Accessibility design in websites is a big thing. If you’re not aware, there’s a standard for it provided under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). ADA requires that businesses need to adopt ways to accommodate persons with disabilities on their websites like they do in physical locations catering to the public.
This means making the websites accessible to those with visual, hearing, motor, neurological, cognitive, or other disabilities. It also implies ensuring that web aspects such as navigation, design, and content are all created in such a manner as to ensure web users can navigate a website in a way easier for them. This includes having assistive technology tools on a website. If these ADA requirements are not met, you may be subjecting your business to possible legal actions, fines, and a negative reflection of your brand.
ADA is a federal act enacted in 1990 that forbids discrimination against persons living with disabilities. One of the aims of the Act is to ensure every person has equal rights and opportunities when accessing a website. Compliance with ADA is a requirement in public and private institutions that are open to the public.
The current accessibility standards enforced under ADA are the 2010 Standards for Accessible Design. These regulations require that electronic and information technologies, such as websites and apps, should be made accessible to people with disabilities.
Designing an ADA-accessible website means providing an accessible online presence that accommodates all web users, including those with disabilities. This checklist discusses crucial elements that web designers need to focus on in terms of ADA website compliance.
One of the primary considerations in building an ADA-compliant website is its overall design and layout. How the pages are organized in terms of structure, content arrangement, and page balance is vital for a website’s design. The arrangement shouldn’t be busy or too complex for visitors to understand.
Web users also need to be able to adjust certain design aspects to make the content easier to process. Here are the design and presentation aspects you need to consider.
The web structure is a crucial element of website presentation. In structuring your web content, utilize proper markup techniques, like using the correct HTML and heading tags when creating a list, whether ordered or unordered.
Color contrast is required for the text and background at the ratio of at least 4.5:1 for standard text. The contrast ratio for large text is 3:1. However, avoid using colors to highlight errors on a page or convey information. Users who suffer from color blindness might have difficulty determining what message the color is trying to depict.
Audio, videos, and animations need to have an alternative (alt) text and should be capable of being stopped, paused, or muted. Video and audio content shouldn’t be designed to autopay. Animations and flashing content may affect users with neurological disorders, such as epilepsy, by triggering seizures.
Filling out online forms can present a challenge for web users using screen readers. Therefore, use the standard formats and make sure to have clear descriptions. Avoid form timeouts as they make it quite difficult for people with cognitive and motor disabilities to complete them. The form labels need to be programmed in a language understandable to the average user.
The HTML code in an accessible web design should be clean and error-free. Broken links, pages, or HTML errors make it challenging for users with assistive technology tools to navigate a website. The whole goal of ADA website compliance is to create an excellent user experience for all users despite their physical or intellectual capabilities.
Accessibility and navigation are essential aspects of any website, and there are features you can include to provide users with some level of control in their experience. For example, your web design should allow users to pause content that keeps on updating or refreshing. Automatic pop-ups for things like subscriptions and offers are a huge navigation hindrance and therefore should be avoided. Check out the following navigation and control elements you need to consider.
To ensure ADA website compliance, web users need to have the ability to navigate by keyboard only. This function enables users who can’t navigate the website without a mouse to access the content. This includes the ability to navigate back to previous content.
Use a ‘skip navigation’ link that allows web users to jump right to the content and skip the page headings if they need to. Also, ensure the layout is consistent, keeping the same order of elements to make it easy for your users to understand the entire website. Inconsistency in page layouts creates confusion as a user needs to understand each page separately.
Give users enough ways to access information or pages in the website with the help of search bars, sitemaps, navigation menu, and breadcrumbs. One of the best accessibility practices is providing a sitemap at the footer of each web page.
The ADA website compliance guidelines prohibit using text images as an alternative for regular texts, except in logos, infographics, or charts with labels. However, you need to provide an alternative text for infographics, charts, and images. This would allow users with visual impairments to understand the content on a page as described in the text provided. Below are the guidelines on alt text and descriptions.
Every image, except for those you use for decorative purposes, needs to have descriptive alt texts. You must provide alt texts in a way that conveys the true meaning of the images. Optimizing images with an alt text also helps with search engine optimization since web crawlers can’t read images but can read the alternative text provided.
If a website has multimedia features such as audio or videos, there must be an equivalent text alternative for the same. This is meant to provide access to users with hearing or visual impairments. Screen readers will read to those with visual impairments, while those with hearing impartments can read the transcribed script for the audio or video.
Videos that contain perceptible voices or sounds need to use closed captioning, while live captioning must be placed in videos. This allows people with hearing disabilities to read along and understand the web content.
An ADA-compliant website’s default language needs to be readily determinable by accessibility software. If there are any uncommon words or abbreviations, there should be an explanation for them. Every page should have descriptive titles and headings for the content, making it easier for your web users to know precisely where they are on a page.
Having descriptive page titles on each page helps web users to understand your web content. It helps them determine if the content is likely to meet their search needs.
You need to design the website in a way that web visitors can navigate content in sequential order. This is to avoid confusing users and help preserve content meaning. This, in turn, makes content more accessible, especially with the use of assistive technology tools. It also makes it easier for users to navigate the different web pages.
Anchors texts should be descriptive, provide value, and be relevant to the content they link to. Instead of using vague anchor texts such as ‘click here,’ describe where the link leads to, such as ‘follow this link to subscribe to our newsletter.’ Users relying on accessibility software tools need to know where the links described by the anchor texts lead.
Language is a crucial part of ADA compliance, and it covers a considerable part of your website. Ensure that the language you use in your website can easily be determined by assistive technology tools or any accessibility software. It also needs to be accessible by the majority of web users expected to use the website.
For instance, a website for a US audience should be in English, while that in Germany needs to be in the German language. This helps persons using screen readers to know the language to expect from the site. However, even though the default language needs to reflect the majority of the web users, consider providing a change of language option to make the site accessible to a larger audience.
ADA website compliance also requires that the text be in different sizes and can be resized up to 200% of its original size. Moreover, the text should still be legible after resizing. This means text resizing mustn’t affect a user’s ability to interact with the content.
ADA website compliance requires you as a web designer to create websites that accommodate all users. The process might seem like a huge challenge, but it’s achievable and a critical issue for any business with an online presence. An accessible website allows a business to reach a wider audience and meet the needs of all web users.
Many people across the world live with disabilities that don’t allow them to access online content as other users would. As a web designer, enlisting the help of an accessibility compliance consultant in the design process can help you audit the site to ensure that it’s compliant with ADA.
Ashley is obsessed with SEO and WordPress. He is also the founder of Mad Lemmings. When he is not busy helping clients get higher on Google he can be found doing crazy sports in the Swiss Alps (or eating too much chocolate - a habit he is trying to break).