Although the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) passed in the year 1990, some companies have been slow to get on board with its requirements. The act is a federal legislation that prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities.
The act applies to not only brick and mortar stores but also the online arena. In the beginning, ADA was enforced for public-facing websites and government websites. There are 3 levels of requirements and each state followed their specified level.
I don’t know the reason it has taken so long for companies to get onboard with ADA. I think a lot of them didn’t even know it existed. It wasn’t until Winn Dixie was sued for having a website that did not meet ADA compliancy, that grocery stores started to research what they needed to do to meet compliance.
At WordCamp this year, I attended a couple sessions that addressed ADA.
In the presentation, “ADA Accessibility: A Necessary Part of Your WordPress Site”, Lora Williams explains why we should make a website accessible.
- Companies and people are facing lawsuits if their site is not compliant
- You will reach a wider audience, including those with vision or hearing impairment and those with a sensitivity to stimulus/moving objects
- It is good PR
- Your website will have better SEO
- It’s the right thing to do
We at AWG follow common guidelines when we design websites, such as adding image alt tags, form labels, keeping the text easy to read, using high contrast and limiting animated content. Lora touched on each of these. She also suggested adding code to skip content or to navigate through a menu of links with the tab key.
Testing accessibility on your website can be done in a variety of ways.
- Download a screen reader to your Internet browser
- On cell phone use text to voice
- Ask a friend with disabilities to test and “break” website
- Use an online web accessibility evaluation tool
In the next session, “How to Ensure Your Plugins are Readable to Visually Impaired Users”, Will Angles said he got into website accessibility when he had temporary blindness for 3 weeks. His presentation covered some of the same information as the previous session but one thing he added was the 4 concepts of web accessibility:
- Perceivable – needs to be seen
- Operable – needs to be navigated
- Understandable – needs to be informative
- Robust – needs to be interpreted
An interesting point Will made was that when someone uses a screen reader, popup windows stop everything the user was reading and they throw a bunch of code onto the screen. Popups can certainly get a reader’s attention, but it’s important to consider the reader’s online experience and not annoy them with too many interruptions.
These are good points we as web designers should keep in mind as we are building websites, regardless of who we think the audience is.