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How to Make Your Website ADA Compliant

Last Updated on January 4, 2023

Find the fastest route, have groceries delivered to your doorstep, make a doctor’s appointment, type an email, watch baby shark videos, or apply for a job. The Internet can help us do almost anything, from the mundane to the critical. Now, imagine NOT being able to do any of this.

How frustrating would it be? How badly would you want access to this life-changing technology?

According to the 2017 Disability Statistics Annual Report, 12.8% of the U.S. population, about 42 million people, have a disability. These people often find it harder–sometimes impossible–to interact with websites to order products, schedule an appointment, or fill out a simple form. If someone cannot use your website because of a disability that affects their hearing, vision, or physical capacities (including advanced age), the site is considered not accessible.

This is a problem. And ignoring web accessibility can cost you.

This blog post will help break down the importance of accessibility and give you some pointers on how to make your website ADA compliant.

Table of Contents

    1. What is Web Accessibility?
    2. Types of Impairments
    3. How to Make Your Website ADA Compliant
    4. Why is Website Accessibility Important?
    5. What’s the Cost of Accessibility?
    6. Is Your Website Accessible?
    7. Make Your Website ADA Compliant Today


What is Web Accessibility?

What is accessibility? Availability to every individual regardless of disability, situation, or other factors.

“Accessibility” simply means availability to every individual regardless of disability, situation, or other factors. We’re all familiar with accessibility in the physical space: wheelchair ramps, elevators, braille signs. etc. However, as the Internet has grown, the definition of accessibility has been broadening to incorporate the web as a public space. 

(In case you are wondering: Internet access does not equal web accessibility, although they sound similar.)

How accessibility has transferred into the digital space

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a law designed to prevent discrimination against individuals with disabilities. Title III of the act mandates that all businesses open to the public are required to remove barriers to access. Some courts have ruled that websites are “places of public accommodation,” and therefore must comply with accessibility guidelines. 

So, what does ADA compliance mean for websites? It means that copy, video, images, guided tours, forms, like buttons, and more should all be made accessible. Let’s break down the different types of impairments and how a website can meet each of their needs. 

Types of Impairments

graphic of visual, auditory, cognitive, and physical impairments

Visual Impairment

graphic of head with ray of light

Visual impairment is often where our mind goes first when thinking of people who may have issues navigating a website. This disability can range from mild vision loss to total blindness. 

Visual impairments rely on the following to navigate the web:

  • Zooming in on the page or enlarging text size
  • Using a screen reader that speaks content to them
  • A Braille reader
  • High contrast modes

Common barriers:

  • Images/videos without text alternative
  • Low color contrast
  • Lack of keyboard support

Auditory Impairment

graphic of head with headphones

Any type of hearing loss or deafness is considered an auditory impairment, including the use of a hearing aid. Though these individuals may have perfect vision, any video or audio on a site could be lost to them, as they are unable to properly hear the content.

Those with auditory impairments often rely on the following to use the web effectively:

  • Transcripts/captions for audio content
  • Media players that display captions with adjustable fonts
  • Options to stop, pause, and adjust the volume of audio content
  • Foreground audio clearly distinguishable from background noise

Common barriers:

  • No available captions
  • Inability to adjust text size and volume
  • Illegible text

Cognitive Impairment

graphic of head describing cognitive impairment

Cognitive impairment is a large category, as it involves neurological, behavioral, and mental disorders that may affect the way users interact with their environment. Conditions such as ADHD, autism, learning disabilities (dyslexia), memory impairments, multiple sclerosis, and epilepsy all fall into this category.

Those with cognitive impairments often rely on the following to navigate web content:

  • Clearly structured content 
  • Simple navigation and link titles
  • Consistent labeling of forms and buttons
  • Options to suppress blinking and flashing content
  • Text-to-speech software
  • Enlarging the webpage or text

Common barriers:

  • Complex navigational structures
  • Audio and visual content that cannot be turned off or suppressed 

Physical Impairment

graphic of three layered heads

Sometimes referred to as “motor impairments,” physical impairments range from arthritis and carpal tunnel to paralysis and missing limbs.

People with these disabilities often use special technology to interact with web content:

  • Head pointer, mouth stick, or other typing aids
  • On-screen keyboard with trackball, joystick, etc.
  • Switches operated by foot, shoulder, etc.
  • Voice recognition, eye tracking, and other hands-free options

Common barriers:

  • Complex click interactions
  • Sites that do not provide full keyboard support 

Speech Impairment

graphic of head spreaking

These individuals have difficulty expressing themselves through audible language or speech. While speech impairment doesn’t usually apply to websites, it still needs to be taken into account, as any software only accessible through voice or a business that only provides a phone number as a means of contact would prove inaccessible for a speech-impaired person. A good tip is to include an email address as a point of contact on the website, rather than just a phone number. 

