Is your website ADA-compliant?
If you’re not sure, it’s probably not compliant. An ADA-compliant website is one that has been deliberately created to be accessible to people with disabilities.
While there are no specific sections in the ADA that govern websites, courts have made it clear that the ADA (American Disabilities Act) can apply to websites under certain circumstances. If your company’s website isn’t accessible to people with disabilities, you could be at risk of getting sued, fined, and having your reputation damaged.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 is a federal law that protects people with disabilities from discrimination. The act requires that places of public accommodation be accessible to people with disabilities through assistive technologies. This sounds simple enough for a physical storefront, but it’s a little more complicated when it comes to websites.
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Are websites specifically covered by the ADA?
Technically, a website isn’t considered a place of public accommodation, so the rules are a little ambiguous. There are times when a website can be considered a place of public accommodation when it’s intricately connected with the company’s main business. However, without a clear rule on the books, it’s up for a court’s interpretation.
Whenever something is up for interpretation by the court, you’re at risk. Anytime something hasn’t been clarified in a law or statute, you can’t just get advice from a lawyer and know that it’s solid. Lawyers can give you good advice, but when there’s no clarity around the law, they could be wrong. And, remember, we do SEO for law firms, but we only offer the information for information purposes only, not as legal advice.
The only way you can avoid potential legal problems under the ADA is to make your website accessible to people with disabilities.
To help you avoid potential legal problems, this article will share strategies and tips for making your website accessible and web design compliant. First, let’s look at the risks associated with having an inaccessible website.
6 Risks associated with an inaccessible website
1. ADA lawsuits
If you think you’ll never get sued for having an inaccessible website, think again. In just the first half of 2018, there were 1,053 lawsuits filed against businesses for violating the ADA, including one against the Avanti Hotel. Contrary to what you might think, several recent court cases have determined that some businesses are required to make their website accessible under the ADA.
The two most well-known cases are Gil v. Winn Dixie and Andrews v. Blick Art Materials.
Gil v. Winn Dixie
The most famous website ADA compliance case was the 2017 Gil v. Winn Dixie case, where a man sued the grocery chain because he was unable to use his screen reader to order a prescription to pick up later at the store. A bench trial determined the grocery store had violated Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) by having a website that was incompatible with screen readers.
Winn Dixie complained to the court it would cost $250,000 to make its website fully accessible, but the court didn’t find that to be an unreasonable cost. As the court pointed out, Winn Dixie had spent $2 million in 2015 to launch their website and another $7 million in 2016 to make their website work with their “Plenti” program.
This was the first of a series of accessibility lawsuits brought against a store for having an inaccessible website. The court determined that since the website was a heavily integrated extension of the physical store, the ADA automatically applied to the website.
However, two-and-a-half years later, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the initial ruling with two findings:
- Winn Dixie didn’t violate the ADA since their website isn’t considered a place of public accommodation.
- The Winn Dixie website didn’t “pose an intangible barrier” preventing the plaintiff from accessing the goods and services offered by Winn Dixie in their brick-and-mortar storefronts.
While this ruling made it clear that websites aren’t considered places of public accommodations, and only such places are protected by the ADA, that doesn’t mean you can’t get sued.
History is full of lawsuits that changed the laws forever. You don’t want to risk getting sued and having a court rule against you. In the future, as society moves to a remote-centered existence, it’s possible that websites will become places of public accommodation under the law.
Andrews v. Blick Art Materials
In 2017, another ADA lawsuit over a website was heard in New York. This time, it was a class action lawsuit against Black Art Materials, LLC. Victor Andrews, the blind plaintiff, alleged that the company’s website was “difficult, if not impossible” to use as a blind person.
Andrews claimed there were a handful of barriers that prevented him and other blind visitors from navigating the site and making a purchase. For example, the interface was purely visual and the site delivered inaccessible pop-ups.
Visit Casetext.com for more information on this case and to read a professional opinion on how this ruling might apply to your business.
2. Frustrated/alienated visitors
While it’s great to avoid getting sued, it’s also important to keep your visitors happy. You’d never want to annoy a visitor on purpose, but annoyance is an unfortunate consequence of an inaccessible website.
Visitors with a disability already feel alienated from society because of how difficult it is to find accessible places to visit. Many businesses don’t take the ADA seriously and it makes daily life hard. When those same people try to visit inaccessible websites, their frustration is quickly compounded.
Regardless of what the law says, creating an accessible site is one of the best things you can possibly do for people who really need accessible features.
