When it comes to complying with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), navigating what is required in the online space versus a traditionally ‘public’ space can be complicated. It’s important to understand how lawsuits have shaped the legal precedent in this area over time.
In this article, we’ll take a look at how compliance issues might impact your agency and your clients. We’ll also delve into some steps you can take to protect yourself from litigation, using advanced digital tools. If you’re ready, let’s jump right in!
What We Know About Online Accessibility Laws (And Why It Matters to Your Agency)
In the absence of clarity, it’s sometimes easier to just do what you think is right. When it comes to ADA compliance, however, that’s not a strategy we recommend. While the law is still somewhat unclear about what is considered a ‘public space’, there is precedent to consider.
For example, so far courts have leaned in favor of websites and digital content being responsible for accommodations under the ADA. In some cases, websites have even been viewed as public spaces. It’s also been found that if a website is supporting the business of a physical location that is required to provide accommodations, the site must also comply.
There is one law that specifically outlines the need to make information technology accessible. Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 was amended in 1998, and applies specifically to the federal government’s websites and technology. However, it still sets the tone that online resources should be accessible.
While this may all still sound a little confusing, there are some recommended guidelines you can follow when designing websites for your clients. The best roadmap for meeting the needs of people protected by the ADA is the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG).
This set of guidelines is very thorough and specific. It provides three levels of compliance, relevant for various needs. These are valuable for your agency to use as it strives to make real improvements to its web accessibility. Otherwise, you risk having to deal with the fallout from unhappy clients whose sites have been penalized.
While WCAG standards have not been passed into law, they are the most widely-accepted guidelines. They have the backing of W3C and the broader web development community, and should be the first stop on your accessibility journey.
4 Principles You Should Know and Follow to Help Prevent Compliance Litigation
WCAG 2.1 outlines its requirements under four broad principles. Within each area a principle covers, there are specific actions outlined that you can take in order to meet one of three levels of compliance. The levels range from A (the lowest) to AAA (the highest or most compliant). Let’s look at the four principles and what they involve.
For a website to be WCAG compliant, its content needs to be perceivable by the user. This means they can use their senses to interact with it. Most of us do this with sight, but not everyone can do that. Some users may need to hear or touch the content in order to understand it.
For example, screen readers are a common tool used to assist web users who have complete or partial sight impairment. This technology relies on consistent and accurate formatting in order to read content in a way that makes sense. That includes the use of appropriate heading styles, just to give one example.
This principle refers to how users interact with technology. For example, someone who does not need accommodations might swipe with their finger, or see where a control feature is and then click on it. If that’s not an option for users, they need an alternative way to navigate content.
In some cases, this might mean a person needs to use the keyboard or voice commands to navigate a website. The Operable principle means that mouse-over items and features like drop-down menus in a form need to be accessible through keyboard actions.
When it comes to this principle, there’s a bit more to it than “can the user understand how to use your website”? Meeting this principle means that your structure and navigation need to be consistent throughout your client’s website. Someone should not have to relearn how to use your site as they view each new page.
In practical terms, this means forms should include detailed information that helps the user correctly input data. That includes informing the user if they’ve done something wrong and need to try again. Additionally, meeting this principle means that technical jargon, abbreviations, and acronyms should be well-defined and explained.
The fourth principle speaks to the idea that the first three principles should apply to your site on any device or technology a visitor might use. In other words, everyone needs to be able to perceive, operate, and understand your content, even if they are using assistive technology.
In order to achieve this, you can begin by embracing the requirements outlined in the WCAG. Your agency will need to decide what level is realistic to strive for, and develop a process that works for your clients as well.
How to Achieve ADA Compliance for Your Clients
If you’ve taken a look at the WCAG standards, you know there’s more to them than just tagging your images or adjusting color schemes. There are some fundamental programming steps you need to take in order to engrain accessibility into your agency’s products.
Fortunately, there are tools available that can help you deliver a compliant and dynamic product that remains true to your agency’s style and brand. For example, accessiBe is a solution that brings Artificial Intelligence (AI) to your clients’ websites, in a way that embraces all four WCAG principles. In fact, it’s the only product of its kind that meets WCAG 2.1 standards.
In particular, accessiBe’s AI technology represents the fourth principle – Robust. This is because once the tool is implemented, users of your clients’ websites will be able to perceive, operate, and understand the content much more effectively.
For $490 per year, accessiBe gives you an automated system that doesn’t have to be recalibrated if a client wants to change their website. Unlike agencies that can charge thousands of dollars with slow timelines, this tool can help you reach compliance goals quickly.
If you’re familiar with Google Analytics, the process of connecting your website to accessiBe is very similar. You’ll receive an implementation code that will need to be added to your website’s footer.
After that, the AI embedded in the platform crawls your website, tracks issues, offers solutions, and provides users with options for viewing and interacting with your content.
For your clients, this means they can rest assured knowing that they’re providing even more value to all of their customers.
When it comes to online accessibility, litigation is expected to continue in an upward trend. As more and more companies provide services and products online, your agency can help by providing educated and professional accessibility services as a part of your skillset.
Do you have any questions about online accessibility? Share your thoughts with us in the comments section below!
Image by Gerd Altmann