What does it really mean for your website to be ADA compliant? How does WCAG 2.0 apply to your content? Our accessibility expert Scott Madara answers some of digital accessibility's biggest questions.
We talk a lot about ADA compliance on this blog and its importance for all websites to be accessible.
But what exactly are the stakes companies face when they aren’t ADA compliant? Are there any benefits to compliance other than avoiding lawsuits?
We sat down with our resident ADA expert and Director of Web Development Scott Madara to get the honest answers about ADA compliance, WCAG 2.0, and what websites owners and administrators can do to make their website accessible for all.
What are the rules regarding ADA compliance with business websites?
Scott Madara: The general compliance for your website is directly proportional to your legal obligations under the Americans with Disabilities Act. These responsibilities and specific rules vary depending on the style of private businesses compared to government entities to nonprofits organizations - so it will differ depending on your organizational needs.
However, regardless of your website’s standings or target audiences, your website must be compliant with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 standards.
At bare minimum, your website has to be A-level compliant. It shouldn’t have any issues within that designated category. Business websites ultimately should strive to meet AA compliance.
If you serve in a highly public nature (government contractor or do business with the government) you should strive to be AAA compliant. It all depends on the nature of your business.
What are penalties a business could face if they fail to be ADA compliant?
SM: There are the obvious legal penalties -- fines, courtroom costs. There’s also the negative publicity associated with not being ADA compliant. There’s a loss of brand trust due to that negative publicity as well for not being inclusive of all customers.
There’s also the penalty of lost business. By not prioritizing ADA compliance, your business is losing out on a certain percentage of a customer base.
You as a business are losing out on a certain percentage of customer base. Roughly 57 million Americans have some form of disability. That's 19% of the American population alone that might struggle to use your website should you ignore the importance of ADA compliance.
How can complying with the ADA actually help businesses?
SM: Other than the benefit of doing the right thing, there are a number of benefits to ADA compliance. It keeps your business out of legal trouble and the PR nightmare of being drawn into the courts system. Compliance also builds up trust among your website visitors because you’re making an intentional effort to be accessible to everyone.
Fundamentally, a website that is ADA compliant will be more accessible to a variety of technologies.Screen readers aren’t just for the disabled, and we anticipate a variety of applications based around these things as IoT grows. If your website is accessible to these types of devices, you’re one step ahead in the evolutionary growth if Internet of Things technologies.
Sites that are ADA compliant offer better UX experiences. From what we’ve seen anecdotally websites that prioritize compliance are standardized and simplified.
What are some common challenges businesses face when working toward ADA compliance?
SM: Generally speaking, there’s a ‘retraining’ of a company that happens to make everyone more aware of ADA and accessibility needs. Everyone involved needs to understand the importance of making a website accessible to all potential website visitors who could have a variety of disability struggles.
There can be challenges with your existing infrastructure (aka content management system) and automation/third party tools which many use to have a fully functional digital presence. Some of these platforms have inherent problems with compliance. At Solodev, we ensure that our websites are primed with ADA in mind.
With plugin after plugin, your common content creator is at the mercy of the plugin author to make the ADA updates. Conversely, you’re forced to shell out more money for developers who can fix those issues for you.
There can also be challenges in understanding the fundamental roles of the legislation and rules. You have to read through them and work through them often in order to et an appreciation for each specific rule element and resolve potential issues.
Staying proactive is another issue. It’s not a one-and-done reactionary process.
Small business owners often get a legal notice or see the issues and try to immediately resolve a small issue. They think ADA only applies to larger companies -- especially those heavy in the digital space. They don’t see it as an ongoing evolution for their website or perpetual change to the workflow and production schedule.
There has to be a change in mindset company wide to making sure that ADA compliance is proactively sought rather than something done in the 11th hour.
Are there any drawbacks to complying with the ADA for websites?
SM: There are moments when your might have an incredibly clever idea, cool design, or color scheme, but if it’s not ADA compliant, you can’t run it. But those moments stem from not having ADA in a place of priority in the first place.
There are some associated costs in order to become compliant. Those costs aren’t prohibitive, but they need to be built into the underlying infrastructure costs. ADA compliance is a lot of work -- and it can feel frustrating when you have a large website with pages. However, the work is worth the time.
What tools are available to help entrepreneurs work toward ADA compliance?
SM: There are a number of resources available to help entrepreneurs work toward ADA compliance. We recommend the Functional Accessibility Evaluator (FAE) that evaluates a website or a single webpage against the WCAG 2.0. Siteimprove has a chrome extension so you can check each page individually. The Chrome extension as a dev is a dream for this issue. Monseto is another excellent resource. There are a lot of tools available, but one thing remains critical -- using those tools before making a page or content live.