What’s the Deal with ADA-Compliant Websites?

3 min read
in Blog, Web Development, Writing
road with sign directing driver around a mountain

A few months ago, one of our clients forwarded an email to me. Their attorney had come across an article about a large corporation that was being sued because their website was unusable by a person with a visual impairment. Our client wanted to know if the site we had built for them was ADA compliant. Have you ever asked yourself the same question? Have you given it any thought?

What makes a website ADA compliant?

Generally speaking, the goal for ADA compliance is to ensure that people with visual disabilities can access the content of a website and interact with a website in its entirety, without limitation. The goal of any good website is to present information that is understandable and digestible to as wide an audience as possible. But what does this mean for those who are visually impaired–either totally blind or with bad vision in general?

When most people think of ADA compliance, they think about things like wheelchair ramps, elevators, and braille signs in public buildings. But unlike building codes, there are no official or enforceable standards for ADA compliance at this time. This means the standards for ADA compliance are somewhat arbitrary.

Is my website ADA compliant?

We have been getting this question more and more over the last few months. The attention given toward ADA compliance has been recent, so many sites (including many sites we’ve built) aren’t 100% compliant unless it was a feature requested as part of the site build. It turns out that the vast majority of websites–even sites that have been built by larger firms and companies–would also fail a compliance check.

Here are some things you can do to see if your site is ADA compliant:

  • Check for words embedded in pictures.
    You have probably seen plenty of websites that have words embedded in images.

    ‘Forget the mistake, remember the lesson’ written on a black paper.

    While these look great, they are completely invisible to screen readers that many people with visual impairments use. If you are using images for buttons or labels, the damage is two-fold because the buttons themselves are not easily identifiable.

    One way to test if the text is part of the image is to try and double-click over the words themselves. If your browser highlights the text and not the entire image, your text is readable and you’re good to go.

  • Make sure images are described using code
    This is not just good for accessibility, but it will also help your search engine optimization. The most common way to do this is to use an “alt” tag. If you are using WordPress, there is even an empty field in your media library (called “Alt Text”) that will embed this automatically.
  • Ensure text has a high color contrast
    Dark blue text over a photo might look great, but it can be very difficult to read if you have trouble seeing. Dark text over light backgrounds is best. If your design is such that text looks better over images, try placing a colored background or translucent color wash behind your text.
  • Are important documents only available as PDFs?
    You know that handing a printed piece of paper to somebody who was unable to read it because of a visual impairment is a bad idea. You need to avoid this on your website, too. If you have important content that is only available as a PDF, then make it into a web page. This goes double for forms and applications. You do not want to be in a situation where the only way to fill out a form is to print it and mail it. This is also an instance where improving ADA compliance also improves the experience for all users.

So what can you do to make your website accessible?

There are a few resources that can help, which we have shared with you before. But most likely you will need to enlist the help of a developer who is experienced with ADA compliance. Moving forward, we will be developing all of our clients’ sites to be ADA compliant. If you would like us to review your existing site for you, we will be happy to provide this service at no charge. Just contact us here.

Meet the Author

Jason is a co-founder of ThirdSide. When he’s not building websites, making graphics, or meeting clients, he’s hanging out with his family doing family things or hanging out with performers doing performer things.

He has a Star Wars obsession that some consider to be…unnatural.

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