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Design UX

Why is ADA compliance so important?

One billion people all over the world live with some form of disability, while 200 million do with a very significant one. In the United States that number means a quarter of the adult population. People who have visual, auditory, ambulatory, or cognitive disabilities, can face a real challenge when navigating websites.

Accessibility, whether online or in the real world, helps a wide variety of people. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), is a U.S. law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in the aspects of public transportation, commercial facilities and so forth. Even though the bill was passed in 1990, there were some amendments over the years that included the Internet activity.

These first amendments involving Accesible Design were released in 2010. These regulations required companies to offer and maintain sites that people with disabilities can use and access. As section 508 clearly states: “websites or other technology can only be considered in compliance if a person who has a disability can effectively use it the same way a non-disabled person can”.

Even though the Internet is freedom in every aspect, there is a high chance that your business will need to follow these best practices in order to provide not only a better experience for everyone, but also to comply with the law and avoid lawsuits in markets like Europe or North America.

Who needs to comply with ADA?

The Americans with Disabilities Act encompasses all sorts of electronic and information technology, including the Internet and the websites on it. All businesses have to adhere with the requirements established in the law.

The regulation strictly applies for these type of Organizations:

  • State and local government agencies
  • Private employers with 15 or more employees
  • Businesses that operate for the benefit of the public

Even if ADA compliance doesn’t apply to your project, it is still important to create a site that everyone can use. Resources like the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) are a great starting point to improve your digital experiences and make them more accessible for everyone.

ADA compliance and WCAG

Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) are a set of rules aimed to make web content more accessible. The first version came out on May 1999. The latest part of the series (WCAG 2.2) is scheduled to be published in early 2021.

Countries where WCAG 2.0 was adopted are highlighted in red.

WCAG 2.0 is a great starting point if you’re looking to be ADA compliant. The following is a summary of the good practices divided in three main categories: Accessible Content, Navigation and Error handling.

Accessible Content

  • Captions: for all type of video content.
  • Audio descriptions: for all pre-recorded content.
  • Contrast ratio: text should be readable, specially at small font sizes.
  • Text resizing: users should be allowed to resize the text without the loss of site functionality.
  • Images of text: avoid using text content on images. If this is not possible, make sure to include a description or Alt Text.
  • Multiple contact options: offer more than one contact channel. Some people might prefer getting in touch with a contact desk rather than writing an email or submitting a support ticket. Make sure to include a web form and a physical address.
Tools like Contrast Checker are good ways to validate text contrast performance.

Navigation

  • Navigation options and consistency: provide users more than one option to look for content. Consistent navigation, site maps and search boxes are a way to do so.
  • Headings and labels: useful for describing the topic or purpose of content. Make sure to label all site elements appropriately, like a pricing table or contact form.
  • Focus visible: users navigating your site with a keyboard should be able to see the focus indicator. This indicator is the outline that appears on buttons, links and menus when pressing the TAB key. Make sure this feature is enabled within your website’s CSS.
  • Language: always use HTML language attributes, specially for displaying content that is not targeted as the content for the main website audience.
Focus visible
Selectable items will be highlighted to provide an alternative way of navigation.

Error handling

  • Prevent user errors: provide suggestions for fixing common input errors. Eg. phone number format in a contact form.
  • Confirm important and destructive actions: whenever the user has to make a legal commitment, a financial transaction or modify or delete important data, it is very important to show a confirmation message before the action takes place. By doing so, the user is allowed to fix errors. Examples of these are Alert messages and Order confirmation pages.
Phone Number and Credit card number placeholder examples with masks
Masks in the input fields help in avoiding common form errors.

More than just accessibility

Having a website that is accessible means that you can reach a broader audience. Accessibility guidelines help you make a digital product that is easier to use for more people.

Additionally, better accessibility improves your SEO rankings. Google Page Rank prioritizes websites that adhere to these guidelines. A lot of the regulations included in the ADA law fit into SEO good practices.

Conclusion

Anyone that creates content for the Internet should be aware of what ADA compliance is about. Having an accessible website has a positive impact on every type of user. It’s not just something related to people with significant disabilities. Digital products that are ADA compliant are universally accessible experiences. As Tim Berner-Lee once said:

“The power of the Web is in its universality. Access by everyone regardless of disability is an essential aspect.”

Tim Berners-Lee, W3C Director and inventor of the World Wide Web

Further reading

Special thanks to Bogdan and Olga for their commitment to web accessibility at Ipsos.

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