The right type of web content can make all the difference in helping you grow your business. Over time, of course, you'll need to update your website design or launch an entirely new site to keep your brand relevant. While there are many factors to consider in launching a new site, one of the most important is ensuring it complies with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
It's estimated that 22 percent of adult Americans have at least one disability. From mobility issues to visual impairments, disabilities can create significant challenges in accessing the internet.
While the ADA requires businesses to accommodate customers with disabilities, implementing this online has proven tricky, at best. Last year, the Supreme Court handed ADA proponents a major victory when it ruled against Domino's in a lawsuit filed against the pizza giant by a blind man who was unable to use the chain's website.
The good news is the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) from the Web Accessibility Initiative offer several actionable steps for improving website accessibility. Here are a few essentials you cannot overlook.
1. Enable keyboard navigation.
Many internet users with disabilities are unable to use a mouse for navigation, relying on keyboards or other input devices. Unfortunately, keyboard-only navigation is often overlooked. In fact, an analysis of 10 million web pages by AccessiBe, an AI-powered web accessibility platform, found that 98 percent of website menus are not fully accessible, in large part because there is no way to navigate their websites using just the keyboard.
Common keyboard navigation tools include using the 'Enter' key to open dropdown menus and the 'Esc' key to close these menus. The 'Tab' key allows them to navigate between page elements, and so on.
2. Always include descriptions for images.
Images on a website play a major role in conveying information, but that's an obvious issue for customers who are blind. An easy solution is to add what's known as 'alt text' to all images.
Alt text provides a full description of the image so someone using a screen reader can still understand what the picture was meant to convey. Better yet, keyword-rich alt text is considered an important element of on-page SEO.
3. Test all forms on your website.
Forms are another common challenge for screen readers. To be truly accessible, labels must be clearly identified and fields must use visual cues to indicate when information is required. These must also have attributes to let individuals using screen readers know if the information they've entered is valid or invalid. Forms should also be able to report successful submissions, or return the user directly to the invalid field, if an error prevented the submission.
4. Eliminate or adjust time-constrained elements.
Individuals who rely on keyboard navigation or pointers often require more time to navigate a website. Unfortunately, many websites include timed elements--particularly during checkout. If your customers aren't given more time to navigate the site, they could be timed out of a session and lose their information. Steps must be taken so progress isn't lost if an automatic time-out occurs.
5. Simplify the visuals on your website.
Poorly defined visual elements are one of the top challenges facing disabled individuals. The 2019 Click-Away Pound Report, a UK-based research survey designed to study the greater online shopping experience for those with disabilities all over the world, found "crowded pages with too much content" to be the top-cited accessibility issue by two-thirds of users with disabilities. Another 55 percent also reported poor color contrast and text layout, while 53 percent complained of distracting graphics.
As a business owner, you'll want to make sure you simplify all visual elements on your website, and improve color contrast so your content is easily read, regardless of whether your customers have visual or cognitive impairments.
6. Provide alternatives to audio and video content.
Images aren't the only form of media that requires an alternative access solution. Audio-only content should have equivalent information presented in a transcript. Videos should use captioning. Sign language interpretation is another valuable option for helping the hearing impaired access media.
7. Avoid content that could trigger seizures or other physical reactions.
No element on the page should flash more than three times per second, as this could cause a severe physical reaction for those with epilepsy and other medical conditions.
While digital enforcement of the ADA is still somewhat murky, you will be doing yourself and your customers a major favor by making accessibility a priority from the outset. By addressing this important issue in your website design, you will be better positioned for lasting success.