What if I told you that your business could be reaching 12 percent more clients online with a few website changes? That’s right. You may have been a little ignorant like I was to the fact that the American Community Survey (ACS) estimates the overall rate of people with disabilities in the US population in 2016 was 12.8%. This statistic is unfortunately rising.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) has done an incredible job with protecting individuals with disabilities from discrimination when it comes to physical building regulations. The blurry lines and unknown boundaries start when we begin to think about online regulations. Title III of the ADA mandates that all “places of public accommodation” (all business open to the public) are legally required to remove any “access barriers” that would hinder a disabled person’s access to that business’s goods or services. Recently, the Department of Justice has made it clear that the ADA applies to the internet, but further rulings are still underway. In this article, I’m going to help you with two things, not only understand the why behind reaching ALL potential clients but also simple steps to achieve accessibility for many.
The ADA Best Practices Toolkit explains that many people with disabilities use assistive technology that enables them to use computers. Some assistive technology involves separate computer programs or devices, such as screen readers, text enlargement software, and computer programs that enable people to control the computer with their voice. Other assistive technology is built into computer operating systems. For example, basic accessibility features in computer operating systems enable some people with low vision to see computer displays by simply adjusting color schemes, contrast settings, and font sizes. Operating systems enable people with limited manual dexterity to move the mouse pointer using keystrokes instead of a standard mouse. Many other types of assistive technology are available, and more are still being developed.
Poorly designed websites can create unnecessary barriers for people with disabilities, just as poorly designed buildings prevent some people with disabilities from entering. Access problems often occur because website designers mistakenly assume that everyone sees and accesses a web page in the same way. This mistaken assumption can frustrate assistive technologies and their users. Accessible website design recognizes these differences and does not require people to see, hear, or use a standard mouse in order to access the information and services provided.
Here is the exact action plan the ADA suggests:
Establish, implement, and post online a policy that your webpages will be accessible and create a process for implementation.
Ensure that all new and modified web pages and content are accessible.
Develop a plan for making your existing web content accessible. Describe your plan on an accessible web page, and encourage input on how accessibility can be improved. Let visitors to your website know about the standards or guidelines that you are using to make your website accessible. When setting timeframes for accessibility modifications to your website, make more popular webpages a priority.
When updating web pages, remember to ensure that updates are accessible. For example, when images change, the text equivalents in “alt” tags and long descriptions need to be changed so they match the new images.
Ensure that in-house staff and contractors responsible for web page and content development are properly trained. Distribute the Department of Justice technical assistance document “Accessibility of State and Local Government Websites to People with Disabilities” to these in-house staff and contractors on an annual basis as a reminder. This technical assistance document is available on the ADA Home Page at www.ada.gov.
Provide a way for visitors to request accessible information or services by posting a telephone number or email address on your home page. Establish procedures that ensure a quick response to users with disabilities who are trying to obtain information or services in this way.
Periodically enlist disability groups to test your pages for ease of use; use the feedback they provide to increase the accessibility of your website.
Ensure that there are alternative ways for people with disabilities to access the information and services that are provided on your website. Remember, some people may not have, or be able to use, a computer.
Here are some common problems and solutions for website accessibility:
Problem: Images Without Text Equivalents Solution: Add a Text Equivalent to Every Image
Problem: Documents Are Not Posted In an Accessible Format Solution: Post Documents in a Text-Based Format
Problem: Specifying Colors and Font Sizes Solution: Avoid Dictating Colors and Font Settings
Problem: Videos and Other Multimedia Lack Accessible Features Solution: Include Audio Descriptions and Captions
Folks, let’s go beyond legal compliance. Making your website accessible means making it available to the largest number of people possible. Business owners and marketing directors, think of all of the resources already spent on making sure your website is seen. Find an agency who can help take your website from non-compliant, to legal and user-friendly for all clients. At Blue Fish, we believe agencies should build accessibility into our proposals, and integrate it into our design and development workflow. We promise to educate future and current clients on why it is important, and we believe they will quickly get on board.