This is a confusing term, especially if you're trying to learn all about the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and how to legally bring your business into compliance. To make matters even more complicated, recently it's been talked about often in relation to websites, as well. So what does ADA accessible mean? There are tons of rules and regulations for making your physical business location ADA compliant, usually involving some major renovations to accommodate handicapped or disabled patrons. These can include things like putting in ramps and wheelchair accessible restrooms, to obtaining ADA compliant signs, to making your job descriptions and opportunities available for people with disabilities. Recently, however, it's been in the news that even websites must be "ADA accessible", which is how the term is being presently used. Let's explore what, exactly, this means.
So, it's no wonder at all that people are trying to clarify the meaning of the term; "ADA accessible" these days. Apparently, in 2010, the Department of Justice (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, separate from any business's actual or physical location(s), to include all business's websites, as well as any online services offered therein. This is said to apply to any business with “places of public accommodation”, which includes the internet. The DOJ made the following statement on the subject: "The Department is currently developing regulations specifically addressing the accessibility of goods and services offered via the web, by entities covered by the ADA. The fact that the regulatory is not yet complete, however, in no way indicates that website discrimination will be tolerated." In the attempt to make their position clear on the subject, that ambiguous statement only raises more concerns. In the meantime, the ADA "encourages self-regulation of accessibility standards," leaving everyone pretty much still in the dark and confused about how to comply.
ADA Accessibility: In "General" Terms
Fortunately, the definition in the ADA for accessibility or compliance is fairly clear. Therefore, we should be able to deduce some very basic guidelines, by using these so-called "accessibility standards" that we are somewhat familiar with, and combining them with the 4 primary categories of disability and each of their specific needs. The 4 primary categories are:
- Hearing impairment
- Visual impairment
- Mobility impairment
- Cognitive impairment
Also, let's keep in mind that these guidelines are especially necessary now, due to the added quality of life the Internet has brought to the disabled population already, offering many impaired people the necessary tools for their complete independence. Being able to access the internet and its vast informational network alone, is nearly overwhelming to someone who could not even buy or read a newspaper a few years ago. Ordering supplies, food, and just about anything else you need, right online and can be delivered to your door, is like heaven on earth. Having a Google Assistant or an Alexa is a priceless service, and these are just a few.
That said, let's get into a bit more detail about each category. Someone who is deaf or hearing impaired is definitely going to have some special needs when visiting your website, right? And with 72 million deaf people worldwide, it's going to be pretty important to keep these people engaged. One thing we can be pretty certain of is that we're going to need a TTY phone number, at the very least. It would also surely be beneficial to offer the option of a video "text" chat, via Zoom, Google Hangouts, Duo, or any of the forums that offer free video chats/consults with text message options. This also gives the deaf person an opportunity to read your lips, or to use sign language with you, or with someone hired just for that purpose. This would be making your website ADA accessible for the hearing impaired.
While that's all fine for the deaf, we've still got 3 more categories, just to scrape the surface of becoming ADA compliant. Moving on to the blind or visually impaired comes next. There are 1.3 billion estimated people with visual impairments, and 36 million people who are legally blind. How will a blind person be able to access your website and interact with it? Well, this "fix" is quite a bit easier, since added tools like screen magnifiers and screen readers are available and built-in to nearly every smartphone and laptop or tablet out there, at this point. However, you will most likely want to add at least a couple of small features to your website, to make it easy for someone who can't see, to choose having the content read aloud from the start. An initial greeting, whenever anyone lands on your homepage, spoken out loud, asking the user if they need any special tools due to a disability to navigate the site, will do the trick.
According to the CDC, 13% of the population in the United States has a mobility impairment or disability. Although for the most part this is a disability that doesn't affect a person's ability to navigate the Internet, or your website, there are a couple of things you can do to ensure this. For one thing, be sure to offer the option of assistance from a live person at any time, and show them where a button is that they can see clearly, and push any time, if necessary. Make sure you stipulate that you are attempting to do your best to be ADA compliant, and if there's anything else they need, to please let you know. Give them a form to fill out afterwards, ask for advice and suggestions from anyone with a disability, in particular.
Lastly, those who are suffering from a cognitive impairment. This is probably the toughest one. 6.5 million people in the U.S. have a cognitive disability. Cognitive disabilities can be classified in two ways: by clinical disability, or by functional disability. Either one can result in serious side effects such as issues with memory, attention, problem-solving, reading, verbal comprehension and visual comprehension. These are only a few. Obviously, a person with this kind of disability is going to need some serious aid, to comprehend and/or effectively navigate a normal website. Standards or specific requirements are largely still being worked out, but in the meantime a special assistant could offer these people individualized help. You may need to hire someone who is educated in working with those with disabilities, just for this type of position. Until we are notified of more specific regulations by the DOJ, the best advice is use common sense and do the best you can to be ADA compliant in every way.
Want to learn more about ADA accessibility and compliance? Check out our site here. Also find out what signs are required for ADA parking lots.