Is your business’s website compliant with the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA)? It’s estimated that over one in four U.S. adults are living with some type of disability, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). To protect these disabled individuals from discrimination, federal lawmakers passed the ADA in 1999.

About the ADA

The ADA requires businesses to accommodate the needs of disabled individuals. Brick-and-mortar businesses, for instance, must provide wheelchair ramps as an alternative to stairs, and they must typically provide handicap parking spaces. Failure to comply with these requirements can leave businesses susceptible to lawsuits.

Your business’s website must also comply with the ADA. Commercial websites are considered a place of public accommodations. Therefore, you must design your business’s website so that it accommodates the needs of disabled individuals.

Follow the WCAG

  ADA compliance is achieved by adhering to the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). Developed in the mid-1990s, the WCAG is a set of web design guidelines that promote accessibility. It includes specifications for making websites more accessible to disabled individuals.

The WCAG has become the universal standard for ADA-compliant websites. You can access these guidelines by visiting w3.org/WAI/standards-guidelines/. There are three unique levels of WCAG conformance, including A, AA and AAA. A-level conformance is the easiest to achieve but offers the least accessibility, whereas AAA-level conformance is the hardest to achieve but offers the most accessibility. AA-level conformance falls in the middle.

Create Descriptive Link Text

Descriptive link text will make your website easier for disabled individuals to use. Also known as anchor text, link text is the visible string of characters and spaces that encompass a link. Visitors will often reference it to decide whether to follow a link. By creating link text that clearly and accurately describes the content of the linked page, your website will be easier for visitors to use.

Descriptive link text is particularly useful for visitors who are blind or otherwise visually impaired. With a visual impairment, visitors may use screen reading software to convert your website’s text into audio. Descriptive link text allows screen reading software to interpret the links correctly.

Include Captions With Videos

If your website features videos, you should include captions with them. Designing an ADA-compliant website with videos requires the use of captions. Captions are text transcripts that display in real time over videos while the videos are being watched. They are designed to make videos more accessible to visitors with a hearing impairment.

Hearing impairment is a common disability. According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), it affects over 30 million Americans over the age of 12. Including captions with your website’s videos will allow them to understand the media content. They won’t have to hear the dialogue or music in your website’s videos. With captions, they can read them.

YouTube offers a free captioning service. When you upload a video to YouTube, it will automatically create captions based on the dialogue and music. Because these captions are automatic, however, they contain errors. You can edit the captions of a YouTube video by selecting “Subtitles” in YouTube Studio. To use a captioned YouTube video on your website, you can then embed it.

Give Images Alt Text

Don’t forget to give your website’s images descriptive alt text. Alt text is a type of Hypertext Markup Language (HTML) attribute. As the name suggests, it’s designed to offer a text alternative to a given image. If an image doesn’t load for a visitor, or if the visitor can’t see the image, he or she can refer to the alt text to understand it.

Visitors who are blind or visually impaired often rely on alt text to understand images. They use screen reading software to convert this HTML attribute into audio. Like with link text, screen reading software will read alt text aloud so that visitors can hear it.

Avoid Excessive Flashing or Blinking

You should avoid using visual content that flashes or blinks excessively in your website’s design. Excessive flashing or blinking will make your website less accessible. Visitors who are epileptic, for example, may not be able to use it. Epilepsy is a neurological disorder that’s characterized by regular seizures. In many cases, epilepsy-related seizures are triggered by flashing or blinking visuals.

Version 2.0 of the WCAG states that visual content, including images and videos, should blink flash or blink no faster than three times per second. Any visual content that flashes or blinks faster than this rate can increase the risk of seizures in epileptic visitors.

Use Strong Contrast

Strong contrast is a specification of the WCAG. The color of your website’s text should contrast strongly with the surrounding background. With poor contrast, the text won’t be clearly distinguishable from the background. The text and background will essentially blend together.

You can’t go wrong with a black-and-white color scheme. Using black text on a white background will create strong contrast. Therefore, visitors won’t struggle to read the text. Strong contrast allows them to easily read the text by distinguishing it from the background.

Retain Keyboard Controls

Another ADA compliance tip to follow when designing your website is to retain keyboard controls. Visitors should be able to navigate and browse your website by performing keyboard commands. Pressing the Tab key, for instance, should move visitors forward to the next element, whereas pressing the Shift+Tab keys together should move visitors backward to the previous element.

While web browsers support keyboard controls, they don’t work for all websites. Certain forms of Hypertext Markup Language (HTML) and JavaScript code can break these default keyboard controls. For accessibility and ADA compliance, you should retain your website’s keyboard controls. Make sure that you can control your website using keyboard commands rather than a mouse.

ADA compliance isn’t something you can ignore. Your business’s website will attract visitors from all walks of life, some of whom may be disabled. Designing your business’s website so that it complies with the ADA will make it accessible to everyone.