In 2010, the U. S. Department of Justice released guidelines for the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Standards for Accessible Design, which lay forth a set of requirements for website design intended to provide people with disabilities access to ADA-compliant sites. While it can seem like just another set of rules that you need to comply with, in addition to the many unspoken rules of design, navigability, and all of the other important questions you will need to answer about your site design, an ADA-compliant site is not just more work: it’s good for business.
Think about it this way: if you and your competitor each have a storefront right next to each other, but you have a wheelchair ramp and other features that comply with ADA building guidelines — your competitor does not have any accessibility features. Who is going to get more business? Of course, there are a lot of different factors that will go into the actual answer to this question (and legal ramifications for your hypothetical competitor and their non-compliance), but think of your ADA-compliant website as a way to show your target audience that you truly care, and give disabled visitors an opportunity to convert on your site with ease. User experience is one of the central tenants of good web design, and accessible design is a very important part of the user experience for a significant percentage of our population.
On The Map – Years of Experience Designing ADA-Compliant Websites
The following pages are full of information about ADA compliance – what it is, why it’s important, and how we can design for it — but one of the most important things that our clients want to know is whether or not they will need to worry about running into issues with the Disability Rights Section (DRS) of the Department of Justice. We understand your concerns, and we have you covered. ADA-compliance is built into our extensive and involved web design process so that we can provide your new traffic with an exceptional experience no matter their needs, device, or their disabilities.
Read more below to get a better idea of what ADA compliance means for the web design process, and contact us as soon as possible so that we can discuss your needs for an updated website. Whether you need to simply update aspects of your site to comply with ADA guidelines, or if you want to do a full redesign, the team at OTM has years of experience and the results to prove it.
What Is the ADA?
The Americans with Disabilities Act, often referred to as ADA, was first made into law in 1990. The ADA is a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities, including things like job security, education, transit options, and all public and private spaces that are open to public access. Since first passing in 1990, the ADA has had a variety of amendments including to the definition of a “disability,” additional areas that require oversight for nondiscrimination, and more.
Since the advent of the Web, the increased ability to connect has taken down barriers to communication and connectivity that people — disabled or not — have experienced in the real world. However, there are many disabilities that require specific design considerations, as the lack of these accessibility designs can seriously impact and exclude people from using the site in question.
If your goal is to launch a high-quality website, app, or online tool, then accessibility should be a central focus of your design whether or not you are specifically focusing on ADA compliance. However, you will want to be certain that you cover all of the areas specified in the ADA to ensure that you have provided accessibility in a way that is compliant with this important, and empowering, Act. The Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) launched by the World Wide Web Consortium has provided an extensive look at accessibility here, including specifics like Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), Authoring Tool Accessibility Guidelines (ATAG), and User Agent Accessibility Guidelines (UAAG).
What Constitutes ADA Compliance?
Now that we have a general understanding of what the ADA actually is, it is important to understand what compliance looks like in terms of web design, and how the site designers at On The Map Marketing, Inc. can help you ensure that you have your bases covered and that you are being as inclusive as possible for your disabled visitors.
The following principles are the core points that will need to be addressed under the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, all of which are part of our design process.
Principle 1 – Perceivable
“Information and user interface components must be presentable to users in ways they can perceive.”
Websites have a lot of different content elements, including images, videos, audio clips, and text. Each element of your website needs to be accessible through alternative means so that a disabled user who may not be able to see your site’s text or hear your site’s audio is able to perceive all of the information presented.
In order to cover the “Perceivable” principle, there are many different tools that we will employ, including things like providing text alternatives to all non-text elements, captions (for both live and pre-recorded content), audio descriptions or alternative media formats, sign language options, and extended audio descriptions, to name a few.
While these tools and elements may sound like a lot of work to include into your site, we will be able to work with you closely to ensure that your visitors, no matter their possible disabilities, will be able to access the important information provided on your website and have a meaningful engagement with your brand. We will work to ensure that your content can be presented in a variety of ways to cover a range of possible accessibility options, including media alternatives but including options to see and hear content more easily, including use of color, specific audio control, contrast options, resized text, and more.
Principle 2 – Operable
“User interface components and navigation must be operable.”
All of your users should have the ability to use all functions on your website in the way that suits their disability best. For starters, this includes keyboard accessibility options, meaning that a user is able to access the tools on your site either with or without a keyboard, and is able to use their input device according to their own abilities (“without requiring specific timings for individual keystrokes, except where the underlying function requires input that depends on the path of the user’s movement and not just the endpoints.)
In addition to input device accessibility, your users should be granted ample time to read and interact with your content, meaning that if there are any time-limited elements on your site, that there are options to pause, stop, or hide certain elements, and that timing is not an essential part of your content (unless in specific applications). If there are timed interruptions, these should be able to be postponed by a user in all possible situations. It is also important that the actual visual design elements of your site are not designed in a way that could cause seizures or other physical reactions, including limiting any flashes to a maximum of three times in any one second, and the ability to disable non-essential motion animations.
Navigability is a significant piece of the “Operable” principle, including enhanced control over content blocks, clearly titled site pages, clear headers and content labels, contact information, intuitive and sequential ordering, clear link purposes, and multiple ways to navigate from one page to another. Interestingly enough, each navigation element designed towards ADA compliance is also a great way to boost your SEO rankings with the major search engines, since these design decisions also allow the crawlers to index your site more comprehensively.
