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What is ADA Compliance?

authored by Amy Paxson

One in five Americans has some sort of physical or mental disability. That’s 57 million American adults, and 38% of them, approximately 22 million people, use the internet to surf or conduct business. In 2008, the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act which become law in 1990) released standards for accessible web design. The thinking behind this is that the ADA requires that companies make their place of business accessible for people with disabilities. For companies that promote their products and services online, their website is their “place of business.”

The goal of ADA compliance is to have your website coded in such a way that anyone with a disability can use it. This means someone with a visual impairment can use it to access their online banking, or someone with epilepsy can view the site without risk of a seizure.

The barometer used by the Department of Justice to determine ADA compliance is the WCAG 2.0 – Web Content Accessibility Guidelines. WCAG 2.0 provides three levels of compliance:

  • Level A: Least restrictive. Minimal conformity with minimal impact to site design.
  • Level AA: Medium level of restrictions. Requires some accommodations in design and functionality.
  • Level AAA: Most restrictive. The site will work for just about anyone with any type of disability.

The Department of Justice (DoJ)realizes that AAA compliance is unrealistic and has established AA as the new standard for all business websites. This breaks down into four categories of guidelines for website compliance:

Perceivable – Information must be presented in a way that the user can perceive, for example alt tags that say what a particular button does.

Operable – Navigation and actions must be operable, for example the user can use the keyboard to navigate the site rather than using a mouse

Understandable – Information must make sense and be understandable to the user

Robust – Content must be robust enough so it can be reliably interpreted by a wide variety of user agents, including assistive technologies and all browser types.

These four guideline categories inform specific development choices, such as text alternatives, timing of information presented, adaptable content, readable fonts, design and navigational elements, and browser compatibility. To dig deeper into the specifics, visit the W3 site on WCAG requirements at: https://www.w3.org/TR/wcag2-req/

What happens if your institution’s website is not ADA compliant?

Last year there were over 240 lawsuits filed for ADA non-compliance. DoJ fines start at $75,000 and can reach into the millions. And besides the legal requirements, banks (and all companies) have a moral responsibility to make their business accessible to everyone – do you really want to be known as a company that discriminates against people with disabilities? Having a non-discriminatory website should be a priority for your organization. So, what’s the first step?

Steps you can take to ensure your site is ADA Compliant

To be truly compliant, you will need to fully implement an accessibility protocol into your web development and maintenance processes. This will include content prep, quality assurance, infrastructure, evaluation of tool and technology integration, ongoing review of accessibility laws, testing, training, and assigning roles and responsibilities.

If this seems a little overwhelming, there are some immediate design adjustments you can make, while you’re developing a more formal corporate policy:

  • Add text to your images. For example, if you show an image of a man at an ATM, a blind user should hear the screen reader say “photo of a man at an ATM.”
  • Don’t use PDF’s. This is not a best practice for other reasons (search, etc.), but particularly bad from a compliance perspective. Screen readers can’t read PDF’s.
  • Add audio and text captions to videos.
  • Don’t use blinking or flashing content, or at least have the option to turn them off.
  • Have your website navigable from both a mouse and the keyboard.