Part Two: Web Accessibility FAQ
In “The (Rare) Bird’s-Eye View,” the first in our two-part look at web accessibility, we outlined some of the broader aspects of this issue and how it might affect businesses whose websites don’t provide complete access to information and services for all users.
While we encourage you to read the post in its entirety, here’s the short recap: the Americans with Disabilities Act requires that every “place of public accommodation” provide equal access to users who meet ADA standards for disability. However, the legal requirements are not explicitly outlined, which creates confusion about what actions, exactly, businesses are required to implement on their websites. The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) from World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) have emerged as a useful resource, however, and plenty of legal actions still arise involving accessibility issues, even in the absence of perfectly clear requirements.
In Part One, we argue that making your website fully accessible is the right thing to do, and that doing so can help your business minimize its risk regarding some of the legal ramifications and related expenses. We also argue that making your website fully accessible is the correct decision, regardless of legal or moral imperatives, because it can lead to more business and competitive advantages for your company. Around 26% of Americans—more than 60 million people—live with a disability of some kind.
What follows are some of the questions regarding accessibility that we’ve been asked by clients and prospects. We hope these questions can help you recognize some of the improvements your website may need in this area, and we invite you to talk with us about this important aspect of your company’s website.
Why do I need to worry about my website and accessibility?
In addition to providing needed accommodations for your potential customers, complying with the law (ADA) and accepted guidelines (WCAG) can help your business avoid costly lawsuits and negative publicity.
My company is small. Is this issue really going to affect my business?
Maybe you think your website doesn’t have enough content or generate enough traffic to worry about accessibility compliance. A quick cost-benefit analysis in your head tells you there’s no reason to act now. You might be right. If you’re speeding on a stretch of wide-open highway, what are the chances that a state trooper will emerge from nowhere and issue an embarrassingly expensive ticket? The chances that your website’s lack of accessibility will cause you larger problems might be low, but they are never zero.
What happens if I choose not to make my website accessible?
You could be operating at significant risk. In fact, many companies’ websites are at risk of being sued for not being accessible to all users, and some states have even more specific guidelines on the books. Once a lawsuit is filed, it doesn’t take much for it to evolve into a class-action suit. However, you can help your website meet accessibility expectations when you work with a team of developers, SEO pros, and designers who can implement the changes correctly and efficiently.
What are the details? This is about alt-text for images and stuff like that?
Yes, alt-text for images is important. All media files, actually, should have an “alt” tag. Links should be anchored in meaningful, descriptive text (not “click here”). PDF files and other downloadables should be accessible. Videos need subtitles and audio descriptions, and providing transcripts is a good idea. The color contrast and fonts should conform to accessibility standards, too. Audio files need written captions. Keyboard navigation through your website is another element to consider. A page stating your website’s policy regarding accessibility would help. And so much more.
How can I test my site for ADA compliance?
Chrome users can install Accessibility Insights for Web, which can help discover accessibility issues. This will provide quick insight into potential problems and identify patterns of concern.
What does my website need to meet accessibility standards?
The most common compliance issues we’ve encountered deal with images, links, and design.
- For someone who is visually impaired, alternative text descriptions need to be included for each image on the website.
- For someone using a screen reader, which relies on a website’s structural design to navigate and convey information to its user, the informational architecture of the website should be inspected. If your website improperly uses headings, for instance, or provides links on non-descriptive words, a portion of your audience will experience difficulty in accessing your message.
- Design issues often center around color and contrast; if there’s not enough contrast between text and the background, the website is likely not in compliance. Red text on a black background does not comply with accessibility exceptions, for example—and that would also make for an unappealing design. Other problems can be diagnosed using accessibility evaluation tools.
If my website passes an accessibility evaluation, am I in the clear?
Maybe. Because automated tests can sometimes generate false positives, quality assurance in this area should really consider the actual experience of all users, based on any number of methodologies that generate useful feedback about a website’s “pain points” in matters of accessibility.
Will my website’s design need to change to meet accessibility standards?
Probably, at least a little, but it really depends. Some fixes could be as simple as improving the contrast between foreground and background elements. On the other hand, if your website is heavy on images, as many ecommerce businesses are, you might be in for an alt-text all-nighter.
Can I just make a separate website for those with disabilities?
Besides the immediate problems that emerge from forcing people with disabilities to self-identify and self-segregate from the rest of your customer base, it would also be far costlier, now and in the future, to build a separate website and then maintain two separate websites ongoingly for the life of your business.
When do I need to make my website compliant?
The short answer is now. Be proactive and conduct an accessibility audit for your site. And please reach out to us. Our team is eager to help guide your business through the steps it will take to make your website accessible and inclusive for all users.
What is this going to cost me?
If you’re in the market for a newly designed or redesigned website, accessibility considerations are part of our normal approach. If you only want Rare Bird to bring your website into compliance, we can more accurately provide an estimate once we’ve had an actual conversation. But either way, it will be far cheaper than the settlements and judgments other companies have dealt with, or the legal expenses incurred even when judges ruled in their favor.
Let’s talk about how we can help.