Do You Have An ADA Compliant Website?

On June 2nd, 2016 Target signed an agreement with the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) to become a Strategic Nonvisual Access Partner. It was a huge coup for both the retailer and the non-profit, and an amazing statement of how far the two had come since the landmark class-action lawsuit the NFB levelled against Target only a decade earlier.

In the case of National Federation of Blind v. Target Corporation, they believed that Target was discriminating against the blind by not providing access to a place of public accommodation as required by the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act, Title III.

While this might not be on the radar for a lot of companies, it is a huge issue. In the United States alone, over 57 million Americans have a disability that makes it difficult for them to access the Internet.

Even though almost 1 in 6 Americans has trouble accessing the web, the clear majority of websites are still not ADA compliant. This is very dangerous, since the Department of Justice is planning on enforcing these rules on websites in 2018.

That being said, don’t wait for the government to act (probably a good life lesson beyond just web development). In 2015 alone, the Department of Justice received 6,391 accessibility complaints. That was a 40% increase over the previous year.

This has been accompanied by an increase in lawsuits over the past two years by advocacy groups and plaintiff law firms. It is time to do something about this by ensuring your website is compliant before the DOJ enforcement comes knocking on your door.

Understanding The ADA website Compliance Rules

Before we go into how to implement the new rules for your website, we thought it would make sense to explain the rules to you. After all, how can you improve your website if you don’t understand what you need to do?

While there are a lot of guidelines governing ADA websites, we will be basing this conversation on two specific documents.

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The first is Section 508 of the Americans with Disabilities Act and the second is the Website Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) developed by the Worldwide Web Consortium (W3C).

While the two share many of the same rules, the WCAG is generally a more complete set of guidelines for websites.

That being said, the DOJ will start enforcing Section 508 on private commercial websites based on the ADA laws as well as at all federal institutions. Therefore, it is important to understand both sets of rules.

When we discuss the information below, we will go with the stricter rules. That is because we want to make sure you are not only protected from the new rules next year, but also from future changes to the law.

What Is Required To Be An ADA-Compliant Website?

Because disability has many different forms, be aware that the rules below are intended to help the greatest number of disabled people possible with these regulations.

For clarity, the descriptions below show the language from ADA Section 508 and then an explanation in plain English.

Alternative text for non-text elements: In plain English, you need to have an alt text tag in the coding or in a caption below for your videos, images, and other media. For clarification, this text should describe the media.

This means that “Picture 10580432” is no longer acceptable. It is not acceptable from an SEO standpoint either; this finally tells marketers that they cannot get away with generic image files and descriptions.

Multimedia presentations shall be synchronized with the presentation: Have you ever noticed the transcriptions on a YouTube video? While the site’s caption quality means they still are not able to be in compliance with the ADA standards, they have made significant strides.

Over the past year, they have improved the accuracy of the transcriptions on the website, and have added transcriptions to over 1 billion videos.

The video sharing site is the perfect example of what to do and not do with your transcription efforts. Since the site receives over 300 hours of content every minute, they have some unique challenges.

Image of a snow-filled television

It is good that they provide captions and transcriptions for their videos. However, the quality of the captions and transcriptions needs to improve. Otherwise, they will endanger not only themselves, but other sites that use their videos.

This is because the transcriptions and captions that they use need to be more legible. Otherwise, they will not comply with the 508 standards.

Note: WCAG 1.3 Auditory Description: The WCAG wants to go further than the 508 standards by including an auditory description of the important visual information.  

All information conveyed with color is also available without color: Approximately 1 in every 8 men as well as 1 in every 200 women are colorblind. That means they cannot differentiate between some or all colors in the color spectrum.

If you use colors to convey differing information without sufficient contrast, you are in violation. Therefore, you should stop using colors like blue or red to point something out on a page, unless you bold or italicize the text as well to demonstrate the difference between the content.

This is also why every blue link should also be underlined. The blue color is not enough to mark the difference, and the underline is another visual sign that is not reliant upon color.

circles to test for color blindness

Documents…are readable without requiring an associated stylesheet: We have mentioned before that having a quality web developer to ensure you have an ADA-compliant site is important.

One of the litmus tests of whether you need a web developer to help you is, do you know what a stylesheet is? If not, hire a web developer. Not doing so is like performing heart surgery on yourself.

Server-side vs. client-side image maps: Just a brief overview, server side image maps are where you put your content on a server. Customer side image maps render content directly in a browser using JavaScript. Avoid server-side image maps. They are not best practice on the web. Client-side image maps are the cool images that have multiple links.

Row and column headers shall be identified: While saying a table should have a row and column header sounds like it comes from the land of Duh, it actually refers more to the code.

For example, using the correct element tags like <th> for the table header is best practice.

While we are talking about this standard, we also want to mention that you should markup cells in a table that have two or more levels. Essentially, if you have a table, then the cells in the table need to be associated with the respective column or row.

Frames: Another of the topics that they discuss is the idea of using frames properly on a website. For example, an iframe allows websites to show a site within a site. The problem with frames is that they do not conform to any known best practice in the history of web development. That is because iframes make it easy for hackers to take down a website, as well as making the site code more unstable.

Screen flicker shall not be greater than 2 Hz and lower than 55 Hz: Have you heard that websites can cause seizures? That is because all computers display flickering light to users. A computer screen is literally a flickering ball of lights.

That is why many people say you need to take your eyes off the screen after a certain amount of time. The flickering lights eventually get to you. That is why rules were put in place years ago to minimize the disturbance these flickers caused. Otherwise, the web would be aglow with flickering lights not seen since the Japanese game show craze.

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