What Digital Executives should know about Web ADA Compliance

Michael Reddy
by Michael Reddy 16 Jan, 2023

If your business operates online, there are many pieces of legislation that you need to keep updated with to make sure you are operating on the right side of the law.

Many of these laws are self-explanatory, and you may already be implementing the necessary procedures.

One that isn't quite so obvious is the ADA-or the Americans With Disabilities Act.

This act protects disabled people by making disability discrimination illegal. This means that your business should have the necessary measures in place to ensure disabled people can access your business without restrictions.

You might think this doesn't apply to you because your business operates online, but not true anymore. 

In 2018, to reflect modern society and new technology, the ADA passed a new set of regulations specifically targeted at website ADA compliance.

This means that you need to make sure that your web property can be accessed by disabled people, some of whom may use devices to help them do so, to avoid being sued for inaccessibility.

It's easy to think that this ruling doesn't apply to you if your company doesn't cater specifically towards the disabled.

When 1 in 5 Americans are disabled, however, it's almost a guarantee that your website will be visited by a disabled person at some point, and it's not worth waiting until you're sued to take action.

Even celebrities are suffering the consequences of their websites not being ADA compliant.

Most recently, Beyoncé is facing a lawsuit after a visually impaired individual could not access features on her website.

It isn't just big names that will face these lawsuits, either.

In fact, even if you're a small or medium sized business, you can face a fine of $55,000 if your website isn't ADA compliant, and that's only for a first offense!

It's true that you making your website ADA compliant costs more money initially, but as we can see, the charge for not doing so is far more costly.

Here is what you need to know about ADA compliance to make sure your business is operating as it should be.

Non-text content must have an equivalent text alternative

One of reasons for Beyoncé's lawsuit was that her company had failed to include text-based alternatives for pictures on her website.

This meant that those with visual impairments couldn't fully immerse themselves into the website in the same way as those without a visual impairment could.

It might not seem important to you, but not including text attributes for all your images on a website is illegal under the ADA legislation because it directly prohibits equal use and discriminates against the individual.

At the same time, this infringement is easy to rectify if this is one of the issues your website is facing.

The easiest way to fix this problem is to type a detailed description of each image on your website in the alt tags during the editing process, before you hit the publish button.

You can also have a text-only website page, CAPTCHA audio alternatives, or decorative graphics that are made invisible to assistive technology.

Audio must be controlled separately from the main computer audio for automatic audio that plays for longer than 3 seconds

If your business has implemented audio or visual media that plays automatically, users should be able to turn this off without muting their computer sound altogether.

The exception to this rule is audio that plays for less than 3 seconds, which limits you to notification sounds, like when an individual receives a message on social media.

Seizure-Causing Content Is Strictly Prohibited

People with photosensitive epilepsy, and other seizure disorders, can have seizures triggered by flashing lights, or content with lots of flashing imagery.

These seizures can be life-threatening, so to prevent people from being able to access the internet at all, the ADA has said that this content is strictly illegal.

The specifics of this legislation state that you cannot use content that flashes more than 3 times per second.

For extra security with this legislation, placing a warning on content that has the potential to trigger epilepsy sufferers may also be useful.

Your Website Must Be Completely Accessible By Keyboard

Many disabled people access the online world without using a mouse at all, relying on a keyboard to operate the websites they use.

This means that your website must be accessible through the use of a keyboard.

One of the best ways to do this is by making sure that keyword shortcuts, like the tab key, can be used to navigate between web pages.

Although this is difficult to achieve for many websites, and it is likely to cost money to implement, it's an essential if you want your business to be completely ADA compliant.

To be ADA compliant, you need to make sure users are able to complete the following interactions from their keyboard. These include:

  • Click on a link or button
  • Select or unselect an item as a radio button or item in a drop down menu
  • Navigate the page
  • Auto complete text
  • Close out a dialog box
  • Adjust a slider UI element up or down
  • Scroll through the navigation/menu items/the page

Web pages should be predictable in appearance and operation

One of the overriding themes of the Americans With Disabilities online addition last year was that websites should be perceivable and operable for everyone.

This means that you must think of your loyalty towards future disabled clients and ADA compliance from the moment you start designing your website.

You need to make sure that everyone can navigate your entire website and every single web page by using the same, predictable navigational tools throughout.

Another thing to bear in mind is that any change in context of things on the website should be user-initiated, and they should be able to turn these features off if desired.

Input assistance should be provided to help users avoid and fix mistakes

Whenever your website requires input from users, such as a contact form, you must provide detailed instructions to help someone complete whatever steps are necessary.

If someone makes an error, the message that comes up should offer clear instructions in text and audio form that tells the user exactly what they need to change.

You couldn't just have the 'error' sign come up if someone typed their password wrong, for example.

Having something along the lines of 'your username or password is incorrect' would be accepted by the ADA, however, as it clearly tells someone what to do.

Making sure that context-sensitive help is available if needed is also another step you should think about implementing.

About the Author: Michael Reddy is the president of Digital Authority Partners, a Chicago web design & digital strategy agency.