Launching a New Site? Make Sure You Understand Digital ADA Compliance

Any business's online presence must comply with the Americans With Disabilities Act.

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By Lucas Miller

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As the old cliche goes, "Presentation is everything." Having great content for your website is an important starting point, but ensuring that it is presented in an appealing way will make all the difference in whether visitors stick around. Unfortunately, far too many companies and brands ignore the needs of users with disabilities when implementing a design update or launching a brand new site. And this can prove costly, as the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is increasingly being viewed as applicable to websites and mobile apps.

The result? Celebrities like Beyoncé and major corporations like Domino's are getting sued when disabled users find themselves unable to fully use their websites. Domino's especially has faced negative press.

Even without lawsuits, failure to make web accessibility a priority could result in significant losses for your business. The 2019 Click-Away Pound Survey found that 69 percent of individuals with disabilities ""click away from a site with [access] barriers." Despite this, only 8 percent contact site owners about their problems. This means a non-ADA compliant site could be losing money without your even knowing it. As such, few things are more important than making sure you address the needs of those with visual, auditory, mobility and other disabilities.

Start With the Basics

An analysis of 10,000,000 web pages conducted by accessiBe revealed that the vast majority of compliance issues occur with seemingly basic elements of web design. An incredible 98 percent of websites had noncompliant menus, and 83 percent failed to utilize accessible buttons, while 89 percent had noncompliant popups.

Where did the accessibility problems stem from? In the majority of cases, noncompliance issues came from a failure to offer alternative methods of navigating through these common design elements.

As just one example, sites should offer the ability to navigate the menu bar with keyboard arrows, open dropdown functions with the enter key and move to the next element with the tab key. A failure to implement all of these features could cause a motor-impaired user to waste several minutes.

A related problem is when content or actions are subjected to a timer, an especially common issue during the checkout process. Giving users an option to turn off, extend or adjust timers will ensure that they aren't kicked out of a session before they can finish their purchase.

Such navigation issues can get even harder with popups. If a user can't close the popup by pressing the escape key, they may not be able to close out of it at all. From voice-friendly search to keyboard-only navigation, you must consider alternative methods.

Related: 5 Steps to Make Sure Your Website Is ADA-Compliant

Provide Alternative Content-Delivery Methods

Another common web-compliance issue comes with the delivery of your content. Do your images have alt text so someone using a screen reader can still get the information conveyed by the picture? Are there text transcripts for video-only or audio-only content? Do your videos provide closed captioning?

As your website expands the type of content it offers in an effort to grow its audience, you will need to ensure that each new piece of content is accessible to all. And this likely won't be as time-consuming as you might think. For example, if your website is publishing an infographic, ADA compliance would entail supplying the full copy of the infographic in a text format below the image. As part of the process of creating the infographic, the text would likely already have been produced in a standalone format, so all you need to do is add this to the bottom of the page.

Presentation Matters

ADA-compliant presentation goes beyond making sure that each section of the site uses proper HTML or tagging. Remember, not everyone that could have trouble reading your web content will be using a screen reader.

For example, there must be adequate color contrast between the site's text and background. Color alone is not enough to convey information. Font should be in an easy-to-read text that is still legible when users zoom in. Web pages should avoid series of flashes that could trigger a seizure or other severe physical reaction.

The overall site layout — especially navigational elements — should stay the same no matter what page someone visits on. Form fields should always be clearly labeled so users know what information is required. A cohesive, well-designed site will benefit everyone who visits your page — not just those with disabilities.

Related: Even Internet Entrepreneurs Need to Make Their Businesses Handicap Accessible

Don't Make ADA Compliance an Afterthought

This is just a quick overview, and I strongly recommend reading the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines from the Web Accessibility Initiative for a full understanding of how to improve your site.

While the way the ADA is being enforced in the digital world is still subject to debate, site owners should prioritize making it a key part of their design from the get-go. By improving the online experience for all users, you can better serve your customers and protect yourself against potential legal harm.

Lucas Miller

Entrepreneur Leadership Network VIP

Founder of Echelon Copy LLC

Lucas Miller is the founder and CEO of Echelon Copy LLC, a media relations agency based in Provo, Utah that helps brands improve visibility, enhance reputation and generate leads through authentic storytelling.

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