issues, often you can seek professional assistance to help improve your compliance with ADA regulations. You can get help with things like:
- Evaluating the page structure. Structure pages so that they make sense to assistive technology. This has nothing to do with visual presentation and everything to do with code including the HTML elements like headings, lists, links, paragraphs, etc. This is very straightforward for any web developer who is familiar with web standards.
- Checking actual color contrast.
- Ensuring things like data tables and timed responses are accessibly implemented on your site or that there are alternatives available to those needing it, such as the ability to stop an automatic logout.
Benefits of Getting Your Website In Line with ADA Requirements
After undertaking these types of evaluations, most likely you will find that your site does have accessibility barriers that could mean it does not meet ADA requirements – nearly all sites do. However, you can almost certainly make large improvements with a modest amount of effort. Making your site more accessible is not just a cost or legal obligation. Benefits include:
- Better usability for all visitors
- Usually bottom line metrics improve (time on site, conversions, completed tasks, etc.)
- Reputation improvement, and sometimes competitive advantage
- Potentially a huge market
Mires advised "the biggest complaint when we do focus groups about web accessibility – the number one complaint among all groups (so this includes blind users, keyboard-only users, people with low vision, people with learning disabilities, people with reading difficulties) … is that information is hard to find, poorly organized, or badly written, or completely missing, which actually is also the number one complaint among people without disabilities." Making adjustments for those with disabilities can improve the site for everyone.
The above information is excerpted in part from a BLR webinar titled "Is Your Website ADA-Compliant?: How to Prepare for the Newest Enforcement Push," with experts Jonathan R. Mook of DiMuroGinsberg and Jon Mires of the Center for Accessible Technology. For more information on ADA requirements as they relate to websites, order the webinar recording. To register for a future webinar, visit http://catalog.blr.com/audio.
Jonathan R. Mook is a founding partner in the firm of DiMuroGinsberg and is a nationally recognized authority on the Americans with Disabilities Act. He has authored two published treatises: “Americans with Disabilities Act: Employee Rights and Employer Obligations” and “Americans with Disabilities Act: Public Accommodations and Commercial Facilities.”
Jon Mires is a web developer focusing on usability and accessibility at the Center for Accessible Technology in Berkeley, California. He has helped a wide range of organizations understand and implement web accessibility principles, focusing on how to comply with standards and guidelines while maintaining focus on core users and technological capabilities.