Compliance standards involving the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) website regulations continue to evolve. Previous administrations first put stricter rules in place, which were intended to make websites more accessible to all people. Some of these regulations have recently been rolled back. With ADA compliance an ever-changing issue for webmasters, it’s important to understand the issues behind ADA and compliance.
How Improving Websites Improves Lives
In 2010, the U.S. Department of Justice ruled that websites that offer products, services and/or information should be as available to as many members of the public as possible — much the same way that stores and offices are required to be wheelchair-accessible.
Four main categories of accessibility have been identified. Under the ADA guidelines, websites should be:
- Perceivable. The grouping of guidelines under the “perceivable” category includes examples such as making text transferable to symbols or braille for the sight-impaired once it interfaces with the usable software. In addition, videos should be more accessible for the hard-of-hearing through closed captions and/or transcripts.
- Operable. This set of guidelines ensures that each website can be used by the largest possible group of people. Examples include pages that can be scrolled and clicked on with specialty keyboards, or pages that won’t have the kind of flashing graphics that can cause seizures.
- Understandable. We all appreciate user-friendly websites. But it’s especially important that they are designed to be navigated easily. For example, online forms shouldn’t be complicated to fill out and submit, even if the user has assistive technology. In addition, accessibility software should smoothly interface with the coding used on the website.
- Robust. This is the category which determines how user-friendly and accessible the website actually is. All code should be universal and simple wherever possible. Issues like tags should be resolved. Open tags that work on standard computer browsers, for example, might make it impossible for assistive technology to read.
You don’t have to go it alone when it comes to making your website ADA-compliant. The key is to choose a company that has a client base similar to yours. If you run an informational non-profit like a school district website, for example, you’re apt to have pages dedicated to event calendars and newsletter-type content. On the other hand, if your website specializes in selling goods, that site will revolve around its “shopping-cart” platform.
If you want to winnow down your search for website compliance experts before contacting each one, look for a page that lists “partner agencies” or “client work.” That will allow you to gauge if they’ve undertaken ADA compliance for websites with platforms similar to the one you need to upgrade.
Finding the Right Tools
Whether you do it through an ADA agency or on your own, a code audit is often the first step toward compliance. Running an audit on your own website’s coding gives you an intensive, impartial look at every aspect of your site. Costs for the cyber “crawling” of your site to evaluate the current code range from free online services to tools that can cost up to more than $1,000.
The cyber-code audit tools you choose will depend on your own budget as well as the complexity of your current platform. If you’re not using code-audit tools through a hired ADA agency, consider asking another company’s IT professionals for recommendations.
Putting Together Your "Attack" Plan
Often, you can overhaul your site in stages — unless you are specifically ordered to fix all ADA violations before a certain deadline. Making changes in phases allows you to assign relevant staff members to the task without tying up the whole team. If you’re a one-man band, you’ll be able to upgrade as your budget allows. Ask the ADA-compliance professionals you’re working with to present a suggested schedule of improvements.
Once you’ve gotten through the bulk of what you need to do, “audit” yourself and your staff to judge whether you’re familiar enough with compliance issues to create new content on your own. If not, it may be worth it to contract with an ADA agency to perform regular maintenance as your website grows and changes.
Your website is as crucial to your operations as your communication systems. If you’re not sure what changes you’ll need to make to your website, don’t hesitate to seek professional consultation. As federal lawsuits and counter-lawsuits progress, compliance standards shift. It’s all too easy to get outdated information without realizing it.
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