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Navigating the digital landscape

The imperative of ADA compliance for websites

By Kristy Gusick, Align Marketing Group

May 1, 2024

Everyday millions of people are looking for resources, services, and connections via digital platforms. But what about those who face barriers due to disabilities?
 
For them, the digital experience is riddled with challenges that limit their access to essential resources and opportunities.
 
Enter the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) compliance for websites. Equal access to online platforms isn’t simply about being nice — it's the law!
 
In this article, we're going to dive into why having an ADA compliant website is a big deal, who needs to get on board, what the requirements involve, the consequences of ignoring the ADA and why it's essential to keep up with the standards.
 

What is ADA compliance for websites?

The ADA was enacted in 1990 to prohibit discrimination against individuals with disabilities. From sectors of employment, public transit, telecommunications, government services, to public spaces, the ADA is like a protective bubble, ensuring everyone gets fair access to what's out there.
 
When it comes to websites, ADA compliance means making sure they're user-friendly for everyone, whether a person is dealing with visual, hearing or mobility challenges. Thus, ADA compliance is all about tweaking your website's design, content and functionality to make sure everyone can use it — no matter what.
 
This can include providing alternative text for images, ensuring compatibility with screen readers, implementing keyboard navigation and more. Essentially, it's about making websites usable for everyone, regardless of their abilities.
 

Does my website need to be ADA compliant?

The short answer: Yes. ADA compliance isn't just a good practice; it's a legal requirement in many cases. If you've got a website, you need to make sure it's ADA compliant!
 

Who needs to comply with ADA website requirements?

Any organization that operates a website and falls under the jurisdiction of the ADA must ensure that their website is compliant. This includes, but is not limited to: 
  • Government agencies: Federal, state and local government websites are required to be ADA compliant to ensure equal access to government services and information. 
  • Businesses: Private businesses that provide goods or services to the public, such as retail stores, restaurants, hotels and online stores, must also comply with ADA regulations.
  • Educational institutions: Schools, colleges and universities that receive federal funding must ensure that their websites are accessible to individuals with disabilities. 
  • Nonprofit organizations: Nonprofits, including charities and advocacy groups, are also subject to ADA regulations if they provide goods or services to the public.  
So, if you're sharing information online, it needs to be accessible to everyone. Failing to do so could lead to legal trouble in the future.
 

What are the consequences of ADA noncompliance?

ADA noncompliance can get messy due to the risk of lawsuits or legal complaints. People with disabilities can take legal action if they hit roadblocks accessing your site and courts are increasingly siding with them. These lawsuits can lead to hefty fines, legal fees and reputational damage.
 
Beyond legal ramifications, noncompliance isn't just bad for your wallet, it's bad for business. By failing to make their websites accessible, businesses may unintentionally exclude a significant portion of the population from accessing their products, services or information.
 
Unlike ADA and Section 508, Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) from the World Wide Web Consortium don't impose penalties for noncompliance. Instead, these guidelines provide detailed criteria and techniques to enhance website usability and inclusivity by covering navigation, content structure, multimedia, forms and color contrast.
 
Again, WCAG compliance isn't legally required, but are widely respected guidelines for achieving accessibility.
 

What steps can I take to make my website ADA compliant?

Unfortunately, there’s not an ADA compliance website certification offered for your hard work. But below is a list of some key steps to take to become, and remain, ADA compliant.  
  1. Understand ADA requirements for websites: Familiarize yourself with ADA guidelines for website accessibility, particularly Sections 508 and 504, which provide detailed requirements.
  2. Design with accessibility in mind: When creating or updating your website, integrate accessibility principles from the start.
  3. Engage experienced auditors: Select a reputable auditing firm or accessibility expert to conduct thorough audits and identify accessibility issues.
  4. Evaluate key accessibility components: Assess various aspects including navigation, content, forms, color contrast, multimedia and compatibility.
  5. Draft an ADA policy: Publish a clear ADA compliance policy detailing your commitment to equal access and your procedures for addressing user inquiries.
  6. Utilize accessibility tools: Incorporate plugins or tools designed to enhance accessibility, such as screen reader compatibility plugins or alt-text generators.
  7. Continuous monitoring and maintenance: ADA compliance is an ongoing process; regularly monitor your website for issues and make necessary updates to maintain compliance with evolving standards.
 
Being ADA compliant isn't something you do once and forget — it's an ongoing commitment.
 

Making ADA compliance a priority for your website

Regular audits and updates keep your website accessible to people with disabilities. By prioritizing ADA compliance, you’re demonstrating your commitment to inclusivity, diversity and equal access. Plus, accessible websites usually mean a better experience for everyone, which can lead to happier customers.
 
ADA compliance is not only a legal requirement; it's a fundamental aspect of creating a comprehensive and user-friendly digital environment for all individuals.
 
By understanding the importance of ADA compliance and taking proactive steps to ensure accessibility, you're creating a space where everyone feels welcome and valued. So, let's roll up our sleeves and get to work to enhance and enrich our digital presence!
 
Kristy Gusick is the founder of Align Marketing Group, where she and her team specialize in helping accounting and financial advisory firms with their marketing and business development efforts. You may reach her at kristy@alignmarketinggroup.com or at 651-592-4662.