The Americans with Disabilities Act
The ADA or Americans with Disabilities Act affects every substantial business with 15 or more full-time employees or is open at least 20 weeks of the year. In recent years, the ADA has demanded business website compliance as well.
The WCAG 2.0 or 2.1, stands for Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, and are the most recent standards developed and published as a guide for business owners, to help them understand the necessary requirements for creating an ADA compliant website.
The Americans with Disabilities Act was originally signed into federal law back in 1990, prohibiting discrimination against people with disabilities in the workplace, as well as providing access to every public accommodation or business.
Now, with the latest revision producing the 2010 Standards for Accessible Design, digital information and business's web accessibility have both been included, and have their own ADA compliance guidelines.
An ADA-compliant website promotes digital accessibility for users with disabilities. It applies to every significant business as well, and if you're unsure, title iii of the ADA spells it out. Title III covers all public accommodations, including nonprofits and private organizations in 12 categories that pretty much cover the spectrum.
If you have a business and you're open to the public (aka public accommodation) or have customers, most likely you must comply with ADA accessibility requirements.
The Department of Justice is expected to make clear the website accessibility standards and what is expected from businesses on digital information. However, all rulemaking was suspended under the previous administration.
Therefore, it has been left up to each state's court to decide the countless lawsuits that are brought before a judge every day for non-compliance to ADA requirements. The WCAG is expected to be officially accepted as soon as the Department of Justice is released from its binding order.
The DOJ cites very steep fines for businesses that are found in violation of ADA standards, even for first-time offenders fines can reach $75,000, and $150,000 for each additional violation. The problem is, more legal accessibility issues arise that are deferred to a court to decide, every day.
Often, a court decision is needed to force these businesses to comply, in an accessibility lawsuit. Besides being a legal issue on the federal level, ADA website compliance broadens your audience and increases potential profits.
The Four Principles of Accessibility
Online access to your customers depends on your website, so why not make your website accessible? There are four principles of accessibility, according to the WCAG. For your web accessibility standards to be considered ADA compliant, an accessible website must be:
- Perceivable - content must be perceivable for all users by one or more senses
- Operable - UI (user interface) buttons must be clickable, such as keyboard, mouse, voice command, etc.
- Understandable - the content must be easily understood by a diverse audience
- Robust - meaning the content must be developed with well-established web standards that will work with multiple browsers, both in the present and in the future
Of course, you can find the entire publication online, or here is a customizable quick reference guide.
Giving access to your web content to those with disabilities can be a bit of a challenge because your site needs to be developed with accessibility factors in mind from the start. Here are some basic suggestions from the WCAG you can apply:
- Provide text alternatives (alt-text) for non-text content, and vice versa
- Provide captions for all pre-recorded as well as live media (such as live chat), and consider having the media interpreted with sign language simultaneously
- Provide a pre-recorded alternative for understanding content (audio only)
- Make sure your content is presented in a meaningful sequence
- Instructions should not be given solely on components referring to sensory input, such as color (i.e. 'red button'), shape or size (i.e. 'the small triangle with big, orange text')