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Since it was passed in 1990, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) has enabled many people who need physical accommodations in the workplace and in public establishments to be able to get the assistance they need.

Typically, when most people think about the ADA, the first thing that comes to mind is the requirements that businesses provide wheelchair-accessible ramps, bathroom facilities, and elevators as opposed to escalators. However, since then the law has been expanded into other areas that weren’t previously considered.

In the context of this article, it applies also to websites. It’s applied to handling color contrasts for those with some form of color blindness, closed captioning for audio and video ― for those who have limited hearing ― and much more.

Who Is Affected?

The main types of organizations that are required to be ADA-compliant include some fairly obvious ones, namely state and local government agencies. However, this also extends to any companies considered to be operating for the public’s benefit, which is in itself, a rather broad category, and also for any private employers who have 15 or more employees on their staff. This includes many small businesses.

However, even if you aren’t directly required to follow ADA-compliance guidelines, it’s generally a good idea. First of all, you don’t know when and how your small business might grow ― it’s far better to use a website builder and be prepared than to have to play catch-up. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, is that the spirit of the law is why you should be considering following it.

Why would you want to limit the access to your site from up to one out of five visitors? It’s directly in your interest to make sure as many people as possible can access your site and your products.

What Happens If You Aren’t Compliant?

The truth of the matter is that you can get sued if you do not make your website ADA-compliant. It has happened to many large players, including the Wall Street Journal, Amazon, and Hershey. You may be thinking, “I just have a small business site. Those are all big companies, so why do I need to do this?” Beyond the moral implications of making access difficult for large portions of the population, it can affect smaller sites. Since 2018, there have been thousands of lawsuits against websites of all sizes.

What Criteria Should You Use To Make Your Website ADA-compliant?

  • Is it operable?
  • Is it perceivable?
  • Is it robust?
  • Is it understandable?

There are a number of criteria that you should check regularly to make sure your site remains accessible, and by extension, ADA-compliant.

The first thing you should consider is doing a manual audit of your site. To do this properly, you should make sure that you include the following four categories.

Is it Operable?

Sites should be navigable by more than one method. This includes the option to move around the site using only a mouse or other pointing device. It also means the opposite as users should be able to use other methods for navigating a site, such as using only a keyboard.

Is it Perceivable?

For content to be accessible on a website, it must be able to be perceived by all users. This means that if there’s content that is audio-only, it should be accompanied by text which covers the same content. All graphical content should also be well-described so that users who have vision problems can absorb the information using an assistive device.

Is it Robust?

The site should be able to still be operable and perceivable under changing environments. In other words, it should be compatible with software that reads a screen for a user. It’s important to understand that the needs of the audience may change, so the content should be able to adapt to it without breaking.

Is it Understandable?

For many sites, particularly those that provide crucial information, it’s important to ensure that people can understand the content. Language should, whenever possible, be simple enough to convey the message clearly. If you use a lot of jargon on your website ― which may, in some situations, be necessary ― make sure you provide definitions of acronyms. As a general rule it’s best not to abbreviate words, but to use extended versions of the text.

What Tools Are Available for Checking for ADA-compliance?

The good news is that most of the tools available are free:

  • WAVE: This is a collection of tools that you can use to evaluate your site, which helps ensure that people with disabilities can access your content without trouble. Not only does it follow web content accessibility guidelines (WCAG), which help remove obstacles to access, it also helps you manage your content to make sure that people can comprehend and evaluate your valuable content. It includes extensions that you can plug directly into your browser, which alerts you if there are any obvious errors.
Wave screenshot
Source: WAVE
  • Lighthouse: Lighthouse is a plug-in for Chrome and Firefox, which is free and open-source, which is designated to help you create quality web pages automatically. It works regardless of whether your site is open and public or even if it’s behind an authentication paywall. Beyond accessibility, it also helps you check to make sure that your site is performing at a decent speed and has SEO audits included as well.
sitespeed report
Source: WAVE

The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) also provides a helpful list of accessibility tools to help make sure your site is fully compliant.

WordPress Plug-ins

If you’re running a WordPress site, there are several easy to use plug-ins that you can install to help improve your website accessibility:

  • Accessibility Suite: This suite helps you make sure that your site is fully audited and compliant with ADA, Section 508, and WCAG guidelines. It generates detailed reports to help you check for those affected by color blindness. It also identifies specific errors associated with the different levels of WCAG.
  • WP Accessibility Helper: Another helpful WordPress plug-in that is available as for free. If you want to get serious with it you can upgrade to a paid version.

Hire a Consultant

If you want to be careful, it makes sense to hire a professional to give a thorough audit of your website. Not only can a professional provide you with all of the above auditing, but they can make professional recommendations about what changes to make to your site that keep it both accessible and functional.

It can make your life considerably easier as accessibility can get somewhat complicated. As you’re busy growing your business, you may not want to risk getting these details wrong.

What Next?

Beyond this, you may wish to consider delving deeper into the coding of your site to find real solutions for accessibility compliance. Learn how to structure your content for website accessibility.

After this, if you want to get into the coding details you can read about how to structure your HTML for website accessibility.

Understanding how to make it easy to navigate with a keyboard is also an important part of web accessibility. Figure out how to structure your site in a way that keyboard-only users can access it.

This is only a beginning and accessibility requirements are always changing. However, if you take the advice from this article and the linked article, you’re already a step ahead of the game.