It’s important to be ADA compliant when developing websites as it allows equal access and equal opportunity to everyone including those with disabilities. We will take a look at various impairments and how they limit users’ access to the web. As well as covering the regulations on web and digital accessibility worldwide in order to avoid any unintentional discrimination against those with disabilities. And we will take a look at ensuring our web and digital content is fully accessible with a look at strategies for design and development and possible testing through different types of Audits.
There are many types of disabilities out there, some permanent, some temporary – so what does it mean to be disabled?
A disability is any condition of the body or mind (impairment) that makes it more difficult for the person with the condition to do certain activities (activity limitation) and interact with the world around them (participation restrictions).
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) opens a new window
Those with vision impairments deal with different levels of vision or different types of perception. When we have different levels of vision from the ability to see with assistance to total blindness we need to consider how they access web and digital content whether in the form of assistive technology devices or software. We also consider designs which impact those with perception related impairments – for example different types of color blindness.
Hearing loss, deafness, and being hard of hearing is the third most common disability worldwide (Healthy Hearing opens a new window). From minor hearing loss to total deafness, each individual’s experience is unique. 50 million Americans experience some form of tinnitus (American Tinnitus Association opens a new window), usually in the form of a ringing or buzzing noise in the ears. In addition, approximately 1 million people in the U.S. alone are functionally deaf (Oxford Academic opens a new window).
Because hearing disabilities vary in intensity from one individual to the next, several different strategies should be included when implementing your design into a functional website which include how audio and video content is presented.
The key principle to keep in mind when designing/developing for those with motor disabilities is – Operable: because not everyone can use a mouse, click on a link, or operate dynamic elements effectively.When designing and/or implementing your design consider the challenges for motor control impairments and possible options to address them.For example – not everyone can use a mouse. Even with the use of assistive technology some devices can be very fatiguing to use like the “puff-and-sip” device after prolonged use – allow options for other methods of navigation which will allow lengthy or repeated content.
The concept of cognitive disabilities is a very broad category. In simple terms, a person with a cognitive disability has a greater difficulty with one or more types of mental tasks than the average person. Incorporating some type of strategies that can help those with memory deficits, attention deficits or impairments with problem-solving. Don’t forget to include strategies to handle reading, linguistic, and verbal comprehension deficits as well.
These are four broad categories we’ve touched on here – for more information on these types of disabilities and strategies for addressing them we go into greater detail later in other articles.
Regulation on Web and Digital Accessibility
It’s time to look at what this actually means to a software or website designer or developer to be ADA Compliant. The first thing to understand is that ADA Compliance refers to civil law – this means lawsuits for non-compliance to varying degrees.
Seyfarth synopsis: ADA Title III lawsuits flooded federal courts in 2019 and will likely continue to do so in 2020 with new theories for the courts to consider.
- …the number of ADA Title III lawsuits filed in federal courts by the end of November 2019 (10,206) exceeded the number of such lawsuits filed in all of 2018 (10,163).
- …lawsuits alleging inaccessible websites and mobile apps accounted for at least a fifth of the total number of ADA Title III lawsuits filed in federal courts in 2019. Most plaintiffs in these cases are blind and claim that the websites in question do not work with their screen reader software which reads website content aloud. A much smaller number of plaintiffs are deaf and are suing about the lack of closed captioning for online videos.
Just as important if not more important is that non-compliance with these regulations means part of the possible audience can not access the product being created fully if at all. Consider the current outbreak of COVID-19 worldwide – with social distancing more and more people are turning to the web for accessing information and guidance in their lives. That being the case the difficulties those with disabilities already dealt with whether we’re talking health related websites or commercial websites – if they aren’t accessible then these resources are not available to them.
This is where we bring in the actual regulations and legislation that not only is cited when civil action takes place but also what our web and digital accessible designs should be based on to avoid any issues of descrimination:
- The American’s with Disabilities Act (ADA Act) opens a new window
The ADA Act addresses the civil rights of individuals with disabilities which prohibits discrmination based on disability.
- Section 508 of the U.S. Rehabilitation Act opens a new window
Section 508 requires Federal Agencies to make any electronic and information technology accessible to those with disabilities.
- Section 504 of the U.S. Rehabilitation Act opens a new window
Section 504 is an anti-discrimination legislation which protects the civil rights of students with disabilities requiring any needs be met to as they would for any non-disabled student.
- 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010 opens a new window
The CVAA updates federal communication law to increase accessibility to those width disabilities to modern communication technologies.
- European Accessibility Act opens a new window
Is a directive that aims to improve the functioning of the internal market for accessible products and services between divergent rules between member states of the EU.
- Australian Disability Discrimination Act 1992 opens a new window
The Australian Disability Discrimination Act of 1992 requires equal access for people with disabilities and in particular refusing to make a “reasonable adjustment” to a website so its content is accessible is considered discrimination.
Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG)
The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) opens a new window covers the regulations with which Web content can make more accessible to those with disabilities. The latest version is 2.1 with WCAG 2.2 in development. WCAG covers three levels of recommended guidelines: Level A, Level AA, and Level AAA. In order for our content to be fully accessible as well as ADA Compliant we are required to have at least Level AA conformance to the guidelines.Those guidelines can be broken down in steps to enable compliance in a straightforward process.We test for Level AAA and stricter guidelines in an Accessibility Audit as it offers essential improvements in the design and implementation of the product In our next article we will cover Accessibility & ADA Audits (ADA Audit – Why does My #1 Awesome Website need it?) and tools used for both automated testing and manual testing.
Ensuring your Web and Digital Content is Fully Accessible
Along with regular audits (websites evolve as content is continuously added) to maintain full accessibility – maintain an overall strategy for who and how content is added. Make sure whomever is allowed to modify or add content follows a set of guideline strategies created with the initial design and implementation of the web site. If content is compliant before it’s added it will be compliant after it is added.
In addition to regular audits and optimized strategies we want to consider some of the latest automated tools used in testing already completed designs to those development or still on the drawing boards.
And when considering the actual digital content being introduced, proper preparation needs to be considered whether we are talking about complex images, graphs, or illustrations or we’re adding audio and video content to our design.
Whether designing, developing, or just simply adding content to an already existing website or software application, hopefully at this point any anxiety or frustration about Website Accessibility is much lower. Not only is there a better idea of the standards world wide regarding it but now avoiding potential discrimination against those with disabilities is understood a bit better. With a better picture of what those with disabilities face, the content can be tailored to address their needs through optimized strategies, content testing, and preparation of digital content by meeting the latest WCAG guidelines. This will ensure any concerns about lawsuits or litigation regarding accessibility are non-existent. And finally, most of all we maximize our ability to reach our full target audience with our product.