7 Steps to Make Sure Your Website Is ADA-Compliant

Mike St. Jean

The ADA is well known for ushering in the advent of wheelchair ramps and parking spaces for the disabled. But as technology has evolved, so too have the needs of this essential piece of legislation. In 2010, the Department of Justice announced that it intended to adjust the Americans with Disabilities Act to consider how websites should work to accommodate people with disabilities.

In 2016 there was a significant case involving the University of California, Berkeley. In that case, the DOJ said the school should adopt the World Wide Web Consortium’s Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) to make their website accessible. Those guidelines are now widely accepted as the standard. So, how can you create an ADA-compliant website? Here are seven steps toward building a more inclusive site and adopting the WCAG.

1. Evaluate Your Current Site

First things first: What is the state of your current site? You can rate your own site using programs like WAVE or Lighthouse, and by manually testing the site with screen reader software. To be ADA-compliant a site must meet standards within four categories:
  • Perceivable
  • Operable
  • Understandable
  • Robust.

Use the ADA guidelines as a starting point to create a blueprint for your own site.

2. Choose the Right Graphics

Carefully chosen graphics are a big part of accessible websites. When you’re including graphics, they should not flash more than three times per second. Any more flashing, and you could inadvertently induce a seizure in someone who is browsing the page. Graphics should also have a description/caption that can be read aloud to the visually impaired. If you have informative or fun visual content, you want everyone to be able to enjoy and learn from it!

3. Add Alt-Text and Readable Fonts

Making your site perceivable for all potential users takes a lot of thoughtful choices. A variety of things fall under the umbrella of perception. To get started, provide alt-text for all images in your code. Alt-text captions allow site readers to describe your images audibly.

Fonts are another crucial component to accessibility. Use fonts that are easy to read, such as Georgia, Open Sans, and Quicksand. Avoid putting a light font color on a light background; a combination like yellow text on a pale background causes people to strain to read it. Equally problematic is a pale font on a stark black background. Stick to light backgrounds with dark for most of your content.

4. Make Website Features Logical

An ADA-compliant website must also be understandable to a wide audience. The site should operate in a predictable way and have helpful labels over blocks of content and media. For example, put a clear “x” in the upper corner of a pop-up to show users how to close the window. The site should be built in a way that avoids user error and has readable instructions on all forms where users are expected to enter information.

5. Code Your Site with Standard HTML Tags

The robust requirement of ADA recommendations is the most technical one. It basically means the code should be readable by an assistive reader. The code on your site must use standard HTML tags. You should also provide documents in a text-based format at all times, even when you also offer a PDF. Complex image documents can’t be understood by software that reads text aloud for visually impaired website users. The good news is that most website platforms, including WordPress, are designed to operate using modern code format.

6. Make the Site Keyboard- and Pause-Friendly

The primary function of the “operable” category of ADA standards is to ensure your site can be navigated using a keyboard alone. Not all users are able to interact with a touchscreen or grip a mouse. This category also relates to the overall navigation. For instance, readers should be able to pause content or slow down automatic scrolling/slideshow movements. Eliminate any videos that autoplay and have a time-limit. And, of course, make sure that all video interactions and pausing can be completed using keyboard functions.

7. Remain Up-to-Date on Compliance Changes

Remember that ADA needs are ongoing. As new technologies are made available for people with disabilities, they should be accounted for in your web code. A good start is making sure the text easily readable and the code works with assistive readers, it’s true. But a truly compliant (and usable) ADA-compliant website will adopt new best practices as they emerge.

Creating an ADA-compliant website takes time. When you’re scoping out this project, allow several months — not days. Use this ADA Checklist to do a quick audit of your site today. If you answer “No” to even one question, you have work to do! Making your site compliant with the ADA means all users will feel comfortable on your site and be able to use it for its intended purpose. In the end, everyone wins.

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