Website construction in our early days involved taking a company print brochure and translating it into some basic HTML with JPGs and Gifs. Everyone remembers the animated construction worker used to denote ‘content not ready yet’. Yup, we were guilty of using that a few times. These days there are considerations like information architecture, responsive design, personae, page taxonomy. Recently we had a client come to us with the charge of bringing their website into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) website standards.
The ADA applies to all organizations that employ 15 or more individuals. The Act was passed to ensure that individuals with physical disabilities would have equal access to services and information as individuals without physical disabilities. We see this in the form of wheelchair accessible facilities, hearing impaired phone services, braille or large print materials for visually impaired individuals. Accessibility also applies to information on a company’s website. The sites we build today typically utilize a theme or template which is ADA compliant. However, as a website is built out, certain compliance areas may not receive the attention needed to keep the site in compliance. What is a company required to do to make their website ADA compliant?
The main areas of consideration are identified in the Web Accessibility Chapter in the ADA’s Best Practices Tool Kit for State and Local Governments:
- Images Without Text Equivalents – images heavy in text need text equivalents so that screen readers can properly interpret the message in the image
- Documents Are Not Posted In an Accessible Format – PDF documents are not easily read by screen readers. Alternatives like Rich Text Format versions of a document are recommended.
- Specifying Colors and Font Sizes – Colors that are used to design a website are not always the best combination for someone who is visually impaired. Website should allow a user to dictate web page colors through the browser.
- Videos and Other Multimedia Lack Accessible Features – multimedia elements can be interpreted by screen readers. Alternative versions of videos, specifically text transcripts should be provided.
A bit more detailed disability compliance checklist for websites is provided by the Department of Health and Human Services Section 508 Standards and Policies. By addressing these areas of a website, a website can be brought into compliance.
One can evaluate their website for compliance by using screen readers. For example:
- Apple’s VoiceOver
- Windows standard screen reader Navigator
Many disabled individuals use a screen reader like these applications to navigate websites. Try one out and see if you can navigate your website without any barriers. Or if you prefer, you can use a Firefox add-on like Firefox Accessibility Extension. The extension helps to identify specific HTML issues on a webpage that should be addressed.
Building a website is a complex project of varying degrees. In the end our expectations are that the website will make a positive impression on visitors through its informational structure, and through its visual presentation. Most importantly, visitors will not experience barriers to accessing information on the site. By addressing ADA compliance issues, companies will ensure positive experiences for all visitors to their website, not just those without physical disabilities.