What is ADA Compliance?
ADA compliance refers to the Americans with Disabilities Act Standards, which emphasizes on inclusivity of technology for people with disabilities. It states “that all electronic and information technology (like websites) must be accessible to people with disabilities.” It was instituted in 1990 to end discrimination based on differing abilities.
What does it mean for your website?
It means that your website should be ADA compliant even if the ADA standards do not apply to you or your organization. Some examples of such organizations include:
- State and local government organizations (e.g. courts, health care services)
- Private organizations with 15 employees or more
- Places of business that are considered a place of public accommodation by Title III
- Organizations that work for the public’s benefit (e.g., public transportation, schools, restaurants, bakeries, grocery stores, hotels, banks, accountant offices, law offices, social service centers, gyms, healthcare providers, the United States Postal Service, etc.)
What happens if your website is not ADA compliant?
If your website is not ADA compliant, you are a risk of a hefty lawsuit. Additionally, the absence of the compliance could result in heavy lawsuits and fines by the government. In 2019, more than 11,000 ADA lawsuits were filed in Federal court.
In this article, we will visit a few landmark cases and learn more about ADA Compliance guidelines for your website and mobile app.
Landmark cases that failed to comply ADA Guidelines
In 2012, the National Association of the Deaf (NAD), America’s premier civil rights organization of deaf and hard of hearing individuals, announced the filing of a major federal lawsuit against Netflix in Massachusetts.
Despite an estimated 36 million Americans being deaf or hard of hearing, Netflix failed to provide equal access to ‘Watch Instantly’. The deaf and hard of hearing community has repeatedly expressed concerns—via letters, petitions, blogs, and social media about the same.
The lawsuit charged that Netflix was violating the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) by failing to provide closed captioning for most of its “Watch Instantly” movies and television streamed on the Internet.
In Florida, Juan Carlos Gil, a non-sighted person, filed a suit against the Winn Dixie grocery chain in 2017. The website of the grocery chain was heavily loaded with physical locations. Gil used the Winn-Dixie site to purchase groceries and prescription drugs. Since Gil couldn’t see the screen of his computer, he uses JAWS or other screen readers.
While Winn-Dixie stated that Gil was accommodated in the physical location, the judge emphasized that: “The ADA requires that disabled individuals be provided ‘full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, or accommodations of any place of public accommodation.’”
In 2017, Maria Mendizabel filed a lawsuit against Nike for its apparent failure to “design, construct, maintain, and operate its website to be fully accessible to and independently usable to blind or visually-impaired people.”
Nike, among other businesses, did not work on screen readers, lacked alt-text and provided empty links.
In 2018, Cedric Bishop filed a class action lawsuit against Amazon.com for not being accessible to non-sighted users. Bishop, who uses a screen reader to access the internet, asserted that Amazon and its acquisition, WholeFoods is not accessible.
The above cases lay emphasis that an early accessibility test to your website can make sure you are not under legal hot water. But where does one start?
Understanding WCAG 2.0 and ADA is a good beginning.
WCAG 2.0 and ADA
Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) is a set of actionable guidelines set by the World Wide Web Consortium to make the web accessible for people with differing abilities.
They are broken into three levels and have four distinct groups, which are summed under the acronym P.O.U.R. The three levels are:
- Level A deals with the most urgent problems that can limit a visitor’s ability to use the website.
- Level AA deals with functionality and addresses problems that limit the full user experience.
- Level AAA expands on issues identified in Level A and Level AA.
WCAG 2.0 was developed by people and organizations to share a single standard for web accessibility. The four distinct groups of principles are its backbone. The four distinct groups can be classified under P.O.U.R are:
Perceivable issues that affect a user’s ability to process information on a website.
An example of a perceivable issue is multiple links restricting the movement in the website for a non-sighted user..
Operable issues that limit a user’s ability to navigate a website.
An example of an operable issue is lack of keyboard accessibility on the website, designing content in a manner that causes seizures.
Understandable issues that impact a user’s ability to comprehend the information on a website.
An example of an understandable issue is using numerous jargons, abbreviations, throughout the website.
Robust issues that include a website’s adaptability to evolve with the changing needs.
An example of a robust issue is the lack of accessibility of a document on a screen reader.
What is ADA?
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 is a comprehensive civil rights protection for individuals with disabilities in the areas such as employment, state and local government services, public accommodations, transportation, and telecommunications.
Who is protected under the ADA?
ADA protects qualified individuals with disabilities. Disabilities, physical or mental, include, but are not limited to: visual, speech, and hearing impairments; mental retardation, emotional illness, and specific learning disabilities; cerebral palsy; epilepsy; muscular dystrophy; multiple sclerosis; orthopedic conditions; cancer; heart disease; diabetes; and contagious and noncontagious diseases such as tuberculosis and HIV disease (whether symptomatic or asymptomatic).
