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How To Test Your Website For ADA And WCAG Compliance
Peter BoydJune 2019
Most people are familiar with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The ADA was passed by the federal government in 1990 and helps to protect people who require physical accommodations, such as elevators and ramps for wheelchairs. It also prevents discrimination against them.
Many people may not know that ADA compliance extends to websites now. Your website, of course, isn't discriminating based on not having an elevator or ramp, but it may not be using appropriate colors, fonts and file types. Hard-to-see colors and fonts can discriminate against people with visual impairments, as can certain file types that don't allow computers to read text out loud for those who need such an accommodation. Read on to learn more about how the ADA may affect your business and how you can test your website for compliance.
How Do ADA Regulations Affect Websites?
While the ADA regulations don't mention websites, U.S. Department of Justice frequently cites recommendations such as the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 and 2.1 created by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), an international group that helps create and promote web standards. The WCAG highlight different criteria for making websites more accessible to people with disabilities, such as including captions for audio content and using high-contrast color schemes.
Web Accessibility Lawsuits
Several U.S. courts, including the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, have ruled that commercial websites, including those where people make online purchases, are bound by ADA regulations. The ADA calls for auxiliary aids in communication, which has been interpreted by courts as extending to online video captioning and website accessibility. In one famous case, a court ruled against the Winn-Dixie supermarket chain. The court determined the company failed to make its website accessible to people with low or impaired vision.
In 2018 alone, there were around 1,000 lawsuits related to website accessibility. Industries affected include e-commerce stores, restaurants, consumer goods companies and more. These lawsuits even impacted major corporations such as Hershey's, Burger King and Nike, to name a few. With no slowdown in lawsuits expected, it's essential that companies comply with ADA standards to avoid costly litigation and negative press.
How Can You Test Your Website for ADA and WCAG Compliance?
To ensure that your website complies with ADA and WCAG standards, a combination of automated and manual testing is best. While many companies that specialize in building websites offer accessibility audits, it can be expensive, so I recommend that most companies opt for automated testing in addition to conducting their own manual testing. One thing to check is that your website includes alternative text (aka alt text) for each image. Alt text is a word or phrase that describes an image for those with a visual impairment. Having accurate alt text is important not only because it enables screen reading software, such as NVDA or JAWS, to describe images to visually impaired users, but also because it enables search engines to display images based on written descriptions and to display search results more accurately. This type of testing can be tedious to do manually, so consider using an automated system to find potential violations and issues faster. The W3C has a list of web accessibility evaluation tools.
Manually auditing your website for ADA and WCAG compliance involves reviewing many aspects of your site’s design. You can start by testing the frequently used colors on your website using a tool that assesses the color contrast ratio of text on top of backgrounds.
Also test your website to make sure it's:
- Operable: Ensure not only that it's simple for users to navigate using a mouse, but also that it's easy to navigate using keyboard-only commands. Try pressing the “tab” key repeatedly to see whether you can access elements on your website using the keyboard alone. Many people who have motor disabilities, as well as people with visual impairments, rely on a keyboard. If your site relies on interaction by a computer mouse, you may want to seek a developer’s assistance in improving this aspect of accessibility.
- Perceivable: Make sure that all users can find and efficiently process information. Including audio descriptions for all content, for instance, can help those with visual impairments.
- Robust: Enable your website to adapt and evolve to meet changing needs. Ensure that it's compatible with screen reading software, for example.
- Understandable: Make sure it's easy for all users to comprehend the information on your website. Recommendations include making the text readable — which includes using a mechanism to help identify definitions of words or phrases used in unusual ways — expanding abbreviations and including language that's at the lower secondary education level, if possible, or making available a version that doesn't require advanced reading ability.
The WCAG 2.1 offers additional insight on how to make your website understandable. By testing your website for ADA and WCAG compliance and making the necessary adjustments, you can ensure that your site is accessible to everyone. To learn more about ADA compliance for websites, read the ADA's website accessibility best practices tool kit. Although they're best practices for state and local governments, businesses may find them useful too.
Periodically checking your website to make sure it's in compliance also is critical to avoiding ADA lawsuits and potential legal issues. To ensure that your business is up to date on ADA requirements, regularly check to see whether the government has released any news, updates or recommendations.