Online Business Laws and ADA Regulations

Kimberly Burghart November 29, 2016

Legal Considerations for ADA Website Compliance

When looking at laws surrounding online businesses, most people focus on anti-spam, privacy protection, and eCommerce regulations. Recently, there has been a push towards meeting ADA standards, an area that previously has been ignored. Since the start of 2015, over 240 large companies (including the NBA!) have been sued for falling below ADA standards. If your website is not ADA compliant, you could be putting your company at risk.

Let’s take a step back for a moment. What is ADA compliance for websites and does your site actually need to meet ADA standards?

Scheduled for decision in early 2018, the Department of Justice will be ruling on how to apply regulations for ADA compliance to websites – a ruling that is expected to shake up current website standards. Ultimately, the decision will be on enforcing websites to live up to the same ADA regulations that physical store locations have to follow; that is to say, accessibility to your goods or services cannot discriminate based on disability. While the court’s decision was delayed from early 2016 to 2018, your decision to act shouldn’t be. The Department of Justice has already revealed its intentions of applying ADA regulations to commercial websites.

To Avoid Website Violations, You Need to Be ADA Compliant

Currently, Title III of the ADA regulations does not specifically include websites, rather it states “discrimination is prohibited on the basis of disability in the activities of places of public accommodations.” For now, the lines are still blurred until the 2018 ruling has come into play, but that hasn’t stopped individuals from pressing charges against sites who are not compliant.

When the new ADA regulation passes, however, commercial websites serving the public should become explicitly listed alongside the brick-and-mortar stores the law was originally written for. Once this happens, all websites should be following ADA regulations, with few exceptions for private clubs and religious organizations.

In light of the upcoming changes to ADA regulations, a client had come to Miles Technologies concerned over the compliance of their website’s customer portal. Using web accessibility evaluation tools, we ran an analysis of their site to test the portal’s level of compliance. We found that there were many issues with contrast and keyboard accessibility. The majority of their buttons and form fields were light gray with white text. This made it hard to see what information needed to go in each form field. The forms also weren’t easily accessible to keyboard only users, which excluded users with motor disabilities. With the help of the Miles team, the portal’s ADA shortcomings were brought up to par.

6 ADA Accessibility and Compliance Features Every Site Should Have

Organization and usability are two main areas you should focus on to create an ADA compliant website. For users with visual, hearing, or mobility impairment, the organization and correct labeling of page titles, headers, and alt text is crucial for accessibility. To prepare your website to meet ADA standards, you should double check these 6 areas:

  1. Page Titles
    These are the first things that a screen reader looks at when the user accesses the page. Page titles help to let people know where they are and navigate between pages. Make sure all of your page titles are different and accurately describes each page.
  2. Headings
    Using proper headings will keep your page organized and allow readers to navigate through your website easier. For users with screen readers, headings are an essential part  because they help users figure out exactly where they are on the screen.
  3. Alt Text
    The alt text for images is a common area that people often miss. It’s a good opportunity to be ADA compliant and increase your SEO. You should make sure that your image files have been named accordingly and use a descriptive alt tag that explains what’s going on in the image.
  4. Contrast Ratio
    Working with contrast ratios can be tricky. While some people need higher contrast for visibility, others need less. Use this contrast checker to make sure the colors you are using are within the acceptable standards. It’s also important to make sure your webpages have at least a contrast ratio of 4.5:1 for normal sized text.
  5. Form Fields
    This can be one of the most difficult areas to make ADA compliant. If your website includes form fields, you need to make sure all fields are properly labeled and easy to navigate with a keyboard. Ideally, all forms should be compatible with keyboard-only and voice input accessibility, and should be organized appropriately for screen reader programs. Any errors cause by wrong information or missing fields should clearly explain how to fix the issue.
  6. Keyboard Access
    For people with visibility or mobility impairments, keyboard-only navigation is a must. To meet ADA standards, your site should enable all people to have access to all of your content — forms, links, media controls, and other buttons.

While these are the 6 main areas you should focus on, there are other considerations you should make as well. For visibility purposes, some people may have to zoom into the content on your page. Make sure resized text is optimized to be displayed properly, regardless of the screen size. If your site includes video, make sure people have a way to see video transcripts. Once you have these key areas resolved, your site should be ADA compliant, but you should still consult an expert to make sure your initiatives are in line with all ADA regulations.

How to Comply With Online ADA Business Regulations

With changes to ADA regulations a little over a year away, you should take the time now to proactively address any accessibility issues your website may have. Here we lay out the steps you should be taking to ensure your website’s ADA compliance:

  1. Create a list of fixes that need to be made. Start by pinpointing all ADA compliance issues on your website. Your safest option here is to hire an expert third-party website analyst to recommend the necessary changes.
  2. If you have an in-house development team managing your website, your staff should review the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 (WCAG) before creating a list or implementing any changes. This will give them a better understanding of how to make your site more perceivable, operable, and understandable to all people.
  3. If you don’t have an in-house team, consider hiring a third-party website developer who knows the ins and outs of WCAG 2.0 and ADA compliance (or contact your own if you already have one).
  4. Once you’ve implemented your changes, be sure to maintain ADA standards for future features and content on your website.

While the Department of Justice hasn’t made their final decision, recent court cases and World Wide Web Consortium experts point towards WCAG 2.0 as the new standard. It’s important when making revisions to your website that you have an expert who understands WCAG in order to fully be prepared when the new ADA regulation takes effect.

Guarantee Your Site’s Compliance With ADA and WCAG 2.0

Even if you have your own in-house team, you still may want to consider getting help from third-party specialists. Having a new set of eyes on your site will give you the best chance of finding any flaws. More importantly, a quality web developer will be able to guarantee their work, and that’s what you really want when the new ADA regulation comes into effect. Don’t let uncertainty over ADA compliance issues hold you back come 2018. Consult an expert for guaranteed results.

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