How to make sure your website is ADA compliant

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is one of America’s most comprehensive pieces of civil rights legislation. Most people are familiar with the physical accommodations businesses make, such as automatic door openers and wheelchair ramps. But the ADA applies to the virtual world as well.

Under the law, websites should be just as accessible as ATMs (ever notice the Braille there?), elevators, terminals and other user interfaces. Not only should your site be accessible to all on a laptop or desktop but also on tablets and mobile phones. Failing ADA compliance creates poor and awkward experiences for people with physical disabilities. Simply put, ADA compliance is assuring your website falls within a set of prescribed accessibility standards.

Remember, not everyone uses standard browsers like Google Chrome. There are many people who use different types of devices to access this information, such as text readers and audio scanners. Those tools need special instructions to help translate or convey the information on the web page to the user.

1. Find an ADA agency.

Mention ADA compliance to many web developers and you may encounter a blank stare. First, find an agency working with the web platform or framework you use and ask about how their development workflow addresses accessibility. Most platforms have a partner directory. From there, you can start vetting agencies for their actual experience with web accessibility.

For example, if you have an ecommerce site, you should generally stick to an agency that specializes in that platform (e.g., Bigcommerce, Magento, WordPress, etc.). You should also aim for agencies that have experience with the various tools that assess  a site’s accessibility (e.g. Siteimprove or Criterion).

2. Audit your code.

The prudent next step is running an audit on your site. The tools will crawl your site and identify all the areas that do not meet web accessibility standards for ADA compliance. The results will give you a very clear sense of the work involved so you can budget properly and weigh the benefits. Who knows, you may find out that your site is already fairly compliant, especially if you are on a fairly progressive platform and have used proper coding practices during your site build.

The cost will depend on your server setup, tools involved and the type of platform your website uses. Each site configuration has varying ramifications. In essence, the ADA audit cost could range from a few hundred dollars to a few thousand dollars or even more.

3. Determine the level of effort to become compliant.

At this point, an agency can use the report to gauge the overall level of effort and provide an estimate. Good partners will sit down with you and plot out a budget, some timelines, the proposed deliverables and some expectation management.

Perhaps the task list is so large that this approach is just not feasible for your company. At least, you’ll understand where you sit with ADA compliance and can plan to address it in the near future. Some critical work is usually better than no changes at all.

For others, full ADA compliance is a must, because of company size, sales strategy, audience or legal counsel.

4. Put in the work.

Once the project has been properly roadmapped, it’s time to get to work. Your development agency will start to work through the various tasks and be able to communicate how these changes will positively affect the user experience. Below are some common ADA issues and the resolutions:

  • The images on your site must have some alternative text associated with them in the event they do not render on a device or the user is unable to see the image. The alternative text will then clearly describe what that element is. Without that text, some of the screen readers will not understand what information is being presented.
  • If the colors on your site for important elements like buttons do not have enough contrast then it is hard for users to discern what the button is and where it should go.
  • If various inputs for forms on your website do not have proper labels, this makes it hard if not impossible for certain ADA devices to interpret their function. An easy example is a checkout form for an ecommerce site.

5. Stay up-to-date on compliance standards post-launch.

ADA compliance isn’t a set-it-and-forget-it thing. Compliance standards must be followed and will evolve just as your website does. There are guidelines all website contributors must know to stay within ADA guidelines. It is generally not burdensome but it does require some web managers to change their workflows. For example, loading images up to your ecommerce site will always need some of that alternative text (alt tags) mentioned above.

ADA compliance has many benefits. It gives you a competitive advantage and may lead to more transactions, offers a better overall experience across browsers, provides digestible information for Google and other search engine results, helps the site reach a wider audience and reduces likelihood of ADA litigation.

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