What is ADA compliance?

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was enacted into a law in July 1990 by George H. W. Bush. It was the foundation for all legal requirements in businesses and government agencies regarding people living with disabilities. There have been changes and amendments throughout the years to refine the Act further and make life easier for those living and working in the US and have disabilities. The ADA originally focused on physical items, providing wheelchair ramps, and allowing service dogs to enter buildings. It recently began addressing Internet issues as well to ensure that digital information is accessible to those with sensory, physical and cognitive disabilities. The ADA legislation is employed to website compliance for people living with disabilities.

Why is ADA website compliance important?

People living with disabilities are human beings and should be accorded the same rights and privileges as those living without disabilities. There have been recent court cases by the Department Of Justice standing firm that website accessibility should be for everyone. Companies are being urged to approach the accessibility issue proactively. The official guidelines will arrive by 2018, yet claims are already in full swing against organizations. If you don’t make your site accessible, you could be fined up to $75,000 per incidence. It’s best to be prepared before facing the eventuality.

Requirements of an ADA compliant website

Before developing an ADA-compliant website, it’s important to put into consideration how screen readers will scan the site. They start from the top, scrolling their way to the bottom of the age paying attention to every element on the website as well as associated content via a tag. Because of this, it’s important to have skip links, since the first thing you encounter on a web page is hardly ever the main content. Having the skip links incorporated allows a user to skip right to the website’s main content, bypassing the navigation when using a screen reader.

Screen reader and people with vision disabilities can’t comprehend an image or determine what it represents. Therefore, when developing a website, the significant of page title tags must be recognized. (the title element in HTML). There are a few other ADA required elements such as headings (h1, h2), and the alternative image texts to help a user in understanding the page content. For every image to have an alt tag is SEO best practice. It is also important to have the alt tag because images without it are inaccessible.

There are a few tips that help with compliance:

  • When reading out loud, web page links should make sense. Distinguishing information should appear first.
  • Content pages should be organized with appropriate headings.
  • Use the HTML 5 elements appropriately (main, header, nav, etc.) and landmark roles should be defined.
  • Use appropriate values such as (aria-live=”off” or aria-live) when using dynamic content to inform the screen reader how to announce the update.

There is an ADA Tool Kit that enlightens company’s practices and government websites on the non-discrimination requirements.

ADA Compliance in the medical industry

Recently, the Health Care industry has come under fire with public lawsuits and settlements. Title II of the ADA states that people with disabilities should not be discriminated regarding activities, programs, and services provided by government entities and the state. Most health practices were unaware of the effect it had on them. They were under the assumption that the rule applied to the facility itself and job accommodations. A website, however, is public, and a health center has to comply with the ADA in that respect. People living with disabilities cannot be excluded from accessing the service. The website is, therefore, treated as you would a piece of real estate where access shouldn’t be discriminatory.

It is the ADA’s intent to make all websites accessible to those who are hearing or visually impaired. The purpose is to ensure that people living with disabilities can enjoy the same privileges online that every American enjoys. This need for compliance in websites isn’t new. However, because there hasn’t been any focus on enforcing it, many businesses, medical practices included, have not prioritized it, therefore, failing to accommodate it in their websites. Federal websites, however, have been compliant for more than a decade.

There have been many lawsuits that have emerged against healthcare facilities, and if practices do not shape up soon, more are to follow.

ADA Compliance levels

There are three levels of ADA Compliance; “A”, “AA” and “AAA” that are under WCAG – Web Content Accessibility Guidelines. The higher the compliance level, the better your website meets the requirements, making it accessible to all users.

Here are the requirements:

  • A: Use of color
    • Color shouldn’t be used as the only method of communicating a message, soliciting a response, indicating an action or distinguishing a visual element.
  • AA: Minimum Contrast
    • On top of satisfying the criteria in Level A, the visual presentation of images of text and text in the website should have a contrast ratio of more than 4.5:1 except the following:
  • AAA: Enhances Contrast
    • The visual presentation of images of text and the text itself should have a contrast ratio of at least 7:1.

It should be noted that it isn’t possible to satisfy all Level AAA conformance criteria for some content, therefore, Level AAA conformance is not required for entire sites.

Plan of action

It is important for businesses and practices to embark on making their sites accessible. It is better to start changing their websites a little at a time without having to be faced with a deadline that may disorganize the company financially and time-wise. Companies should work with web developers who understand the WCAG 2.0 guidelines fully to redesign their websites. Making these changes over time ensures that no one is forced to completely rework their site after 2018. Businesses should be proactive and take on a customer-friendly approach when evaluating website accessibility and making the much-needed changes to accommodate all guests visiting the sites.