In a world that's increasingly interconnected, digital accessibility is essential, not optional. Making electronic, online and virtual spaces, services, and platforms accessible helps include everyone in this substantial part of our lives.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) grew from a basic and urgent need for accessibility, and as a response to a long history of disability discrimination. It was eventually signed into law in the summer of 1990. Prior to the ADA, people with disabilities were often denied access to jobs, schools, and other public places. They were also often subject to unfair treatment and exclusion in employment, housing, and other areas of life.
The impact of the ADA was not just significant, it was a major turning point. ADA law prohibits multiple types of discrimination against people with disabilities in all areas of public life, including employment, education, transportation, state and local government services, and telecommunications. The law's premise is based on a vision of offering the same opportunities and rights to everyone, a mission inspired by the civil rights movement, and fueled by people's experiences with disability-based bias and barriers.
The ADA did not initially cover websites, because as shocking as it sounds to say now, they did not exist. The World Wide Web, the world's very first website, went online the summer after the ADA was passed into law, in August of 1991, invented and launched by Tim Berners-Lee. The World Wide Web was first thought of as a solution that would create a data link around the world, so scientists at universities and research institutes could share information more easily and automatically. It quickly grew beyond that, with the creation and release of the first browser, Mosaic, in 1993. 1994 was called the “Year of the Web”.
The ADA was originally intended to improve accessibility in a physical context, such as requiring wheelchair ramps and wider doors. The world quickly turned in a digital direction, however, and the ADA followed with unanticipated but logical and necessary changes. Today, ADA requirements also cover an expanded territory that includes not just defining wider entrances to buildings, but calling for a wide-open virtual door to the growing cyber spaces and highways of digital media.
Disabilities vary, but most are included in ADA compliance. They can overlap each other. Disabilities can be lifelong or short-term, caused by a variety of factors, including genetics, injury, illness, aging, and conditions such as pregnancy or post-surgery recovery.
Blind, color-blind, poor vision, blurred vision
Deaf, hard of hearing
Low mobility, immobile limbs, partial or full paralysis, palsies
Aphasia, apraxia of speech, difficulty speaking or making words
Cognitive difficulties, memory loss, brain injury, autism, ADHD
New or increased difficulties for aging adults: visual, auditory, mobility or cognitive
Temporary mobility or cognitive difficulties due to physical or mental health conditions
Crowds, bright sunlight or poor lighting, or loud surroundings are all situations that can briefly affect concentration, hearing and vision
Some of the many reasons why ADA accessibility compliance is essential:
There are several types of ADA accessibility compliance. Consider how you can or should implement and improve each one.
Really, everyone should aim for ADA compliance, but businesses and organizations with public-facing digital platforms have more of a legal obligation. ADA compliance standards apply universally and are not exclusively relevant to any location or industry. However, larger-scale businesses, or organizations that provide public services, like schools and healthcare facilities, should be especially vigilant.
To get a better understanding of your ADA compliance status, consider conducting an ADA assessment. For digital purposes, there are various testing tools available to see how your website or application stacks up against ADA compliance requirements. Most such tools check your content and design against WCAG guidelines.
If you find any accessibility errors (and you will, no doubt about it), you can fix them yourself or hire a web developer to fix them for you.
To meet ADA guidelines for digital accessibility, you’ll want to use every useful solution you can. Some compliance strategies and tools include accessibility testing, screen readers, alternative text for images, and keyboard navigation, which can be set up in several ways, whether directly in the site or app, or with an extension, plugin, overlay, or outside testing.
Another way to check for ADA compliance is to have a manual accessibility audit performed, either by expert accessibility auditors or by testers who have disabilities themselves. This is a more comprehensive approach that can help you identify accessibility errors that may not be picked up by a web accessibility testing tool.
SiteImprove, UserWay, accessiBe, EqualWeb, Deque, and Knowbility are some of the many companies offering specialized services to help you meet ADA site compliance. They provide accessibility tools and consulting services intended to improve your web accessibility. We recommend that you check reviews carefully before you proceed with any accessibility service.
Among the things you can do to improve web accessibility specifically following ADA guidelines, we suggest that you begin with these:
Alt text is a written description of an image. It’s important for people who are blind or have low vision, because it allows them to understand what the image is about.
Headings are used to structure content. Descriptive headings that are logically ordered and correctly coded help people understand the structure of a web page, and find the information they are looking for.
Color contrast is the difference in brightness between two colors. Sufficient color contrast is especially important for people with low vision, as it allows them to see the text on a web page.
Keyboard navigation is the ability to navigate a web page using only the keyboard. Keyboard navigation is important for people with mobility impairments, so they can access a web page without using a mouse.
As more and more people use the web and digital tools and services, it is increasingly important to make sure that the web is accessible to everyone. New technologies are emerging that are already in use to help make the web more accessible. For example, artificial intelligence is being used to develop new tools that can automatically identify and fix accessibility errors. The future of ADA compliance and web accessibility is bright. But it’s up to us to make sure that promise becomes reality.
The concept of accessibility is broader than fulfilling the letter of the law. ADA compliance is more than a to-do list, and it goes way beyond covering your business to avoid litigation or financial fallout. Real commitment to inclusivity should be guide all that you do, in both the physical world and your digital materials, online and off. By building in ADA accessibility, we help create a world that welcomes everyone.
The ADA is a US-based law. However, websites or web applications that are used by people in the US may fall under its jurisdiction even if they are not based in the United States. They may be required to comply with ADA requirements as well as their own local government regulations around accessibility.
Some of the most common ADA accessibility violations include:
Here are a few tips:
We suggest you take the following steps: