While the courts and the Department of Justice have recommended using WCAG 2.0 for ADA Title III compliance on a website or app, the protocol is outdated by about 11 years. WCAG 2.1 includes WCAG 2.0 and 17 more ways to make a website or app accessible to the visually and mentally impaired. Which means if your website is WCAG 2.1 compliant you’re likely meeting the current legal recommendations and protecting against any future lawsuits for not implementing additional protocols as they are added in WCAG 2.1 or future versions.
Making your small business ADA compliant currently means ensuring that your website complies with WCAG 2.1 protocols. WCAG stands for “Web Content Accessibility Guidelines” and version 2.1 was published on June 5th, 2018 by the W3C, a worldwide non-profit that establishes internet standards. The documentation is roughly 19,600 words long and is not a light read in any sense. The W3C has published a more easily digestible “quick reference” guide which you can find here if you’d like to tackle ADA compliance on your own.
It’s important to note that for ADA compliance on a website you’re going to be largely focusing on text content and non-text content. Visually impaired individuals surf the internet by using screen reader software which breaks down website content into text and reads it aloud to them. Your efforts will focus on making it easier for these screen readers to understand your website and to use your services.
15 Ways To Ensure Your Website is ADA Compliant
1. Provide Text Alternatives for Non-Text Content.
All Non-Text Content Needs a Text Alternative. Once you know that visually impaired internet users use screen reader software that relies on text, it may become apparent that your website needs to have text that can help these users understand and navigate your website. All images should have an Alt Attribute describing them and all Videos and Audio clips should have text transcripts.
2. Provide A Sensory Experience For Everyone.
Any Content meant to induce a sensory response must have a text equivalent. For example a photograph of a mountain that to a visual person induces a sense of difficulty and wonder should be accompanied with text that attempts to induce the same experience for someone who is visually impaired or blind.
3. Make All Content Distinguishable.
All of your content must be distinguishable. This means that your color palette need to be such that foreground and background are easily separated from one another visually. It also means that areas of content that have different context or purposes should be easily distinguished such as ads and the main content of a page or an email signup form versus a form for leaving a comment.
4. Ensure Your Website Functions.
Every function on your website must be operable by a keyboard. Some users are unable to use a mouse or touchpad and must navigate a website via a keyboard. Make sure that it is easy to use tab, enter, and other common keystrokes to complete tasks on your website.
5. Provide Easy To Use Navigation.
Your website must be easy to navigate, make it as easy as possible to find desired content, and must provide a way of knowing what part of a website a user is on. One popular way of doing this is with breadcrumb navigation links. Websites that practice the use of “dark patterns” to hide some content are likely in violation of WCAG 2.1.
6. Use Proper Headings.
Your website should make good usage of HTML heading tags that are descriptive of the topic or purpose. That means using H1, H2, H3, H4, et al.. tags to appropriately explain the purpose of the content that follows and to have them in an order that makes sense. For example if your documents main topic is “Disaster Preparation” then this or a similar phrase would be your H1. A subheading, or H2, for this main topic might be “Fire Preparation” and a subheading of this H2, or an H3 tag, might be “How to Make a Map That Displays the Location of Fire Extinguishers in a Building”.
7. Ensure That Your Links Are Descriptive.
Anchor text for links should be descriptive about where the user will be taken to. Often times this means not using short or so called “fat head” keywords and instead using longer phrases to inform a user. Disabled users use what is known as a dialog box while reading a page that displays a list of links on that page. If all the user hears is something like “click here” or “go here now” as they go through the page it may become confusing to them as to how best to navigate.
In some cases it is ok to be ambiguous about where the user is going as long as it is in context. For example a profile about a company with a link titled “Website” implies that the user will be going to that company’s website and due to this context should be ok. If you place a link with call-to-action text AFTER a statement regarding it, then this usage is likely to also be ok. For example “Get our latest offer on our best widgets” followed by a link that says “click here”
8. Make Your Content Readable By Everyone.
Your content should be readable and understandable by everyone. That means if you’ve written content in a sophisticated manner or used a lot of rarely used words, phrasing, or other verbiage that you provide a text summary more easily understood. To help users at a lower reading level understand your content you should also provide illustrations, charts, and graphs (with their own appropriate text for compliance) and a spoken version of the text. In some cases trying to explain things more simply removes meaning, so be careful to keep the meaning and spirit of your content in tact while writing a summary.
9. Include Content Sign Language Speakers.
WCAG 2.1 also recommends including a sign-language video of your content for users who use this as their first language, though this is likely optional for your website. Most websites do not offer sign language versions of their content as it is currently expensive, labor intensive, and difficult to produce. Current recommendations are to hire a sign language interpreter to create videos for your main content and allow those videos to be embedded or linked to from your page. You may also opt to only use sign language to interpret hard to understand words or phrases or main points of a piece of content. The W3C recommends at least providing Contact information, Help / FAQ content, Technical details of a product, and all religious content in sign language format. However, if text versions for non-text content, and any one of these; illustrations, spoken word audio version, or easier to understand summary is available then sign language is not required and is considered optional.
10. Provide Pronunciation and Definition.
For hard to pronounce words your website should use a Glossary and provide a way of helping users pronounce and understand words. You can create the glossary on one page with anchor links and link to it from documents where you use the word, provide a phonetic or alternate text for pronunciation help in parenthesis immediately following the word, provide a glossary at the end of a document, or simply provide a glossary on your website.
11. Avoid Causing Seizures.
Your content should not be designed in a way known to cause seizures or other Physical Reactions. WCAG 2.1 recommends a ‘three flashes threshold’ meaning if something needs to flash it should only do it three times then stop or wait a significant period of time before flashing again.
12. Allow Users to Control Timed Content.
Content that requires a specific period of time should allow a user to pause it, reset it, stop it, control the speed, or hide it unless it is essential. Think about a ticker of news items or a slider of images.
13. Allow Easy Restarting of Sessions and Warn About Timeouts.
A user should be able to restart an authenticated session without loss of data. Before any session times out a warning should be displayed that allows the user to dismiss the time out and stay in the session. Many banks and financial websites use similar mechanisms to this.
14. Make Your Page Operations Predictable.
Your webpages should appear and operate in a predictable manner. Your webpages shouldn’t change context when focus or zoom is used, groups of similar pages should be consistently labeled, and any changes of context should not be initiated automatically but be initiated by a user action.
15. Maintain Robust Accessibility and Web Standards.
Your webpages should not block any screen reading software or user agents from reading them and should use well formed HTML and Rich Markup such as Schema.org or Microformatting. Your webpages should keep up with WCAG standards, HTML standards, and rich formatting standards and best practices as they evolve.
There are many other protocols included in WCAG 2.1, however, the above 15 points should bring most small business websites into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act’s Title III. If you are not sure how to implement these suggestions or are unsure if your website has other needs then you need to consult with an expert in the field. We include ADA compliance work in our monthly SEO subscriptions to help alleviate these issues.