At Noble Intent Studio, our mission is to create a more inclusive internet. Part of achieving this mission is ensuring that every website we design and build is accessible. Making a website accessible means making it better for everyone. When a website’s content is available to everyone, regardless of ability, website accessibility is achieved.
Unfortunately, some lawyers and website agencies are using fear tactics to scare business owners into settling in court or paying for website updates that may not be necessary. These methods only confuse what ADA compliance truly means. They do nothing to aid or improve website experiences for disabled users.
So do you need an accessibility plugin to have an accessible website? Let’s dive into how to achieve accessibility and why it matters.
Why Does Accessibility Matter?
A big concern for business owners in regards to accessibility is lawsuits. We encourage you to shift your thinking away from avoiding lawsuits by adhering to ADA regulations, rather, toward striving for website accessibility for all users. This will not only result in ADA compliance and protection from lawsuits. It will also result in better SEO, reaching a broader audience, and a better user experience for everyone—regardless of ability.
There is a large and growing population with various disabilities, both temporary and permanent, that can make interacting with websites a challenge. These include blindness, color blindness (8% of men), dyslexia (15% of people), cognitive disabilities (5% of people), low vision, and situational disabilities such as a broken arm or occupied hands.
Whether your priority is brand reputation, search engine optimization, conversions, revenue, customer service, or simply not being at risk of lawsuits, designing for accessibility is a must.
What is ADA Compliance?
The Federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is often associated with physical locations and accommodations certain businesses must make for people with disabilities such as wheelchair accessibility, access to service animals, and the use of braille for customers who are visually-impaired.
However, the ADA also extends to websites, requiring businesses to ensure website content is accessible to all users. Website content should be accessible to visually-impaired users who navigate the web by voice, screen readers, and other assistive technologies.
How Is ADA Compliance Enforced?
Businesses that fall under ADA Title I, those that operate twenty or more weeks per year with at least 15 full-time employees, or Title III, those that fall under the category of “public accommodation,” such as hotels, banks, and public transportation, are required to comply with a website that offers “reasonable accessibility” to people with disabilities.
In the U.S., there are no enforceable ADA legal standards to follow for website accessibility, apart from those in place for government websites.
“As far as websites go, there is no federally codified direction on how to make websites comply,” said David Engelhardt, a New York City-based small business attorney. “We only know that the ADA does apply to websites based on cases, such as Gil v. Winn-Dixie.”
How To Make Your Website ADA Compliant
There are many guidelines available that outline how to best provide an accessible experience for users. The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) is an international community that develops Web standards such as the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). The most recent version, 2.1, was published mid-2018.
The WCAG make a wide range of recommendations for making the Web more accessible for people with disabilities, “including accommodations for blindness and low vision, deafness and hearing loss, limited movement, speech disabilities, photo-sensitivity, and combinations of these, and some accommodation for learning disabilities and cognitive limitations; but will not address every user need for people with these disabilities.”
There are two ways you can achieve accessibility on your website. The first is to consider accessibility in your initial strategy—designing and building in accordance with WCAG standards—what we’ll call planned accessibility. The second is to install an accessibility plugin that will add accessibility features to your website—what we’ll call plugin accessibility.
If you’re planning a new website or beginning a website redevelopment project, now is the perfect time to build accessibility into your strategy. This includes everything from color contrast, font styles and sizes, paragraph justification, button and link styles, and layout. It also includes development considerations, or the way your website is coded.
We outline the tools you can use to ensure accessibility in our free Ultimate Guide to Website Accessibility ebook.
If you already have a website and you’re not sure if it’s accessible, it’s a good idea to do an accessibility audit. Often, we’ll find small changes to the design and code can bring a website into full compliance with very little investment.
As an alternative to making design or code changes, you could also utilize an accessibility plugin.
If you want a plug and play solution that ensures accessibility and ADA compliance, an accessibility plugin may be a great option for your website. One of the best plugins we’ve seen is AccessiBe.
This accessibility plugin works by installing a script on your website. You’ll see the little accessibility icon in the bottom right corner of the website. When selected, you’ll see options to enable various accessibility features.
Some of these features go far beyond the WCAG requirements for accessibility and ADA compliance. They are great if you have a large user base, but may be unnecessary depending on the amount of traffic your website gets. This particular accessibility plugin starts at $49/month for websites with less than 1,000 pages and could be thousands of dollars per year for larger websites.
In addition to some perhaps unnecessary features, AI-driven tools like these actually fall short in some very necessary features for accessibility. One example of this is image alt tags. Needed for both accessibility and SEO, alt tags should be in place on almost all images your website serves. Plugin options use AI to add image descriptions rather than using true alt text.
Tools like these also only make visual adjustments when a website visitor toggles the option on or off, meaning your website goes unchanged for visitors unless they do the work to figure out which of these adjustments, if any, to turn on.
When you plan for accessibility, you make your website better for everyone by default by considering color, text size, and ease of use in your design. Should you require a user to select a readable font or a text size that is large enough for them to read? Or should these basic design considerations be the default? We believe planning for accessibility is the best option. Accessibility plugins should only be used to provide enhanced features—not to solve for poorly planned design.
Whether you plan for accessibility or choose an accessibility plugin to implement, accessibility and ADA compliance both come down to putting the customer first. When you serve the customer by providing a great user experience on your website—in creating a website accessible to people of all abilities—you end up serving your business interests too.
When you evaluate the potential impact, both of a customer’s experience and your organization’s bottom line, it’s clear accessibility is an effort worth making.