Web Basics – ADA Accessibility

Happy Wednesday everyone.   Today in Web Basics we’re going to talk about the Americans with Disabilities Act and how it pertains to your website.

The Americans with Disabilities Act is a civil rights law that was enacted in 1990 to prohibit any discrimination on the basis of disability.  Discrimination includes affirmative acts of discrimination (adverse treatment compared to the non-disabled) and failure to provide equal opportunity.  Although the letter of the law does not specifically mention websites, interpretations of the law are overwhelmingly supporting that websites must be accessible to people with disabilities.

So to understand how we can make our sites more accessible to the disabled we first need to understand how a disability might affect one’s ability to use a website.  Visual disabilities may inhibit reading or color perception.  Fine motor skill disabilities may inhibit the full use of keyboard or mouse.  Hearing disabilities may prevent people from hearing audio and video.  Epileptics may have trouble with frequent motion.  This list of disabilities is wide ranging but these are just a few.

Now that we know how people often struggle with website content let’s talk about what we can do to prevent these issues.  It’s crucially important to make sure that all images, documents, videos, and audio have alternative digital text descriptions and/or captions so they can be accessed by those with visual impairments.  We need to make sure that all text is large enough to be readable and can be enlarged.  Making sure that pages don’t use excessive movement or giving the user the ability to turn any movement off is really important for users with epilepsy or other motion sensitive conditions.  If you’re interested in learning more about some of these, the World Wide Web Consortium has a great resource on We Content Accessibility Guidelines.

At this point you folks might be curious on how you could assess your site right now to see how compliant you are.  There are actually quite a few tools out there that help you assess your site, but by far the most popular one is the Wave Accessibility Evaluation Tool.   All you have to do is paste your URL in the web address bar and WAVE takes you to an analytics page detailing any accessibility issues with your page.

Hopefully this has been a helpful resource for those of you curious about making your site more accessible.  Quickly just to review, ADA is a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability and is increasingly being interpreted to include websites as well.  There are a wide range of disabilities that can inhibit people’s abilities to interact with web content, from hearing and visual impairments to physical limitations.  Some of the most important things you can do to make your site more accessible are having alternative text for media and to make sure you site can be navigated without the use of a keyboard.  If you’d like a deeper explanation, or have other questions you’d like answered just shoot me an email!

Keep an eye out for our next post on Search Engine Optimization.

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