The Americans with Disabilities Act is a set of regulations aimed at creating greater accessibility for individuals with disabilities. The act has been around for decades, but it has become more pressing as an internet-related issue, putting pressure on brands to adjust their web and mobile practices to better accommodate a wide range of users.
What’s the ADA and what’s it mean for you?
In practice, the ADA makes discrimination against those with disabilities by organizations that are considered public accommodation, such as schools, hospitals and restaurants. It’s important to understand that these aren’t necessarily public sector locations, but instead places that are widely open to the general public. The ADA is best known for increased use of ramps into buildings and similar accessibility strategies, where specific guidelines are in place.
The problem for digital businesses stems from the lack of detailed guidance relative to website practices. Because the ADA was created before the rise of the online economy, it doesn’t really deal with compliance for digital spaces. As a result, many businesses tend to follow the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), standards that dictate best practices. These guidelines aren’t legal regulations, but they are increasingly powerful in establishing how organizations run their web systems.
Conceptually, the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines focus on four key principles. According to the standard, a website must be:
These are broad terms, but the guidelines also feature 60 specific criteria that businesses can work to comply with. For practical purposes, the primary focus for web users is adjusting design and code to make the site as accessible as possible for individuals who are blind, though many requirements are also aimed at promoting accessibility for those who are hearing impaired or disabled in a way that limits their ability to interact with traditional keyboard and mouse interfaces.
Adapting for stronger accessibility often means:
- Adjusting code so page readers can navigate content in an intelligent way.
- Using alt tags to make it easier for blind users to understand what is happening in images.
- Providing alternative ways to interact with the site so no user is left unable to engage online.
Protecting yourself from non-compliance
“ADA compliance is a particularly challenging issue for web businesses.”
ADA compliance is a particularly challenging issue for web businesses because the act has not been formally updated to reflect accessibility requirements for websites. Instead, the ADA makes accessibility online a necessary legal requirement, but lacks specificity on what that actually looks like. Businesses are following the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines as a way to strive for ADA compliance, but the actual regulatory laws are still fairly murky.
At this point, lawsuits related to ADA compliance are becoming much more common, with retailers among the most common targets. Businesses are facing incredible pressure to comply quickly, and many need support to help them adjust their web strategies in light of best practice.
Benefiting from ADA compliance
Adapting to ADA requirements isn’t just a matter of avoiding negative consequences. Businesses that adjust their website for accessibility can:
- Create better customer experiences for those with disabilities.
- Improve their reputation and brand recognition due to their efforts to be more inclusive.
- Expand their reach to users who would have otherwise considered a website too difficult or frustrating to navigate.
Pixafy offers a full range of web design and development services, and we can bring ADA expertise to your projects, helping you get your site up to standards quickly. Learn more about how ADA compliance is changing ecommerce by checking out our recorded webinar on ADA website compliance.