Since 2014, the main players in the Information Technology industry from search engines to software developers and web designers have actively promoted the need to make websites mobile responsive. This was in response to the growing influence and presence of mobile technology in the lives of consumers and the conduct of business.
Fast-forward to the present as the world enters the third decade of the new millennium, and the industry has taken on a different advocacy: to make websites more accessible.
What Does Website Accessibility Mean And Why Is It Important?
A website is deemed accessible when it features technology that makes its features useful and pages navigable to persons with disabilities. The drive for website accessibility is a call for the Internet to be accessible to everyone and create an inclusive community that doesn’t discriminate against disabled persons.
To not include the needs of the disabled when designing a website further adds to their disabilities. It’s not just the able-bodied who want to find and access information about business, employment, healthcare, and more.
Website accessibility gives persons with disabilities a better chance of finding opportunities and becoming more productive members of society.
Likewise, disabled persons can provide YOU with business opportunities as well. Many disabled persons have found successful careers in the corporate world as employees or entrepreneurs.
They might be looking for third parties that offer products and services the company needs. Your business might just be the one they’re looking for! But they can’t find you if your website isn’t accessible.
That said, prioritizing website accessibility is in line with the principles of Search Engine Optimization (SEO) – having your website found by your target audience with or without disabilities.
The American Disabilities Act Of 2010 And What It Means For Your Website
If Google’s warning in 2015 that websites that aren’t mobile responsive would be penalized in the search rankings got you moving, this time if your website isn’t accessible, you’ll be dealing with the U.S. government.
The American Disabilities Act (ADA) of 2010 was promulgated by the U.S. Department of Justice in 2010. According to the ADA, companies that invest in electronic and digital technology including websites will be required to undertake the necessary steps to make these technologies accessible and useful for people with disabilities.
Which organizations are required to follow the ADA?
- Government agencies of the United States, both state and federal.
- Private companies that have 15 or more employees on their payroll.
- Businesses that cater to the needs of the public.
What happens if your website doesn’t comply with the ADA?
For one thing, your company can be exposed to lawsuits filed by persons with disabilities. Even if it wasn’t your intention to make your website inaccessible to those with disabilities, you might be accused of discrimination and end up paying thousands of dollars in damages.
The U.S. government might penalize you with a US$150,000 fine for not adhering to the ADA. You might argue that you built your website on a WordPress platform and WordPress has stated that its websites are accessible.
But if you customized certain features of your WordPress website, you might have compromised its accessibility.
Guidelines For ADA Compliant Websites
To comply with the ADA, let’s refer to the guidelines established by the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines or WCAG 2.0.
Essentially, your website should have features that adhere to the 4 principles of WCAG.2.0:
- Perceivable – All site visitors must be able to perceive the types of content available on your website – Images, videos, and text to name a few. You must provide options for site visitors who cannot read or listen to your content.
- Operable – All visitors to your website must be able to navigate around pages and operate its features.
- Understandable – The instructions on your website must be understandable by all visitors. These instructions might include how to fill out contact forms or how to access the built-in calculator.
- Robust – This principle requires that all users of your website must get the same level of experience regardless of how the content is delivered. If you applied certain processes to improve delivery, the quality of the content must not be compromised.
Don’t worry if you’re unsure how to apply these principles to make your website accessible. The WCAG made it easier for businesses to follow by providing different levels of accessibility:
- Level A – The website is accessible to some users.
- Level AA – The website is accessible to almost all users.
- Level AAA – the website is accessible to all users.
Many compliance experts recommend having your website meet the requirements for Level AA accessibility.
4 Ways To Check Website Accessibility
Now that you know about the importance of website accessibility, how do you check if your site is compliant with the ADA?
Here are 4 tools that you can use to check if your website is accessible to persons with disabilities.
WAVE is the acronym for Website Accessibility Evaluation tool. It’s not a WordPress plugin and instead, was developed by WebAIM, a company that’s focused on developing technology that makes content more accessible to disabled persons.
To know if your website is accessible, simply go to the WAVE home page and type in the URL that you want the program to check. After the program runs its check on the web page, a sidebar will appear that summarizes its findings.
WAVE will list down the errors, flaws, and shortcomings that make the particular web page inaccessible.
Unfortunately, you can’t download the results in report form. It’s safe to assume that the results on the web page you ran a check on will apply to the rest of the pages on your website.
2. Accessibility Suite
Have you heard of Section 508? It is an accessibility law that applies to federal or government agencies instead of private corporations. Section 508 mandates that federal agencies use and maintain technologies that can be accessed by people with disabilities.
Accessibility Suite is a WordPress plugin that can scan your site for Section 508 compliance. In addition, installing Accessibility Suite has other benefits for your website.
Unlike WAVE, with Accessibility Suite, you can download and share the results of the scan. The program will also offer suggestions on how to rectify the problems found on your website and make it ADA compliant. Lastly, the results can be stored and used as references to monitor the website’s performance.
3. WP Accessibility Helper
WP Accessibility Helper is a WordPress plugin that can scan your website for compliance issues and offer analysis on what you can do to improve its level of accessibility.
Likewise, WP Accessibility Helper has built-in tools to help you implement improvements that can make your website more readable and responsive to the needs of people with disabilities.
However, the program doesn’t guarantee that following its recommendations and using its tools will make your website ADA compliant. For that, WP Accessibility Helper recommends that you hire the services of a compliance professional.
4. WP ADA Compliance Check Basic
WP ADA Compliance Check Basic is a program that does exactly as it’s described. It can conduct a check on your website and evaluate its level of accessibility. This plugin has a feature that can be enabled to automatically perform improvements based on its findings.
Similar to Accessibility Suite, you can download a copy of the program’s website audit. The paid version of the program can be expensive and entail a one-time fee that can range from US$150 to US$4,950. If you opt for the free version, the scan will be good for up to 25 pages.
If you’ve decided to make your website accessible to persons with disabilities, installing any one of these plugins will put you on the right track. The plugin will scan your website for design features and functions that hinder accessibility and provide suggestions for the necessary improvements.
However, as we mentioned, these suggestions won’t make your website fully compliant with the ADA. Also, there are a few things to consider before installing a plugin.
First, you have to be sure that the version of the plugin that you plan to install is updated. Second, some plugins are designed with features that could affect the functionality of your website. And third, if the plugin does have features that affect website performance, you have to be 100% certain that the developer can help resolve these issues.
A better option for you would be to hire a professional web developer to redesign your website and make it 100% ADA compliant. The agency can run a thorough analysis of your website and implement the necessary changes to improve its accessibility according to ADA guidelines.
The good news is that we can do this for you! At Mountaintop Web Design, we have experience working with clients who need to be sure their websites are ADA-compliant.
We’ll run a scan and let you know exactly what must be done to confirm with the ADA’s compliance guidelines. Give us a call or drop an email and let’s set a schedule to audit your website.
And if you enjoyed this article, feel free to share it with your friends and associates who also need to know if their website is fully accessible.