Principle 3 – Understandable
“Information and the operation of the user interface must be understandable.”
Having a website that is understandable should be a main goal regardless of whether or not you are making conscious decisions about ADA compliance. These decisions include things like the language that you use, providing the ability for scripts and other tools to programmatically determine the human language of the page (and allow for translations, other than proper names, technical terms, or other specific, non-translatable text), and a mechanism for identifying abbreviations. In addition, it can be extremely helpful to provide secondary versions of content that requires advanced education levels to comprehend so that all users are able to make sense of the content provided.
In addition to providing understandable content on your site, an understandable user interface (UI) is extremely important so that your visitor is able to use your site in a way that is predictable and understandable. Using standardized UI practices is not only helpful for disabled visitors, but it will also significantly reduce your bounce rate from users who find your page too difficult to interact with due to non-standard navigational mechanisms.
In all areas of your site that a user may possibly make a mistake with, there should be tools in place that can help them either avoid these mistakes or correct them after the fact. If you have tools that automatically identify mistakes (such as an incomplete field and explanations of information required for a field), it is important that the errors are clearly identified, and that the user is provided the appropriate information on how to correct the error. This includes labels, suggestions on how to correct errors, and more.
Principle 4 – Robust
“Content must be robust enough that it can be interpreted by a wide variety of user agents, including assistive technologies.”
Appropriate elements included in your markup language that includes proper start and end tags, standardized nesting, avoiding duplicate attributes, and unique IDs will allow for a range of technologies and user agents to interact with your website as intended. These technologies are built to interact with markup languages in standard manners, meaning that if you use non-standard language or hierarchies, states, properties, or values, you run the risk of the user interface tools not being able to use your site.
As with most other design principles that focus on ADA compliance, there are many other benefits to writing your website in a robust, standard, and understandable markup language, including the boosts that you get from the web crawlers, as well as your ability to make changes to the site in the future without needing to try to make sense of a non-standard language.
WCAG Conformance Levels
If it seems like all of the different factors mentioned above are a lot, it’s because they include levels A through AAA in terms of WCAG 2.0 compliance ratings. Conformance means that the requirements of the standard have been satisfied, and the WCAG has three different levels of conformance including a range of different success criteria, including those mentioned in the section above. If you would like to get an idea of how your website currently ranks in terms of accessibility, there are many tools available for an audit.
The following is a brief explanation of the conformance levels:
WCAG Conformance Level A
Conformance Level A is the minimal level of conformance for ADA standards and satisfies all of the basic criteria of this level. If your site is designed properly, even without consideration to ADA standards, then you should already have a Level A rating. While this certainly will cover your bases if you are just shooting for a minimum conformance rating, there will always be significant benefits to going beyond the bare minimum, whether or not you choose to meet every criterion to get a Level AA or Level AAA conformance rating.
The most recognizable requirements include having a site that is navigable with a keyboard, non-text alternatives to your content, video captions, and not relying on things like shape, size, or color to convey meaning.
WCAG Conformance Level AA
In order to reach this level of conformance, you will need to meet all A conformance criteria, as well as all AA conformance criteria. Level AA is considered “acceptable compliance,” whereas A is “minimal compliance.” For most site designs, a Level AA rating is sufficient in order to provide accessibility to a wide range of individuals covered by the ADA, and you will experience significant benefits to your site reputation with the major search engines.
Major steps to Level AA conformance include things like accessible color contract, alt text for all of your images, consistent navigation elements, clearly labeled form fields, and a logical hierarchy for headings.
WCAG Conformance Level AAA
A Level AAA conformance rating means that your site is accessible to the most people possible, and the experience for this wide range of visitors is very easy. However, it is not always encouraged for a site designer to work towards a Level AAA conformance rating, since certain types of content will never be considered AAA compliant. In order to reach this ranking, you will need to specifically design all of your content—past, current, and future—to meet these criteria, meaning that you will need to develop your content strategy around these requirements in addition to your site design.
Some requirements for a Level AAA rating include sign language interpretation, no time limits or constraints for any part of your site and context-specific help for all elements of your site.
Do You Need Help To Make Your Website ADA Compliant?
If you have an existing website that you would like to bring up to standard, or if you would like to build a new website from scratch and maximize accessibility for a wide range of new customers and traffic, contact the team at On The Map Marketing as soon as possible. We will be able to help you through a website audit in order to understand where your existing site stands, and work together to develop a strategy in order to meet all of your target compliance needs.
The reality of an ADA-compliant website is this: the more accessible your site, the higher your rankings will be with the automated crawler bots that the major search engines use, and the more your clients will know that you truly care about their needs. While trying to achieve a Level AAA is unrealistic for most businesses, we will be happy to work with you in order to meet every accessibility factor that is important to you and your customers.
Contact On The Map Today For a Design Quote for your ADA Compliant Website
The sooner we are able to speak with each other, the sooner we will be able to get a comprehensive understanding of your needs together, and the sooner we will be able to provide you with a quote covering all of your targets and goals. Our history of successful site designs will give you the peace of mind it takes in order to take a major step with building a new website, and we will be happy to share our portfolio with you in order to show the level of performance that our past clients have enjoyed, and what you can expect.
In addition to ADA compliant web design, we offer a range of digital marketing services that can be built and launched in tandem with your site design or can be run entirely separately if you are looking for new and productive ways to drive traffic to an existing website.