Florian Fuehren

Imagine the internet as a bustling city, vibrant and brimming with information and personal opinions. Now, think of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) as the civic engineer who ensures everyone, regardless of their abilities, can navigate this digital metropolis.

Initially focused on making physical spaces more accessible, the ADA has expanded the scope of its recommendations and now also publishes recommendations on website accessibility.

By making your website ADA-compliant, you’re not just following a set of guidelines, though. You’re opening doors to a universe where web content and services are available to all, including the 15% of the world’s population living with disabilities. Join us on our journey toward inclusivity in the digital age to foster a diverse exchange of ideas!

Your Guide to ADA-Compliant Website Content

The ADA’s Title III is not just a legal formality but a crucial framework for digital inclusivity, mandating equal access to goods, services and information for people with disabilities. Even though some regulations may not always have legal status, the rise in ADA lawsuits against companies such as Victoria’s Secret and Marriott shows that customers are rightfully claiming equal treatment online. Meeting a certain accessibility standard is how you as a website owner can do your part. It’s more than a business obligation; it’s a moral imperative.

The Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) at the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) echoes this sentiment, emphasizing the role of accessible websites and apps as the foundation for an equitable digital environment. As per the W3C’s WAI, website accessibility hinges on several key principles:

  • Perceivability: Web content and user interface components must be presentable to users in ways they can perceive. This includes providing alternative text, captions for multimedia and ensuring that content can be presented in different ways.
  • Usable interfaces: User interface components and navigation must be operable for everyone. This involves making all functionality available from a keyboard, giving users enough time to read and use content and avoiding web design choices known to cause seizures.
  • Legible: The user interface operation must be understandable. This means offering an accessible design that makes text readable and content appear and operate in predictable ways.
  • Compatible with assistants: Content must be formatted with a variety of user agents in mind, including assistive technology like screen readers.

How Can You Make a Website ADA Compliant?

1. Accessible Content Structure

Creating accessible content is fundamental for an ADA-compliant website. Follow these guidelines to enhance content accessibility:

  • Keep Sentences Short: Opt for concise sentences to improve readability.
  • Use Bullet Points: Replace lengthy paragraphs with bullet points for better comprehension.
  • Emphasize with Bold Text: Highlight important phrases using bold formatting.
  • Structured Headings: Implement a proper heading structure to facilitate navigation.

2. Alt Text for Multimedia Content

To make multimedia content accessible to everyone, incorporate descriptive alt text:

  • Images, Audio, Video, and Controls: Ensure that every form of multimedia content has descriptive alt text. This allows users to understand the content even if they can’t perceive it fully.

3. Color Contrast Optimization

Enhance the visual accessibility of your website by paying attention to color contrast:

  • User-Friendly Design: Use an ADA-compliant website checker to evaluate color contrast. This is crucial for creating a visually accessible and user-friendly design.

4. Transcripts and Captions

Ensure your website accommodates users with hearing impairments by providing transcripts and captions:

  • Audio and Video Content: Include easily accessible transcripts for audio and video content.
  • Captions for Videos: Add captions to all your website videos to make the content comprehensible to a broader audience.

5. Descriptive Links and HTML Labels

Improve user experience and navigation through descriptive links and HTML labels:

  • Clear Link Descriptions: Craft descriptive links that inform users of the destination.
  • Functional HTML Labels: Implement HTML labels to clarify the function of buttons, ensuring a seamless user experience.

Remember that these are just some rough pointers. Maintaining ADA compliance is a continuous journey, involving regular audits, updates and adaptations to ensure ongoing accessibility for all users. In the end, embracing these principles is worth it, though. It signifies a commitment of your enterprise to social responsibility and ethical digital citizenship, thus indirectly positioning your brand as respectful, fair and considerate.

Tools for Web Accessibility Compliance Testing

When it comes to web accessibility, having the right tools is like having a map in a maze. They guide you through the complex terrain of compliance testing, ensuring that no one is left behind in the digital landscape. Here’s a rundown of some key applications and platforms to equip you for this journey:

  • Axe: Think of Axe as your accessibility detective. Axe’s developer tools dive deep into your website, sniffing out common usability issues. From color contrast errors to missing alt texts, Axe provides detailed reports, making it easier to pinpoint and fix issues.
  • WAVE (Web Accessibility Evaluation Tool): Wave’s suite offers a visual representation of your site’s accessibility features and flaws. With its user-friendly interface, WAVE highlights errors directly on your webpage and provides practical suggestions for improvement.
  • Google Lighthouse: Google’s own website analysis tool is integrated with Chrome DevTools, focusing not only on accessibility but also on other key aspects like performance and SEO. Lighthouse runs a series of audits against the page, then it generates a report on how well the page did and what can be improved.
  • Manual testing with screen readers and keyboard navigation: While automated tools do a stellar job, they can’t catch everything. This is where manual testing steps in. Using screen readers like JAWS or NVDA and navigating your site via keyboard alone gives you insights into the user experience of people with visual and motor impairments. 