ADA compliance guidelines
- Insufficient color contrast: People with limited vision or color blindness cannot read text if there is insufficient color contrast between the text and the background. For example, a light blue or a light gray background.
- Absence of text alternatives (“alt text”) on images. People with limited vision or no vision cannot understand the presence of an image or graph without text. Text alternative or alt text conveys the information of images or graphs used in the text. It includes pictures, illustrations, charts, etc.
- Lack of captions on videos. People with hearing disabilities may not be able to understand information communicated in a video if the video does not have closed captions.
- Use text description for hyperlinks: People who rely on screen readers and other assistive technology devices will need content for text description for hyperlinks.
- Forms must be accessible: People with disabilities may be confused with “contact us” forms. Instead make sure there are descriptive HTML tags to describe button controls such as: Buttons, Check boxes, Text Fields and Drop down lists.
- Provide text-based documentation: People using screen readers cannot access documents or PDFs placed in hyperlinks. As such, provide any document that you include in a hyperlink in HTML, Word, or rich text.format.
- Provide skip navigation link: People using screen readers should be provided the ‘skip navigation’ link to bypass any links and read the content of the website.
ADA Compliance checklist for websites
Here’s an ADA compliance checklist for websites
- Read the law documentation
- All media files and maps should have an “alt” tag
- All your online forms should have descriptive html tags
- All hyperlinks should have a descriptive anchor text
- All pages on your website have “skip navigation” links
- All the text content should be structured using proper heading tags
- All PDF files should be accessible
- All videos should have subtitles, transcripts and audio description
- The color contrast of your web pages should be sufficient according to WCAG
- All fonts should be accessible
- All HTML tables should be populated with column headers, row identifiers and cell information
- All audio files on your website should have a written caption
- All call to action buttons on your website should have an accessible name and an ARIA label
- Your website should be accessible with keyboard navigation
- Have a website accessibility policy page
- Have easily locatable contact information to allow users to request accessibility information
- Test your website accessibility according to the Website Content Accessibility Guidelines
- Automate your website accessibility check to prevent missing critical accessibility issue
ADA guidelines for Mobile Apps
While there are no specific standards for Mobile Apps, here are a few key requirements from WCAG that apply to the mobile app as well:
- Design for different screen sizes: Ensure a custom aspect ratio to fit most of the screens
- Touch targets and placements: Ensure that if your mobile app has a higher resolution, the elements are large enough and have space between them for easy use.
- Consistent layouts and templates: Ensure the templates and layouts used on the app are consistent across multiple pages
- Ease of data entry: Ensure that the data that needs to be entered is screen reader and other assistive technology friendly.
- Color Contrast: Ensure that the color contrast is per the WCAG standard
ADA compliance services cost between $500 to $5000. The costs will depend on your website size, how compliant your website is now, and more. For a small website, the initial audit starts at around $500. And it costs as much as $10,000 for particularly large domains.
For example, you could conduct an accessibility audit with Userway, a standard testing responsive web design for devices of all sizes, and a design audit to build accessibility into the core of your website in its initial stages. You could also begin with a micro audit with human-in-the-loop tools.
WCAG 3.0, a successor to WCAG 2.2, will make content accessible to people with a wide range of disabilities, including accommodations for blindness, low vision and other vision impairments; deafness and hearing loss; limited movement and dexterity; speech disabilities; sensory disorders; cognitive and learning disabilities; and combinations of these.
WCAG 3.0 will be accountable for mobile and wearable device; they’re even getting into augmented reality.
ChatGPT, the Artificial intelligence chatbot, offers condensed information on any topic thus making learning easy. But how can ChatGPT and AI include accessibility? Here are a few focus areas:
- Designing for accessibility: Developers can design AI systems with accessibility in mind, by considering the needs of users with different disabilities, including visual, auditory, and motor impairments. For example, designers can provide keyboard shortcuts, adjustable font sizes and colors, and audio descriptions for users who are blind or visually impaired.
- Training on diverse data: To be truly accessible, AI systems need to be trained on diverse data sets that reflect the diversity of the population, including people with disabilities. This can help ensure that the language model is better able to understand and respond to a wide range of user inputs.
- Testing with diverse users: Developers can also test AI systems with users who have different disabilities, to ensure that the system is accessible and functional for everyone. User testing can help identify areas where the system needs improvement and enable developers to make necessary adjustments.
- Providing assistive technologies: Developers can also integrate AI systems with assistive technologies that can help users with disabilities access and interact with the system. For example, text-to-speech software can help users who are blind or visually impaired interact with a chatbot or virtual assistant.
In summary, understanding ADA guidelines and the need for accessibility earlier in the business can help your website. You avoid civil lawsuits worth 55,000 – 75000 dollars for first time violations and up to 150,000 dollars for the latter.
Understanding WCAG 2.0, the latest technological changes, will assist you in taking a smarter decision for your business and its accessibility needs.