The thing that you’ll hear from every web design agency or expert is that accessible websites are no longer optional, they are a must-have. Many of us take for granted the ability to surf the web and easily browse the content, but people with disabilities don’t have that luxury. They often find navigating the web extremely difficult and in some cases almost impossible. We should keep in mind that around 20% of people in the world suffer from some form of disability, and websites that aren’t accessible could potentially exclude millions of people from getting the information they need. Also, ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) compliance regulations require that your website must be accessible to everyone, no matter if your site is built on Wix, Shopify, WordPress, or some other platform.
“A disability is any condition of the body and 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).”
Disability is further divided into “modes”:
- Permanent disability – When someone is completely disabled, like being blind or deaf.
- Temporary disability – When a physical or mental disability hinders a person discharging their responsibilities for a short period.
- Situational disability – When a person is not able to carry out tasks due to the situation they find themselves in (slow internet connection, for example).
The most common disabilities are:
- Visual disabilities – People suffering from complete or partial blindness rely on the keyboard to navigate sites and on-screen readers to read the text on web pages. People with color blindness require highly contrasted colors in web pages to distinguish elements.
- Motor disabilities – Users with motor disabilities also use the keyboard to navigate websites due to difficulties with controlling a mouse with precision. This is the reason why web pages need to be fully navigable through the keyboard.
- Auditory disabilities – People with auditory disabilities are deaf or have a hard time hearing and in need of alternative text for all audio elements.
- Cognitive and neutral disabilities – Individuals with these types of disabilities mustn’t be subjected to flickering content and are often restricted to keyboard-only navigation.
The Americans with Disabilities Act is a comprehensive civil rights law first passed in 1990. It is enacted to protect those with disabilities from discrimination. The law is very broad and has been open to a fair share of interpretation. It affects:
- Public and private spaces
- Building codes
Since the ADA was passed before the internet, the term “access barriers” was understood literally (physical barriers). In 2010 the U.S. Department of Justice (DoJ) issued an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking announcing that they intended to amend the language to apply to information, specifically websites. Since then, the DoJ has been clarifying the ADA’s jurisdiction on the web, stating that the ADA is designed to protect the basic human right to information access, including information on the internet.
Legal and moral reasons
Apart from being the right thing to do from a moral point of view, in some countries web accessibility is a legal requirement. According to an analysis by international legal firm Seyfarth Shaw, there were 11.053 lawsuits filed in federal courts in the United States against companies that failed to provide websites for disabled people, which is an 8.8% increase from the year before. Nearly 61 million Americans are living with some sort of disability. The majority of these individuals are using computers, shopping online, and doing all kinds of other stuff facing difficulties along the way. Designers and developers of digital content must take into account special considerations to enable full, barrier-free access to information and services for people who are blind or visually impaired, hearing impaired, individuals with learning or cognitive disabilities, those who suffer from epilepsy or other seizure-related disorders, and those with limited mobility in the hands and arms.
The U.S. Attorney Carmen M. Ortiz made a good point about a March 6, 2014 consent decree with subsidiaries of H&R Block Inc. to remedy alleged violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act: “For those with disabilities, an inaccessible website puts them at a great disadvantage and further perpetuates a feeling of dependence and reliance to others. With thoughtful and proper web design, businesses and organizations can have a great impact on the daily lives of people with disabilities who, like everyone else, seek to enjoy the benefits of technology”. Due to this lawsuit, H&R Block had to pay $145 000 in restitution and penalties, as well as make their website and mobile applications accessible soon.
In 2008, Target Corp., which operates physical and online retail stores, were requested to pay 6 million U.S. dollars in damages to settle a lawsuit with the National Federation of the Blind. They were accused of not providing alt text with product images, requiring a mouse or similar device for checkout, including inaccessible location maps, and not identifying headings and navigation on their e-commerce site.
In the year 1999 Bruce Lindsay Maguire, who is a blind person, found the Sydney Olympic Games official website inadequately accessible and filed a case against them. He won 20.000 AUD as a result.
Domino’s, as well as Parkwood Entertainment, were also sued for failing to offer an ADA-compliant website but settled outside the court.
