A Mini Guide to Testing Your Website for ADA and WCAG Compliance
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) covers way more than just ensuring wheelchair accessibility in physical properties like shopping malls and department stores. It extends to digital properties as well.
That is, just as your business’s physical premises need to be easily accessible to individuals with disabilities, the same individuals should also be able to navigate your business website with ease.
Why Website Accessibility Deserves Your Attention
Nearly 26 percent (one in four) of adults in the United States live with a disability, according to the CDC. Furthermore, findings from the 2017 National Health Interview Survey (NHIS) data release ascertained that an estimated 26.9 million adult Americans (or about 10 percent of all adult Americans) reported they either "have trouble" seeing, even when wearing glasses or contact lenses, or that they are blind or unable to see at all.
These numbers are substantial and failing to make your website accessible will automatically turn away this potential client base before you’ve even had a chance to introduce who you are and what your business is about.
Secondly and more importantly, by not making your website accessible to the impaired and disabled, you are vulnerable to costly lawsuits and claims by advocacy groups. In fact, discussions about website accessibility have increased and according to a recent report by UsableNet, 2018 saw a 181 percent increase in Federal ADA lawsuits over 2017.
Brief Background on ADA and WCAG
Way back in 1990, then-President George H.W. Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) into effect. This act required businesses to satisfy the basic accessibility needs of all the customers they served. Presenting services that were inaccessible to disabled customers would be viewed as a violation.
Over the decades, technology (specifically the internet) has grown increasingly prevalent and most businesses have expanded online. This is where the WCAG comes into the picture.
The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) are a set of recommendations for making online content more accessible, primarily for people with disabilities.
These guidelines were first published by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) in 1999. WCAG 2.0 was issued in December 2008 and became an ISO standard. WCAG 2.1 was recently released in June 2018 which added 17 new success criteria, most of which are aimed at aiding people with poor vision and cognitive disabilities.
What Can Happen if You Overlook ADA Compliance
As mentioned earlier, a sizeable number of lawsuits and claims have already been filed against businesses that have overlooked ADA’s standards for digital compliance. By the end of 2016, at least 244 lawsuits had been filed. That figure had reached 814 towards the end of 2017. And by 2018, there had been more than 2,300 ADA lawsuits.
As we bid goodbye to 2019, this number is estimated to reach 6,000. Several companies big and small have been struck by such lawsuits.
One of the first lawsuits of this type involved the famous supermarket chain Winn-Dixie. They were ordered to pay a six-figure settlement. Dominos, Hulu, Harvard, and MIT also endured similar lawsuits.
While larger companies with deep pockets may be able to work through a lawsuit, smaller businesses may not be able to cope. Your best bet is to start fixing your website right away, not just out of fear of legal action but to better serve your customers and grow your client base.
How to Make Your Website Accessible
Now that the significance of web accessibility is crystal clear, let’s look at how you can start making your website more accessible and stay on the right side of the law.
Here are five ways to get started pronto:
Check All Visual Content for Alt Text and Captions
The first thing to ensure is that all images on your web page have an alt attribute so the content is accessible to people who use assistive technology. Screen readers don’t innately know what an image displays, so it’s crucial that accurate alt text is provided.
Without the alt attribute, people with visual disabilities can’t fully access your content. Moreover, videos rely on visual and auditory cues to convey the information. To make this information accessible to everyone, it has to be presented in multiple formats.
As you know, captions are text alternatives of the audio content, synced with the video. For people who are deaf or hard-of-hearing, captions and text transcripts are essential.
Ensure Your Site is Keyboard-Friendly
Many people can’t use a mouse to browse the web. They rely on a keyboard or alternative input device. And so, understand that keyboard accessibility is vital to better web accessibility, and it’s your duty as a site owner to see to it that your site is accessible using just a keyboard.
Everything that can be done with a mouse needs to be accomplished with a keyboard. Plus, users who have eyesight but navigate using the keyboard need to know where they are on the page. Thus, there must be a visible focus indicator that clearly distinguishes the active element the user is currently selecting.
Verify Color Contrast
Color contrast relates to how well one color differentiates from another on the same page. By using adequately-contrasting colors, a website’s font becomes sharp enough for most people to read.
Luckily, there are established standards for sufficing color contrast compliance and testing it is straightforward using free tools available online. Talking about tools (including color contrast checkers).
Test Your Website With Accessibility Testing Tools
Check out this web accessibility evaluation tools list provided by W3C to make your life a bit easier. Flip through the list and find the ones that address your specific areas of concern.
Say your online business crosses borders, then you’ll need to find tools that check a website’s accessibility based on the standards set by other countries too. Some of these standards differ from the WCAG guidelines used in the U.S, such as the RGAA, which is the French equivalent of the ADA.
So, use the various tools at your disposal in the toolkit linked above to test your website for various possible accessibility issues. Your ADA compliance level is an extremely complex matter because there’s a lot you can do yourselves.
Review or Create an Accessibility Statement
Essentially, an accessibility statement is a notice on your website that tells visitors about your commitment to web accessibility. It should declare your company’s target level of accessibility and how it is attaining ADA compliance.
Accessibility statements are becoming integral to business websites and many visitors will seek them out as a swift sign of whether the business and its website prioritize equal access to information.
So, how compliant is your website? Don’t risk legal consequences -- better safe than sorry.