Digital Accessibility FAQs
"Web accessibility" refers to designing and developing websites, web content and online tools so they are accessible to everyone, including individuals with disabilities. This involves ensuring that all users can perceive, understand, navigate, and interact with the web. Effective web accessibility encompasses a range of disabilities, including visual, auditory, physical, speech, cognitive, and neurological disabilities. The goal is to provide equal access and opportunity, removing barriers that prevent interaction with, or access to, websites by people with disabilities, and meet the requirements of the ADA and Sections 504 and 508 of the Rehabilitation Act, as well as state laws.
ADA compliance for websites is generally required for businesses and public-facing entities in the US to ensure equal access for individuals with disabilities. While the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) doesn't explicitly mention websites, federal cases and the Department of Justice have interpreted its mandate to include digital accessibility. Compliance is crucial for avoiding legal repercussions and is a best practice for inclusivity. It applies especially to commercial entities, educational institutions, and government agencies.
The legal standards for website ADA compliance primarily refer to the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), currently at version 2.2 however version 2.1 is the current standard to reach. These guidelines are considered the benchmark for web accessibility and are used in ADA-related legal cases. They encompass principles like perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust content. The U.S. Department of Justice has frequently referenced WCAG in settlements and legal actions, signaling their importance in ADA compliance. Compliance involves making websites accessible to people with a range of disabilities, including visual, auditory, and physical impairments.
Related Content: ADA Web Accessibility Standards & Requirements
The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) are a series of guidelines for making web content more accessible. Developed through the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), these guidelines are the most widely accepted standard for web accessibility worldwide. They provide detailed criteria to make web content more accessible to people with a variety of disabilities. The guidelines are organized under four principles: perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust.
A fully accessible website complies with all WCAG guidelines, ensuring it is perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust for all users. This includes features like screen reader compatibility, keyboard navigability, clear content structure, and consideration of various disabilities. Unless a website is specifically designed and built or remediated to be WCAG compliant, assume it is not.
Begin by familiarizing yourself with WCAG guidelines. Regular audits, both automated and manual, are crucial. Consider engaging with accessibility experts who can provide insights and solutions specific to your site. Ensuring that all elements, from multimedia content to navigation menus, are accessible is key. Additionally, fostering an ongoing commitment to accessibility within your organization is essential for continuous improvement.
Related Article: ADA Web Accessibility Standards & Requirements
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The short answer is yes. Even the best automated testing tools - even with AI currently can at best test for only 30% of WCAG issues. A manual audit by accessibility experts is crucial for thorough ADA compliance. Experts can evaluate nuanced aspects like the context, meaningful sequence, and usability which automated tools may not accurately assess. They can also provide more comprehensive solutions and best practices tailored to your specific website.
While ADA compliance is more stringently enforced for larger businesses and public entities, small business websites are also encouraged to comply. This is not only to avoid potential legal issues but also to ensure inclusivity and reach a broader audience.
Web accessibility improvements often align with SEO best practices, enhancing a site's search engine ranking. Features like alternative text for images, clear headings, and easily navigable content are beneficial for both users with disabilities and search engine algorithms.
Related Article: Benefits of Web Accessibility & ADA Compliance
Achieving ADA compliance for your website involves adhering to WCAG guidelines. This includes ensuring that all content is perceivable (e.g., providing text alternatives for non-text content), operable (e.g., website functionality accessible via keyboard), understandable (e.g., text content is readable and understandable), and robust (e.g., compatibility with current and future assistive technologies). Regularly auditing your website, consulting with accessibility experts, and staying updated with compliance standards are also essential steps. Learn more about our web accessibility auditing services for ADA and WCAG compliance.
Accessible web design improves the user experience for everyone, not just those with disabilities. It leads to cleaner design, better usability, and increased reach to a wider audience. Benefits include improved site navigation, faster load times, and enhanced SEO, leading to higher user satisfaction and engagement.
Regular audits, at least annually, are recommended for maintaining accessibility compliance. More frequent reviews are advisable when adding new content or making significant changes to ensure continuous accessibility. If the website has already been thoroughly tested by experience WCAG auditors and remediated, then you can use automated site auditors to catch "content errors". When you change the UX of the site, that is when you need a full manual audit.
Common issues include missing alt text for images, insufficient color contrast, lack of keyboard navigability, absence of captions or transcripts for audio and video content, and complex or confusing navigation. These issues can make a website difficult or impossible to use for people with various disabilities.
The best approach combines automated tools with manual evaluation by experts. Automated tools can quickly identify technical compliance issues, but they can only detect ~30% of WCAG issues. Therefore, manual testing by qualified website accessibility testers is always required. This combination ensures a thorough evaluation of compliance with WCAG and ADA standards.
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Non-compliance with the ADA for websites can lead to legal consequences including lawsuits and financial penalties. It also poses a risk to a company's reputation, as lack of accessibility may be viewed as disregard for inclusivity. Regularly updating and auditing your website for ADA compliance can help mitigate these risks.
Related Article: 2022 Website ADA Lawsuit Statistics Summary
Tools like Axe, WAVE, and Google Lighthouse are popular for initial accessibility checks. They can identify basic issues such as missing alt text or insufficient color contrast. However, they should be supplemented with manual testing for comprehensive accessibility evaluation.
Related Article: Guide to Website Accessibility Accessibility ADA Testing Tools & Software
Related Page: List of automated testing tools in Resources.
While version WCAG 2.2 has been released, WCAG 2.1 is the standard most businesses aim to meet. While WCAG 2.2 offers updated guidelines, it's not yet a legal requirement. However, aiming for the latest standards is a best practice.
VPAT stands for Volunteer Product Accessibility Template. It enables organizations to self-report on the accessibility and WCAG compliance of a digital property. Once completed, it is called an Accessibility Conformance Report. These were originally developed for government procurement teams to ensure the digital products/services they by are 508/ADA compliant. Entities that accept federal funding often require VPATs as well - educational institutions in particular. Businesses have been adopting their use in recent years to demonstrate ADA compliance. VPATs can be used to report on the accessibility of websites, web apps / SaaS, and mobile apps.
VPATs are technical documents that require a comprehensive audit of the digital property first and are best authored by accessibility consultants who conduct the audit and then report their findings via the VPAT.
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Related Article: VPATs & ACRs for Compliance Reporting