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Conformity: It’s More Than Just Lawsuits
you need to know about making your website ADA conforming
Clara, CA – April 2017 / Newsmaker Alert / You may have heard
about the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), but do you know how it
applies to your digital presence?
What is the ADA?
The ADA is a civil rights
law that prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities
in all areas of public life. The purpose of the law is to make sure that
people with disabilities have the same rights and opportunities as everyone
else. As part of the ADA, the law mandated that websites should abide by
a minimum set of best practices to ensure that users with impairments would
have equal access to the world-wide web. The challenge with the ADA conformity
clause is that Congress did not establish any guidelines regarding what
qualified as an ADA conforming website. Over the years, as the legal system
has dealt with lawsuits related to ADA conformity and website access, courts
have leveraged guidelines established by the world-wide web consortium
(W3C), as guidelines by which to interpret the ADA conformity of specific
sites. The W3C guidelines, known as the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines
(WCAG) are organized in three different levels, level A, AA and AAA. The
court system has largely held that websites must meet level A and AA guidelines
to be considered “conforming.”
Why care about ADA?
The default answer, of course,
is legal protection. Over the past few years a series of well publicized
law suits have been brought against website owners, particularly small
to mid-sized businesses, resulting in awards that range from as little
as a few thousand dollars to many tens of thousands of dollars. While protecting
your business from ADA lawsuits is a very viable reason to ensure your
website is ADA conforming, there is a much larger issue at play. In fact,
by not providing ADA access to your website, you are simply alienating
the nearly 20%* of US consumers who have some
form of disability. Having ADA conformity on a business website is more
than good legal advice, it’s smart business advice.
How ADA Impacts your site
Having established that
ADA conformity is a good business proposition, what exactly do you need
to consider before making your site ADA conforming? ADA conformity for
websites is largely based on four core areas:
How does the website work
when visually impaired visitors arrive? Is it screen-reader friendly? Are
there elements of the site that are only accessible with a mouse and do
not have keyboard access?
Auditory conformity is largely
focused on the interaction of audio and the user. Specifically, do any
videos included on the website contain closed captioning?
Can users access your website
without relying on a mouse? Is keyboard navigation of all items on your
site, including carousels, possible?
Cognitive conformity deals
with issues around font size, color, contrast and accessibility for users
who may have learning or interpretive impairments.
The ADA Opportunity
The fact that nearly 20%
of Americans have some form of a disability should be of significance for
any business. The challenge of ADA conformity for your website starts with
protecting yourself from lawsuits. In fact, since 2015, in the hospitality
industry alone, more than 240 lawsuits have been filed, many receiving
awards between $10,000 to $75,000 per lawsuit.**
When you consider the cost of updating your site, the benefits of becoming
ADA conforming are obvious. There is, however, a second, more important
consideration. ADA conformity is more than just about protecting yourself
from suits. In fact, a website that is not ADA conforming creates a barrier
to the 20% of Americans who have disabilities; becoming ADA conforming
is not just safe, it’s good business.
Keys to conformity
There are three key considerations
to ensuring that your website is ADA conforming: Technology, process, and
On the technology front,
the most important question is about your Content Management System (CMS).
Is your CMS capable of creating ADA conforming websites? Do you have alert-systems
in place in the CMS that will flag when ADA conformity issues are introduced
in your site? For example, when installing 3rd party applications website
owners should make sure to understand the impact of these additions. ADA
conformity is not a “do it and forget it” approach; modern websites are
constantly evolving, changing, and being updated. It’s critical to have
a CMS that is able to not only create ADA conforming content, but is also
able to identify ADA problems in your website.
With the constant evolution
of websites, having an ADA-friendly development process is also critical.
If your website development is done in-house, you need to ensure that planning
and testing for ADA conformity is a core part of your website design and
development process. If you work with an agency or a third-party vendor
it’s important that your vendor have a well thought out and documented
process for creating ADA conforming content and checking for problems.
Finally, ADA conforming design
must consider a whole set of subtleties and nuances that might escape the
untrained eye. Once again, it’s essential to ensure that your in-house
or agency designers understand ADA conformity issues and have had experience
dealing with ADA conforming design.
Examples of Issues with
To understand the complexities
of ADA conformity, consider a couple of quick examples of some of the subtle
changes that must be made to a traditional website to achieve ADA conformity:
Skip to content
ADA conforming websites
must provide a means for a user to quickly skip non-screen-reader friendly
content like hero images and jump to the text part of your website.
Manual carousel control
Website carousels may be
popular and fashionable, but they can create problems for users who have
disabilities. ADA conforming carousels must be manually controlled and
avoid excessive use of animations.
Full keyboard control
How much of your website
can be controlled and used with just a keyboard? Having full access to
all content without having to rely on a mouse is a critical part of ADA
Screen reader friendliness
Is your website friendly
to people with visual disabilities? Is your content screen-reader friendly?
Field label problems
Finally, consider something
as simple and, seemingly, straight-forward as a form on your website. While
placing field labels within the field may provide a “unique” look, it often
makes the form unreadable for screen readers.
You can self-certify for
ADA conformity. In addition, there are several third-party organizations
that will provide ADA conformity audits to provide you with a full report,
either confirming that your website conforms to ADA guidelines as of a
specific date, or providing you with an audit of the changes necessary
to become ADA conforming. There is no such thing as a “guarantee” that
having an ADA-conforming website will provide 100% protection from lawsuits.
It does, however, significantly lower your risk.
The issue of ADA conformity
for websites is not new, and is not likely to go away any time soon. Any
consumer-facing business, but especially location-based businesses like
hospitality, retail, or financial-services businesses, should make ADA
conformity a core part of their business strategy and of their website
development process. Not having ADA conformity as a central goal of your
website strategy, is simply asking for trouble, and sends the wrong signal
to your client-base.
Milestone is a leading provider
of digital marketing software and services for hospitality, retail and
finance. We provide a full range of solutions including website and mobile
design, content creation, SEO, analytics and competitive intelligence.
Our best in class technology and solutions drive revenue and ROI for clients
across the globe. Over 2,000 companies do business with Milestone, including
leading hotel chains, major retailers and financial services companies.
Milestone has garnered over 300 awards and a reputation for blending outstanding
design with advanced technological capabilities. Milestone is one of Silicon
Valley Business Journal’s fastest growing companies and is an Inc.
5000 company. For more information about Milestone and our products and
services, visit us at www.MilestoneInternet.com.
Manager, Demand Generation