How to make your website ADA compliant  

While there’s not much concrete legislation around web accessibility, there are guidelines that we can reference in order to make our digital content more accessible. Our reference for making websites compliant is the Web Content Accessibility Guideline (WCAG 2.2) which is the official guideline for all things ADA. Here’s a brief summary of the WCAG’s recommendations for website design and development.

Tips for website design

Even if you aren’t a designer, there are some easy design tips that you can implement:

  • Text size should be legible and pages should have lots of clean and open space and clear color contrast. (There are lots of free tools out there that test websites for color contrast.)
  • The order of information should be logical.
  • Use descriptive links and button texts. “Click here” doesn’t provide context as to what the does or where it goes. Instead, try buttons like “Book Now” or “Add to Cart” which are more descriptive. Make sure that links are descriptive as well so users with screen readers can navigate the site.
  • Forms should be clearly labeled and an informative error message should pop up if something goes wrong.
  • Avoid “hover only” design.

Tips for website build/development

When it comes to website development, knowing code isn’t always necessary. A lot of these tips apply to just simple content changes:

  • Your site should be fully accessible using only a keyboard. You can easily test this yourself by tabbing through the website. Is the tab order logical?
  • Make sure to use headings correctly. Screen readers have a view to see just the headings, so make sure to not skip heading levels.
  • Alt text is very important for overall website health and accessibility because not only is it used for screen readers, it also improves SEO! Make sure to use alt text for every image on your website. The descriptions should be short and accurate and not overly detailed.

Why is website accessibility important?

Wouldn’t you like customers and friends to say “wow, that business is considerate and savvy”? Here’s why you should care about making your website ADA compliant.

Creating an accessible website is good for your business

You can serve a portion of the marketplace that many people ignore. If your website is accessible, more people can buy your products and services. In addition, if you’re trying to recruit and retain talent, having an ADA compliant website enables all types of talent to apply.

Making your website usable for everyone is part of being a good neighbor

Web accessibility shouldn’t be just one more thing on your to-do list. Your business should desire to provide access to the products, services, or information you’re offering because it helps people get what they need.  

Stay on the right side of the law

It’s wise for companies to consider how to reduce their liability, and to put in place a compliance strategy to address accessibility issues. (It’s mandatory for government entities or organizations that receive government funding.) The reason? Although federal courts across the country are divided on whether websites are subject to ADA accessibility requirements, lawsuits are on the rise–there were 2314 lawsuits in 2018 and 2235 lawsuits in 2019. Netflix was sued in 2012 for not offering closed captioning, and Target lost millions in a lawsuit with the Federation for the Blind in 2006. Having a third party audit your site and implement changes can go a long way to reduce your risk.

For more information on how to stay on the right side of the law, here’s a helpful blog post on how to avoid an ADA lawsuit.

What’s the cost of accessibility?

I realize that at this point you might be seeing dollar signs. Stick with me.

  • When accessibility is considered from the get-go when building a new site, the cost is far less than redoing your site later. 
  • If you need to make your existing site accessible, there is some work to do. But it may be minor. And obviously, the larger your site, the more work there may be to do. 
  • Think of it this way: either you take some extra time now to make your website ADA compliant, or you face issues (and possible lawsuits) later down the road. An increasing number of organizations are being sued for not having accessible websites and you don’t want to be one of them! 

Is your website accessible?

You might be wondering, “where do I start?” Out of all of the tips we’ve listed, these are three that we’d recommend starting with first: 

A computer screen with "hi my name is..."

1. Are you using alt tags for images?

A computer screen with "click here?"

2. Are you using informative calls-to-action like “Call for a quote” instead of “click here”?

A graphic of the word "text."

3. Is there a high contrast of color between the background color and text?

If you answered no, it’s time to get to work. If you checked the box on all three, we’d recommend digging deeper by reading the Web Content Accessibility Guideline. Additionally, you could run a site audit that will score your website’s accessibility.

Make Your Website ADA Compliant Today

In conclusion, an ADA compliant website should provide an equal experience for everyone who visits. An ADA compliant website will lead to an overall healthy website that attracts and retains customers.

If this blog post brought light to issues on your website, looks like it’s time to make your website ADA compliant. Please give us a call if you need help with your website’s accessibility.