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    A Guide to ADA Compliant Website Design and Development

    By Roger Banks

    As an entrepreneur, building a successful business requires significant consideration for your target audience. Your perspective should also include theirs for you to have a better picture of your standard of service. While it’s impossible to consider the peculiarities of every single customer, there is an acceptable minimum requirement that caters to the majority, and falling below this yardstick affects your brand negatively. Crucial among these basic criteria is having an ADA compliant website.

     

    ADA compliant web design is a requirement that ensures customers with special needs can easily access and engage with your business in the online world.

     

    ada compliant web design

    What Is ADA Compliance?

    ADA stands for Americans with Disabilities Act. It is a body of law prescribing basic accessibility standards for public and commercial establishments to follow for the benefit of people with disabilities. Essentially, it guarantees ease of access to disabled individuals. As long as you render public service, be it commercial or otherwise, the law expects you to comply with its stipulated accessibility standards.

     

    Is ADA Compliance Mandatory for Websites?

    One common question that businesses and organizations have is, “Does my website need to be ADA compliant?” The answer depends on who the website represents. According to the U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division, state and local governments need to be ADA compliant, as do businesses that are open to the public. Examples of the latter include banks, retail establishments, hotels, and stadiums.

     

    While the ADA is often associated with physical locations, businesses should also extend their compliance to digital spaces. Electronic and information technologies should ideally follow ADA-compliant website requirements, which also extend to software and applications.

     

    When you rely on ADA compliant website development, you make your website more accessible and navigable to users with disabilities. Such user-centered design identifies the challenges that special needs visitors could face and implements solutions to improve their user experience.

     

    ADA compliant web design not only improves your brand image but also saves you from penalties such as fines and expensive lawsuits. The ADA Web Accessibility Lawsuit Statistics report indicates that there were 4,600 ADA cases filed in 2023, with New York, Florida, and California sitting at the top of the table. This emphasizes the increasing focus on ADA compliance and makes it imperative for businesses to design websites that as many visitors as possible find usable, particularly those with disabilities.

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    Is My Website ADA Compliant?

    What is an ADA compliant website? It is a website that you optimize for users with disabilities. Before making significant changes to your website, you must first know if it is ADA compliant. Here are some of the ways to do so.

    • Accessibility tools. There are several ADA compliant website checkers you may use to evaluate your website. Tools like Lighthouse and Wave assess web features such as text size, color contrast, media content, and more to determine your website’s level of compliance. While these checkers can only analyze one webpage at a time, they are free and effective.
    • Manual assessment. This involves personally checking your website’s compliance using the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). The WCAG comprises an extensive ADA compliant website checklist. It focuses on four main principles that include perception, operation, understanding, and robustness. These fundamentals encompass all actionable items under ADA compliance.
    • Professional audit. Another approach is to enlist the help of a digital agency that knows how to make ADA compliant websites. In addition to assessing your website for compliance, it can also recommend strategies for improving web design and functionality according to ADA standards.

     

    It is important to note that the WCAG offers three levels of ADA compliance. Depending on a website’s provision for users with disabilities, it is categorized into levels A, AA, or AAA, with the first being the minimum level of compliance.

     

    How to Make a Website ADA Compliant?

    Creators of the best ADA compliant websites take a proactive approach toward inclusivity and providing the best user experience for visitors. This may include a few changes in your web design or a complete overhaul. However, before you proceed with redesigning your website, you should know the kinds of accessibility issues disabled users may experience on your website. Here are the most common examples.

    • Visual impairments such as color blindness or total blindness.
    • Neurological and motor disabilities such as autism.
    • Cognitive impairments such as learning, language, and speech impediment.
    • Auditory impairments that include all kinds of hearing problems.

     

    Some great ADA compliant website examples come from brands like Lakers Store, PlayStation, Tomy, and Six Flags. Having mastered ADA compliance requirements, these websites provide easy access to all their users, regardless of their disabilities.

     

    If you’re wondering what makes a website ADA compliant, paying attention to these aspects should put you on the right track.

     

    ada compliant website examples

    1. Review Website Content Accessibility Guidelines

    To begin with, you need a reference point and this is where WCAG comes in. These guidelines serve as a yardstick to measure your website’s compliance level. They offer an actionable guide for creating a website that is easily navigable for all visitors, particularly those with disabilities. Here are the four key WCAG principles to consider.

    • Perception. According to this principle, users must be able to perceive your web content and interface elements using at least one of their senses. While this criterion is primarily satisfied with visuals, web visitors with visual impairments need further assistance beyond the sense of sight. For example, audio narration could accompany text so that visually impaired users may still engage with your website.
    • Operation. This principle offers practical insight into how to make your website more user-friendly. It proposes that your website’s user interface (UI) must be operable. It covers the necessity of making core website functionality optimized for all users. For disabled users, you should take all necessary precautions to assist their navigation. For instance, web design elements such as buttons should be clickable in some way, either via touch, a keyboard, a mouse, or a voice command.
    • Understandability. This principle states that all information and operations within your website must be understandable. It mainly focuses on making text as comprehensible as possible so web visitors know what to do. For example, content shouldn’t be too technical. You can also offer input assistance to further clue visitors in on how to navigate the website.
    • Robustness. To meet this criterion, you should develop your website using well-adopted web standards that work across different browsers and devices, both now and in the future. For instance, web users should be able to access your website on mobile phones and laptops as well as Chrome and Safari. Additionally, your content should be compatible with assistive technologies like screen readers so that web users with disabilities can also have an enjoyable user experience (UX).