3. Fines for non-ADA website compliance
Getting sued is probably the worst possible outcome for having an inaccessible website. However, sometimes fines for sites lacking ADA compliance can be just as bad. If you don’t get sued by a customer, you can still get fined by a governing agency for violating the ADA through your website.
In 2017, the United States Department of Transportation (DOT) fined Scandinavian Airline System (SAS) $200,000 for creating a separate ADA-friendly version of its website. The company probably had no idea they did anything wrong. They probably thought making a separate website was no different than making a separate website for mobile users. However, the DOT didn’t see it that way. Even though the airline had an accessible website, they got in trouble because it was a separate website.
Initially, the DOT set a deadline of December 12, 2016 for all airline websites to be fully accessible. The DOT determined that creating a separate, accessible website wasn’t an option and required SAS to make their main website fully accessible, which they did.
4. Lost sales
Disabled people make purchases online just like everyone else. If your website is inaccessible, you’re going to lose sales. You might think the disabled population doesn’t make up enough of your customer base to worry about, but you’d be surprised to learn how many of your customers use screen readers. If your website is inaccessible, you probably have a lot of customers who would love to buy from you online, but can’t.
Spending the extra time and money to make your website accessible is worthwhile and includes a positive ROI, even if it simply acts as a good insurance policy against lawsuits. Look at it this way. If your website is more accessible than your competitors’ websites, you’ll get all the business from people who need to use screen readers and other digital accessibility assistance devices.
5. A poor reputation
Next to expensive fines and lawsuits, having a poor reputation is one of the worst things that can happen to your business. Once a disabled person feels alienated by an inaccessible website, they’ll tell their friends, everyone on social media, and even strangers online. If that happens, they’ll gather a group of people who will work hard to destroy your reputation online.
Don’t let this happen to you. Even if you didn’t mean to make your website inaccessible, people aren’t always forgiving or understanding of small mistakes.
6. Negative (and nasty) online reviews
When a website is inaccessible to people & disabilities, someone is bound to spearhead a smear campaign on social media. However, these smear campaigns don’t just stay on social media. Often, people will offer to write bad reviews for businesses they’ve never even patronized to show support for someone who feels wronged by a company.
If the person who feels wronged has a lot of contacts on social media, you can expect to get at least ten or more bad reviews. Some businesses have been hit with hundreds of bad reviews in retaliation.
5 Tips for creating and maintaining an ADA-compliant, accessible website
1. Incorporate accessibility into your SEO efforts
While web accessibility and SEO are two different things, there are some overlaps. You can tailor the following SEO efforts to support digital accessibility needs.
- Large text. Google already favors mobile-friendly websites with large text because that’s what mobile users need. Text size matters. If you check your website for mobile compatibility, Google will tell you if your text is too small.
Your website should already be using large text, but if not, it’s time to update your font size. Increasing the size of your text will make it easier for both mobile users and visually impaired visitors to read your content.
Many people, including older people and the visually impaired, use screen magnifiers to view content from their smartphone or tablet. When your text is large, they’ll have an easier time reading your content with a screen magnifier without having to manually increase the magnification of their browser window.
- Accurate image alt text. Image alt text helps disabled visitors understand what an image depicts. When a visitor is using a screen reader, it will read each image description to the visitor. Accurately describing your images is a huge help to visitors who use a screen reader. It’s one of the most important web accessibility elements and is also an important part of SEO.
There’s a little confusion regarding how image alt text affects SEO. Image alt text won’t make your website rank better – it makes your images rank in the SERPs. According to HubSpot, 38% of Google’s SERPs display images, and that number is constantly growing. The more content you can get indexed in Google, the better chances you have of generating more traffic.
- Use link title attributes sparingly. Contrary to what you may have heard, link attributes don’t actually help visually-impaired people understand more about your links.
Tool tips can be problematic for visitors who use a screen reader. For example, readers don’t always pick up on this information because it’s displayed in a tool tip when the cursor hovers over a link. Only graphical user agents can display tool tips. Users who rely on a keyboard for navigation won’t get the information.
Also, tool tips usually disappear after a few seconds, which makes equal access harder for users with impaired motor skills. Users have no control over tool tips; they can’t be resized and the website colors can’t be changed. If you’re going to use link title attributes, be sure to use them sparingly.
When are link title attributes appropriate?
Link title attributes are generally appropriate when the link title or URL doesn’t provide enough information to the visitor. However, good anchor text is often all you need.
If you choose to use link title attributes, make sure you don’t just duplicate the content or URL or title of the page. Your link title should provide additional information for visitors. If everything is completely self-explanatory, there’s no need to use a link title.