Generally, these lawsuits settle for between $10 000 and $90 000, since the costs of going to court are much higher. But for those that end up being sued could take years to recover from potential reputation damage.
In the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, the United Nations described internet access as a basic human right. This convention is not legally binding, but it states the fact that providing web access is a strong moral issue.
Many companies and leading global brands are fully embracing this inclusion revolution. One such company is Airbnb. This home rental company rolled out 21 new accessibility filters on their platform which allowed people with disabilities to search for more than just “wheelchair accessible” in terms of housing listings and look for options like on-site disabled parking or accessible showers. Also, Tommy Hilfiger launched a clothing line called Tommy Adaptive which is specially designed for children and adults with disabilities. Uber offers WAV, providing transport in wheelchair-accessible vehicles. Netflix offers a voice narration that describes a television scene to people with damaged eyesight. Google has updated its Google Maps adding an optional layer of information that people can use to search for routes that offer wheelchair accessibility.
Moral reasons aside, there are also many business reasons and financial benefits that accessible websites can bring:
- Avoid legal complications – We have already talked about many lawsuits against companies that failed to provide accessible websites. If your website is not accessible, consider making adjustments to avoid being subject to legal requirements regarding web accessibility.
- Demonstrate social responsibility – Build positive public relations and improve your reputation by standing out from your competitors with accessible websites.
- Better SEO – By complying with ADA standards you improve your website functionality and user experience, which will lead to better ranking on Google. One of the first things you can do is making sure that every picture on your website has an accurate and descriptive alt tag.
- Improve usability for everyone – While working on website accessibility, you may be able to discover and correct usability issues that are affecting your visitors. This way you will make it easier for people with age-related accessibility needs to properly navigate your website.
- Reach bigger market – Accessible web design increases the number of people that can visit your website, which can increase sales on your website. Around 15% to 20% of internet users in the U.S. have some form of disability, and their combined spending power is 220 billion dollars. This is a huge market that you are potentially missing out on.
Best WordPress plugins to meet ADA compliance regulations
- WP Accessibility – This is a multi-function plugin for WordPress that solves common accessibility issues and helps meet ADA compliance requirements. It offers a font size and color contrast toolbar that helps users read your content more easily. It also adds a skip-to-content link, provides better keyboard navigation, and much more.
- WP Accessibility Helper – It ads a toolbar for users to select different color contrasts and adjust font size. It also provides options for underlining or highlighting links, grayscale images, changing fonts, and keyboard navigation.
- Accessibility Widget – This plugin offers a simple way for users to enlarge text. Settings let you determine which HTML elements are affected and how big or small text should be.
- Accessible Poetry – It adds a floating button that exposes a toolbar for font and contrast changes. It also lets you zoom in and out of the page, mark links, and disable any onscreen flashes. Its ALT Platform area inside the WordPress dashboard will list images uploaded to your website that don’t have an Alt tag assigned and let you set it.
- Contract Form 7: Accessible Defaults – Contract Form 7 is not very accessible by default, but this plugin adds a selection of accessible form types to use as the basis for your new form without changing any pre-existing forms.
- wA11y – It provides a connection to popular accessibility tools that will analyze your site and point out any issues. The other tool, WAVE, gives you a detailed accessibility analysis of the current page.
- Text-To-Speech PHP/JS Script Converter – This is a commercial plugin that provides a way to convert text into speech. It supports 44 languages, offers many different voices, and doesn’t require any additional framework. However, you will need to add some code to HTML wrapper elements for any items you want to enable text-to-speech capabilities.
- Divi Accessibility – It adds ARIA attributes, improves keyboard navigation, and integrates tota11y into the package.
Accessibility is so much more than making websites for disabled people. It requires a train of thought to find optimal ways to create WordPress websites that integrate ADA compliance best practices. It wants us to expand our view and think outside the box about what it means to interact with a website on a computer or mobile device. It is a brave new trend for a brave new world in which each one of us sees, hears, and experiences differently, but we all live and breathe as one.
Want to implement ADA compliance and improve user experience of your website? Schedule a call with Alpha Efficiency experts, and let us move you on the right track.