     

    2. Choose the Right Graphics

    Visuals are great for simplifying complex information and captivating viewers. However, if your graphic design does not align with ADA compliant website requirements, it puts you at risk of alienating some members of your target audience.

     

    Designing your website with ADA compliance in mind enables all web visitors to effortlessly engage with your visual content. It portrays your brand as inclusive and shows your entire audience that you see and support them. However, achieving this requires making the right choices when it comes to graphic design.

     

    Color

    Statistics from Color Blind Awareness show that about 300 million people (4.5% of the world’s population) suffer from color blindness. When it comes to color, you need to ensure that the contrast is enough for users to read text legibly and tell design elements apart.

     

    For instance, layer text or icons on colored backgrounds in a way that will appear elevated enough for users to distinguish them. Using suitable color schemes for your website would help enhance the perception of these visually impaired individuals.

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    Text

    Your font choice greatly impacts the legibility and readability of your web content. Overly small font sizes will undoubtedly affect readability, requiring more effort from users to comprehend text. Additionally, heavily stylized fonts could potentially dampen the quality of your typography. Ensure your design is practical enough for all users to grasp the relevant information.

     

    You should choose design elements that offer a remarkable user experience to all your web visitors. Not only do they determine if a visually impaired individual can understand your designs, but they also prevent those with regular vision from having a bad user experience.

     

    3. Pair Multimedia Files with Text

    Multimedia files like videos, pictures, and audio clips are key components of web design. However, not all users can perceive them as expected. Therefore, you should provide alternative ways for disabled persons to access the content. This precaution is particularly helpful to deaf users who can’t hear audio files and visually impaired users who depend on screen readers to describe images. Here is how to make multimedia content more accessible.

    • Images should have alt text. Alt text describes images on webpages. Screen readers narrate these texts to disabled users when they come across images online.
    • Add subtitles to videos. This helps users with hearing difficulties understand the speech in video clips. Additionally, it also benefits users without hearing difficulties. For example, foreign visitors struggling to understand a speaker’s accent can read subtitles. Subtitles are also useful when users cannot play audio out loud.
    • Transcribe all audio content. A transcript is speech rendered in text. Users can always refer to this to better understand audio files. You can either make it descriptive or a word-for-word transcription. Additionally, you can further boost ADA compliance by including an audio narration of the transcript. This extra step helps visually impaired users understand the content.
    • Avoid communicating with images. A heavy reliance on images to convey information on your website can be detrimental. While it may appear aesthetically appealing, it isn’t an ideal move for ADA compliance, as is the case when rendering texts as images. Not only does this affect users with disabilities because assistive technologies can’t describe such elements, but it also affects your website’s search engine optimization (SEO) performance because search engines can’t read such text.

     

    4. Use Informative Calls-To-Action

    Call-to-action (CTA) buttons are a crucial part of business websites. They are clickable commands that guide consumers toward making purchases or subscribing to services. Their significance makes it imperative for all users to have access to them. For consumers with disabilities, you should take extra care to guide them toward these actions.

     

    Consider using descriptive text or hyperlinks that indicate where to click and all other subsequent requirements. Be more specific about what you expect from users, offering them as much information as possible so that know what to do and how to go about the process. For instance, you can label a CTA button as “Call for a quote” instead of the vague “Click here.” In addition to helping the average user, when screen readers read the button for disabled users, they know precisely what they are opting for.

     

    ada compliant website design

    5. Support Keyboard Navigation

    Web users with motor impairments who cannot use a mouse or trackpad mostly rely on keyboard navigation. These include people who suffer from tremors or have limited use of their hands. Alternatively, such people use the tab key on their keyboards to browse web pages. Therefore, it is essential that you optimize your website for keyboard accessibility.

     

    According to the World Wide Web Consortium, a keyboard-accessible website should allow users to toggle between elements on a digital interface using just their keyboards. Additionally, when users navigate design elements, a focus indicator should show where they are on the page. This enhances their navigation experience on your website.

     

    6. Test for Improvement

    Before you unveil your website for public use, it is important to test its performance. This enables you to identify flaws and make adjustments accordingly. Beyond following theoretical guidelines, put your website’s practicability to the test. You may invite persons with disabilities to rate its usability and offer suggestions based on their experiences. Such firsthand insights are immensely valuable and will steer you toward better ADA compliant web design.

     

    In addition to user feedback, you can also check if your website is ADA compliant using software designed specifically for this or by hiring professionals to do it for you. Either way, the goal is to ensure that your website is compliant enough to go live.

     

    Conclusion

    Accessibility is no longer just an option; it has become a non-negotiable part of customer service that offers equal web access to all. ADA compliance enforces this by requiring all public spaces, including websites, to eliminate discriminatory practices against disabled people.

     

    Following ADA compliance requirements is essential for a truly optimized website. It ensures that your web design is accessible to every member of your audience, especially those with disabilities. Moreover, it safeguards your business against legal ramifications arising from non-compliance and creates a better overall user experience.

     

    Satisfying all the compliance requirements can be overwhelming, and it’s fairly common for government bodies, organizations, and businesses to partner with professionals. When you partner with a digital agency that provides ADA compliant web design services, you may rest easy knowing that you’re in safe hands.

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