The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was developed in 1990 and is meant to ensure that people with disabilities have the same opportunities as anyone else. This means any businesses that serve the public must make sure their building accommodates people with disabilities of various kinds. And now that the internet is so widely used, ADA compliance also applies to websites and even mobile apps. Basically, this means that your website needs to be accessible to people who have disabilities that affect their hearing, vision or physical capacities.
Web designers often design in such a way that does not allow the user to adjust font size or color. While they may be protecting their brand, they are also inhibiting some users. Many visually impaired need to use high contrast color settings or very large fonts to read a website. Don't design your website in a way that makes it impossible for them to do this.
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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.
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If your website is not already ADA compliant, you are automatically missing out on millions of potential customers who cannot access your site due to their disabilities. In fact, there are nearly 50 million people with disabilities in the U.S., which means about 19 percent of this country has a disability. Many of them might be interested in your products or services, but once they arrive at your website, they won't be able to navigate easily enough to buy anything or even contact you, all because your website is only accessible to people without disabilities. Thus, they may move on to your competitors.
For federal institutions, Section 508 makes it very clear that all federal-related websites must be accessible to all individuals, with and without disabilities. For private commercial websites, the Department of Justice (DOJ), which enforces the ADA, has made it clear that it interprets the ADA as applicable to websites. In 2010, the DOJ issued an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to specifically ensure all websites, public and private, are subject to ADA compliance. The DOJ’s proposed amendments to the ADA were initially expected in Spring of 2016 but have now been pushed back to 2018.
There are many companies out there who claim they can bring your website up to code in as little as two days. This is simply not possible. It takes going through every page on your website and bringing each variable up to code on that page. It’s not simply a magic button that you press. This could take a single developer many hours if you have a decently sized website, hence the hefty price tag to bring sites up to code.
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.”
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Luckily, the international nonprofit World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) brings together smart people who develop open standards to ensure the long-term growth of the Web. They produce recommendations for making websites fair and equally accessible for the highest number of people possible. Their Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1 offer clear guidance for web developers to achieve ADA compliance.
This is an article that most other website developers probably don’t want you to read. The reason is that most other web designers basically like to think of themselves as all-powerful wizards with magical powers. And they use complex technical jargon and terminology to intimidate and mystify their clients into thinking that what they do is more complex than it is.
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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 webpage 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.
The gray area is a matter of scale and purpose. If you have a small business which serves as specific market it's a good idea to make the site as user and disability friendly as possible. If, however, your market serves segments with a likeliness to have various handicaps or disabilities you should address that with an ADA Compliance review of the site. Also consider the scale and purpose of an organization. Publicly traded large businesses need to concern themselves more than a single location family owned retailer and if someone sues your flower shop because the text was too small or didn't have "image alt tags" causing them distress... That's pretty frivolous and would likely not stand.