When’s the last time you thought about how accessible your website is to users who are blind or visually-impaired? Even though ADA website compliance is the law, many businesses have failed to update their websites to accommodate these users. Most recently, Winn-Dixie is in the news for failing to provide ADA compliant web design. A user who is blind was unable to use their site, filed a lawsuit, and a Miami judge ruled that Winn-Dixie violated the Americans with Disabilities Act. If your website is not currently accessible to the visually-impaired, it’s time to think about updating your site for compliance and user experience.
VisionCorps’ mission is to empower individuals with vision loss to attain independence. They understood that accessibility to the programs and resources on their website was vital to the success of their mission. They partnered with our agency to design a website that would become the model for other businesses looking to create accessible web design for individuals who are blind or vision-impaired.
Many deaf-blind individuals use support service providers (SSPs) to assist them in accessing the world around them. SSPs are not “aids and services” under the ADA. However, they provide mobility, orientation, and informal communication services for deaf-blind individuals and are a critically important link enabling them to independently access the community at large.
Leading web developers have been pioneering accessibility and publishing standards since 1994. In 1999, the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) and the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) created the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). In essence, the people who determine how the internet is written came together to advise web developers on how to make websites accessible not only to people with disabilities, but to all web users, including those with highly limited devices.
In an August 2016 case involving the University of California Berkeley, the DOJ ruled that the public university was in violation of ADA Title II (similar to Title III but it instead applies to government organizations) because their YouTube channel’s videos didn’t include captions for hearing impaired visitors. The DOJ found this to violate the ADA as deaf users did not have equal access to the online content.
Being one-third of the way into 2019, we opted to follow up on the 2018 discussion we had regarding ADA Website Compliance. Per last year, making sure your website is ADA compliant is significant in offering an equal opportunity for everyone to experience the products and/or services your business offers. An ADA compliant website also help prevent lawsuits and potential government action.
When the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was first passed in 1990, the internet had yet to take off. However, the ADA has realized the importance of including online spaces within its parameters. If your business is considered a ‘place of public accommodation,’ then your website must be ADA compliant. Multiple rulings from judges have set legal precedent that websites must be accessible and are at risk of heavy fines and penalties when they are found not compliant. Winn-Dixie is the latest business to learn this the hard way.
It’s an important tool because Contact Form 7 isn’t so accessible by default. The plugin adds a selection of accessible form types to use as the basis for your new form. Note that it doesn’t affect pre-existing forms – just new ones. For existing forms, you’ll have to recreate them using the new templates. That’s why it’s recommended that you install this companion plugin on your site at the same time as Contact Form 7.
Both sites include hidden same-page links at the top of the page for skipping to particular content. The CDC site includes five of these links, roughly corresponding with each of the landmark regions. These links become visible when keyboard users tab into the page. These links may ultimately be unnecessary if browsers support navigation by headings or landmarks. Screen readers already provide this support, but until browsers do so natively, non-mousers with eyesight can benefit from skip links like the ones on these government sites.
Accessible design benefits all users and creates market opportunity, Reha said. She continued: “Access to information online is everywhere, so it’s easy to take for granted that it’s available to everyone, but it’s not. Such access is incredibly important for people with disabilities because it lets them become independent and improves their quality of life.”
Penn in particular nearly made the cut because I really like their keyboard accessibility. It amazes me how few sites provide visible indication of keyboard focus, when it's incredibly simple to achieve (just add a style for a:focus in your style sheet). Penn did this, and consequently it's very easy for sighted keyboard users to keep track of their position as they tab through the page. They also included a keyboard-accessible dropdown menu. However, there are some dynamic features on the Penn home page that really need ARIA markup for full accessibility. They also have a few contrast problems, most notably their slideshow navigation, which is red-on-red:
When you insert an image into a post or page, consider providing a rich description for the caption that will improve the reading experience for everyone, but especially folks who can’t see the image. Be creative. Instead of “My son on his swing,” try “My son is playing on his favorite swing. His face is filled with pure joy on a beautiful Spring day. Perfection.” The goal here is to convey the feeling of the image.
Meanwhile, the Justice Dept. enforcement team is doing cramdowns over web sites and mobile apps. For example, PeaPod grocery delivery service, which Vu assisted when the Justice Dept. gave them a hard time. In addition, H&R Block was sued by the National Federation of the Blind and the Justice Dept. became a plaintiff in the case — H&R Block complied.
In court, Netflix tried to argue that websites should not be part of ADA compliance regulations, as there is no physical structure / location. They also argued that websites should not be in scope of ADA as there is no public component (the original ADA compliance law specifically called out that ADA rules apply primarily to services, locations, and products that are supposed to be open to the public).
Why was Amazon sued to begin with? Believe it or not, it was the Kindle converter for documents. Amazon has developed its own converter (MobiPocket) to digitize all the documents, books, and magazines that are shown on Kindle. But the problem is that Amazon’s converter was making it difficult for people with disabilities to access any items other than super basic documents.
I should mention one caveat to all of this. Businesses that are required to comply but don't have the ability to bring their websites into compliance can provide an accessible alternative to provide the same information, goods, and services that they provide online, like a staffed phone line. The trick, however, is that this option has to provide at least equal access, including in terms of hours of operation. And, as we know, the internet is around 24/7, so good luck with that.
Legal precedent is changing, and ADA compliance related lawsuits are becoming more successful, and the courts are seeing more of them as a result. Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act pertains to private sector businesses. Lately, those protections are more frequently expanding into digital territory as web and mobile applications become more necessary in our day-to-day lives.
Attitudes toward digital accessibility have evolved over time. In 2010, the Justice Dept. said they would address the topic. They said the ADA covers web sites, including companies that don’t have brick and mortar presences. They said companies can comply with the law by offering an alternative means of access, so if a web site isn’t ADA compliant, they could offer 24/7 phone access as an example of alternative access.
Today, however, the landscape is completely different at the Dept. of Justice. In 2001, Target was sued by the National Federation of the Blind over its web site. Target said the ADA didn’t cover web sites but was told by a judge that they were liable because they were connected to a brick and mortar business. If a company isn’t tied to a brick and mortar business, however, the courts are still split on that issue regarding ADA coverage.
“The idea of equal access, equal opportunity has sort of evolved in its application from brick and mortar to eCommerce. At first, many companies were worried about the desktop experience. Now, the concern extends to both smart phones and devices. Wherever a consumer accesses your content – whether it be directly through the web or an app – you need to be concerned about accessibility.”
While the U.S. Department of Labor's (DOL) Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) does not enforce the ADA, it does offer publications and other technical assistance on the basic requirements of the law, including covered employers’ obligation to provide reasonable accommodations to qualified job applicants and employees with disabilities. For a quick overview of the ADA read “The Americans with Disabilities Act: A Brief Overview.”
The guidelines are broken down by four main principles: perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust. Under each principle, there are guidelines that provide specific goals a website should work toward. Under each guideline, there are testable success criteria. Those criteria are graded A, AA, or AAA. This grade shows the level of conformity to accessibility, AAA being the highest. The law only requires A and AA guidelines to be met.