When wielding these tools, remember, it’s not just about ticking boxes. It’s about examining key web design elements — from ensuring alt texts are descriptive and meaningful, to implementing headings and semantic HTML for better content structure. Every element, every tag, every contrast adjustment plays a critical role in making your website not just accessible, but welcoming to all.

How the Web Content Accessibility Guideline Supports Your ADA Compliance Efforts

ADA compliance and Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) are like gasoline and an internal combustion engine. They’re not the same; they complement each other while moving you toward the goal of content accessibility. The ADA sets the stage with legal requirements; WCAG hands you a manual.

Be prepared to have a different perspective on your work and content after this process. Even user experience designers specialized in ADA web compliance have to constantly walk through different use case scenarios and imagine walking a mile in someone else’s shoes, looking for that one accessibility issue that might trip up users. That’s why it’s advisable to start on a blank slate by running a full accessibility audit of your content and drawing insights from automated tools and real users.

Are your images hidden for some users because you forgot to add alt text? Is your web copy blending into the background like a chameleon? It may appear as a clever design choice to you, but for those 15%, it’s just frustrating. Fixing these issues is like laying out a welcome mat for everyone.

The WCAG guidelines come with three levels — Level A is your basic, Level AA is your go-to standard (and the one most aligned with ADA), and Level AAA is like the extra icing on the cake. Also, recommendations are constantly updated with iterative versions. Listing all the requirements for each level is beyond the scope of this blog post. But to give you an idea:

For Level A, you’d have to add alt tags, make all content operable through a keyboard interface and maintain certain thresholds for flashing visuals. Level AA would require parameters like text that’s resizable up to 200% without assistive technology and content that’s not only readable under specific display orientation. To achieve Level AAA, you’d have to enable users to pick foreground and background colors for visual text and make keyboard operability independent from specifically timed keystrokes.

As you can tell from these examples, accessibility testing can get fairly technical. Remember that this is not just about avoiding legal snags; it’s about opening your digital doors to everyone. Make sure to allocate the appropriate resources and put an experienced team on it.

Legal Accessibility Requirements: A Global Perspective Beyond ADA

​​While the ADA sets great standards for digital inclusivity in the U.S., similar legal requirements exist around the world, each aimed at ensuring equal access to digital content for people with disabilities. Let’s explore these international counterparts to the ADA and how they contribute to creating a universally accessible digital world.

  • The Australian Disability Discrimination Act (DDA): The DDA serves a role similar to the ADA. This act, governed by the Australian Human Rights Commission, mandates that organizations provide equal access to services and information, including digital content. The DDA is backed by the Web Accessibility National Transition Strategy, which guides Australian government agencies in implementing the WCAG.
  • United Kingdom Equality Act 2010: This comprehensive act replaced previous anti-discrimination laws with a single act, making it illegal to discriminate against people with disabilities. Building on this initial effort, the UK government also enforced the Public Sector Bodies (Websites and Mobile Applications) Accessibility Regulations 2018, which require public sector websites and mobile apps to meet something comparable to WCAG 2.1 AA standards.
  • The European Union’s Web Accessibility Directive: The EU’s response to digital accessibility is embodied in the WAD. This directive requires EU public sector bodies to ensure their websites and mobile apps fulfill specific accessibility standards, closely aligned with WCAG 2.1. Compliance with the WAD not only ensures digital inclusivity but also fosters a harmonized approach to accessibility across member states, facilitating a seamless digital experience for all citizens of the EU.
  • Country-specific laws within the EU: It’s worth noting that some EU countries have their own regulations independent of those enforced by the EU. For instance, France implemented the “Law on the Digital Republic” (Loi pour une République numérique), Spain the Royal Decree 1112/2018 and Germany the Act on Equal Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities (Behindertengleichstellungsgesetz, or BGG) and the Barrier-Free Information Technology Ordinance (Barrierefreie-Informationstechnik-Verordnung, or BITV 2.0). Most of these regulations comply with the overarching EU directive but also highlight the countries’ individual commitment to creating an inclusive and barrier-free digital environment for their citizens.