Link title attributes don’t directly impact search rankings, but it does impact usability and provides more value to your visitors.
2. Create screen-reader-friendly navigation
Screen readers interpret navigation differently than live users. A screen reader must be able to first recognize a link and then it will inform the user of where the link will take them. Your links should display anchor text that makes it clear where the link leads.
It’s advised not to use naked links because screen readers literally read the anchor text to the user. Naked links are links that use the full URL for anchor text. If you use a naked link, the screen reader will read the full URL, which can cause confusion for the user. In short, the type of backlink you use matters.
If you’ve got a strong SEO campaign, you should already be in the habit of using concise, descriptive anchor text. This will help your SEO and users who rely on screen readers.
3. Avoid using tables for your layout (use CSS instead)
In the early days of web development, tables were used to create layouts. Today, it’s best practice to create layouts using CSS. Tables – especially complex tables – aren’t accessible. Screen readers read content from left to right, top to bottom, and tables aren’t always designed to be interpreted that way.
Also, many tables include nested tables and spans that make it hard for screen readers to interpret the webpage.
Instead of using tables, start using CSS to create your layouts. You might need to hire someone to recreate your website for you, but it’s worth the time and cost. If you’re using a CMS like WordPress or Drupal, you don’t have to worry because most good designers create templates structured with CSS.
4. Create a tab-indexing-friendly design
Not everyone uses a screen reader alone to access a website. Some people also use a keyboard and use the tab key to navigate through each webpage. Pressing the tab key should automatically move the user along the page, landing on links and form elements along the way.
There is a way to use the TABINDEX attribute to force the tab key to stop at a specific location that would normally be skipped. For instance, adding TABINDEX=”0” to non-form elements on a web form will force a screen reader to stop at those sections.
This can be used to force a screen reader to stop on an element to equal access special instructions. For example, if the user is filling out a form and there are rules regarding creating a username or password, the screen reader can be forced to stop and read these instructions.
5. Get a professional ADA-compliance and accessibility analysis
If you’re looking for ways to find out if your website is ADA-compliant, pause for a moment before you give away your email address to sites promising you a free report. Most of those sites are just lead-generation tools. You’ll get a basic score for free and then you’ll have to talk to a sales rep to learn more. The sales rep will sell you a full website redesign.
The only way to get compliant is to have someone review your site, which might result in the need to revamp your whole website. However, you don’t need to sign up for spammy email lists just to make that happen.
Start contacting local web development firms and tell them you’re looking for someone who can advise you on making your site fully accessible to people with disabilities. Get your site audited by a real company and not an online forms.
Getting an audit will probably involve using some automated software, and that’s okay. The point is to work with a reputable company you know you can trust.
An ADA-compliance audit will look for several things on your website. Naturally, it will look to make sure you’re using alternative text tags for your images (alt text), but someone will need to physically access your site with a screen reader to verify the context of your alt text tags is understandable. The same goes for anchor text. Only a human can determine whether or not your anchor text is understandable.
Making your website ADA-compliant makes the world a better place
Whenever you have the opportunity to make the world a better place, take it. In this case, you have the opportunity to create an amazing website that will fix accessibility issues and will wow all of your visitors, including your disabled visitors.
Many disabled people struggle in their daily lives because businesses don’t take accessibility needs seriously. By creating an accessible website, you’re showing people that you care about their ability to equal access your content. Having an accessible site tells people you care about being inclusive, and that sentiment will generate a loyal fan base.
Why Website ADA Compliance & Accessibility Should Be a Top Priority
As the internet continues to grow and evolve, website & web accessibility have become an increasingly important accessibility issues. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires that all website content be accessible to people with disabilities, and the World Wide Web Consortium’s Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) provide detailed guidelines for how to make web content accessible.
There are a number of reasons why website accessibility should be a priority for businesses and organizations. First, it is simply the right thing to do. People with disabilities should have the same access to information and resources as everyone else.
Second, there is a growing body of evidence that shows that making your website accessible can have a positive impact on your bottom line. A study by Forrester Research found that increasing website digital accessibility can lead to increased traffic and conversions, as well as decreased customer service costs.
Third, there is a growing legal landscape around website accessibility. A number of lawsuits have been filed in recent years against businesses and organizations whose websites are not accessible, and the trend is likely to continue.
So what can you do to make sure your website is accessible? First, take a look at the WCAG guidelines and see what changes you can make to your website to meet them. Second, consider using a digital accessibility tool or plugin to help with some of the more technical aspects of website accessibility. Third, train your staff on website accessibility and make sure they are aware of the importance of this issue.