Improved accessibility has become one of the top priorities for many website owners recently. You might be wondering why that’s the case, and that’s a good question indeed! It’s a direct result of anti-discrimination laws being used by lawyers all over the U.S. to sue website owners. The primary law that they refer to is the Americans with Disabilities Act.
It was signed in 1990, so there’s no way that the lawmakers had websites in mind while creating it. However, according to the interpretation of U.S. courts, Title III of the ADA does apply to websites. Consequently, if your website doesn’t meet the ADA website compliance guidelines, you’re at risk of paying up to $10,000.
Luckily, there are a few relatively easy steps that you can take to ensure that your website meets the modern standards of accessibility!
Identify the Key Issues
First of all, you need to identify what’s wrong with your website in terms of accessibility. One way to go about this is hiring an independent consultant who will perform a manual review of your website and provide you with comprehensive feedback. However, keep in mind that not all agencies are keen on performing manual audits since it makes them potentially liable.
Remember not to pay for quick, automated scans! Sure, they can be helpful, but they can’t be solely relied on. If you do decide to invest in one, treat it more as a supplementary guide.
Be Wary of Instant Solutions
You might end up looking for an instant solution to your problem online. As a result, you will probably stumble upon widgets, overlays, toolbars, or plugins which are supposed to make your website more accessible. The vendors selling such features will probably claim that their product will make your website fully accessible and ADA compliant.
Sadly, these claims are a complete lie, and using such a product actually makes you more likely to get sued! It just adds a bunch of mostly useless options to the website, while the actual problems with its accessibility remain unaddressed.
Add Alternative Text
If your website lacks alternative text, you become an easy target for many lawyers. It’s the easiest issue to spot in terms of website accessibility. Once it gets noticed by someone eager to sue you, they will start digging deeper into your website structure and try to find as many issues as they possibly can. As a result, they will be able to increase their settlement amount quickly and effortlessly.
But what is an alternative text? It’s a short description of an image’s appearance on a page that can then be read aloud by a screen reader. Aside from being the easiest to spot, it’s one of the easiest issues to fix. All you need to do is change the value of the alt attribute in your website’s code to include alternative text. Keep it under 125 characters since that’s where the vast majority of screen readers cut it off.
Ensure Smooth Keyboard-Only Navigation
Keep in mind that many people who are disabled aren’t able to use a mouse, such as people with motor impairment. On top of that, most assistive technologies heavily rely on keyboards, like the aforementioned screen readers. Because of that, you need to make sure that your website is still entirely usable with your mouse unplugged.
To do that, you will have to improve it in such a way so that a keyboard-only user can easily tab through the entire content. You might want to look into adding a new focus style to your website as well. It will allow the user to tell where the keyboard focus is on the page at any given moment.
All in all, you shouldn’t procrastinate on making your website more accessible to disabled users. Sure, you can risk it, and in case of getting sued, opt for settling. However, the financial losses that you might end up dealing with can be quite severe.
What is more, if you end up not introducing proper changes to your website’s structure after dealing with a lawsuit, you can get sued again and again until you do. So, you will have to invest in website accessibility either way.
Moreover, remember that ADA wasn’t introduced without reason. There are many disabled Internet users out there, and they shouldn’t be excluded from browsing websites. Keep in mind that if you decide to make your website meet their specific needs, you will increase the number of potential visitors or even customers that it can attract!