As organizations around the world scramble to bring their sites into compliance with the World Wide Web Consortium’s Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), focus on other, preexisting accessibility regulations has also intensified. The United States’ Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is one of the most visible and one of the most complicated pieces of legislation in the sphere of accessibility. Let’s look at some of the ins and outs of what an ADA compliant website means today.
As you’ve probably figured out by now, the answer is no, because it’s not at all clear how or even if ADA rules will be applied to any particular website. Still, it’s generally a good idea to err on the side of caution. Many states have adopted their own accessibility laws, and the volume of accessibility-related lawsuits filed against websites has ballooned in recent years. Plaintiffs have been more successful in these suits than ever before. With no clearly defined regulations to follow, it is probably not worth it for most companies to gamble that a court will rule in their favor.
HTML tags – specific instructions understood by a web browser or screen reader. One type of HTML tag, called an “alt” tag (short for “alternative text”), is used to provide brief text descriptions of images that screen readers can understand and speak. Another type of HTML tag, called a “longdesc” tag (short for “long description”), is used to provide long text descriptions that can be spoken by screen readers.
For instance, if you have a video that displays the benefits of your product, but it doesn’t have captions, then people who are deaf or hard of hearing will not get to find out how great your product is. The same goes for when you have images with no alternate text. The point of the alternate text is to allow screen reading tools to describe the image to someone who is blind, so if you don’t have that text, some of your audience will miss out. Similarly, it’s important to ensure your website is fully accessible without a mouse so that people with physical limitations can use it.
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WCAG guidelines break accessibility issues down into three levels. Level A issues are the most urgent and include problems that can severely limit a disabled visitor’s ability to navigate or use the website. Level AA issues tend to be more rooted in functionality, addressing areas where improvement is needed to give disabled users the full experience of a site. (Level AA is considered the target standard for most commercial websites.) Level AAA issues are the highest standard, fine-tuning and expanding on issues identified as Level A and AA. While it is an excellent goal, full Level AAA compliance is likely beyond the reach of most websites.
Your site would need to have a text only option, with all functionality accessible through a keyboard for visitors with mobility issues. Once you make these and other changes to meet ADA guidelines, your site would need to be tested by a website development company familiar with ADA compliance issues to be sure that visitors who use assistive technology such as screen readers are able to access your web content fully.
Web accessibility addresses the needs of every website visitor to achieve an optimal level of usability and ADA compliance. Many people browsing the web have a permanent disability (visual, mobility or neurological impairment), or a temporary impairment such as a broken arm, broken or lost eyeglasses, and so on. Many baby boomers have aging-related issues that make using the web more challenging, and they’re not alone–about 20% of the U.S. population has an identified disability.
Webpage designers often have aesthetic preferences and may want everyone to see their webpages in exactly the same color, size and layout. But because of their disability, many people with low vision do not see webpages the same as other people. Some see only small portions of a computer display at one time. Others cannot see text or images that are too small. Still others can only see website content if it appears in specific colors. For these reasons, many people with low vision use specific color and font settings when they access the Internet – settings that are often very different from those most people use. For example, many people with low vision need to use high contrast settings, such as bold white or yellow letters on a black background. Others need just the opposite – bold black text on a white or yellow background. And, many must use softer, more subtle color combinations.
Any business that is considered a “place of public accommodation” is required to provide equal access to services under the nondiscrimination requirements of Title III of ADA. When you look at the guidelines closely, this includes hotels, entertainment venues, legal and accounting firms, retail stores, and virtually every business that is not a private club, including businesses that exist solely on the web.

The ADA is the Americans with Disabilities Act, passed almost 30 years ago in 1990. This act was originally put in motion pertaining solely to physical location. It requires establishments to provide people with disabilities easy access to various levels throughout the business. This act was set to achieve an equal experience to all people, handicapped or not.
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