Having an ADA-compliant website and mobile app is essential for small business owners. ADA compliance can help you include customers and reduce potential lawsuits.
Here's what you need to know about how to avoid costly lawsuits: ensure your website is ADA-compliant:
- All content should be easy to comprehend and the text should be focused on specific topics and error-free.
- Potential disability discrimination claims can be costly and can come from employees and customers.
- Creating a usable web experience for your customers is one part of your DEI strategy.
As a small business owner, you probably already have anti-discrimination policies in place and adhere to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
But do you have an accessible website?
Ensuring that your business website and app are accessible to individuals with disabilities can help you:
- Foster trust with consumers
- Drive revenue
- Avoid potential lawsuits
Yes, you can get sued for non-compliance, so it’s easier to implement accessibility features as soon as possible.
Before we get into the details, let’s cover who legally needs to comply with digital accessibility and ADA requirements on a federal level.
First: do you need to comply with ADA?
All businesses with at least 15 employees that operate for a minimum of 20 weeks out of the year are required to comply with ADA on the federal level. State-specific rules may be more strict. Furthermore, all public institutions must fully comply with ADA.
However, even if you aren’t required by law to comply with ADA requirements, it’s best practice to bake compliance into your business model, from customer service to employee interactions. Ensuring you are compliant from the get-go makes it easier to scale. It creates a secure environment for your workers.
And ensuring that your website or internal company portal is ADA-compliant is a relatively easy way to accommodate individuals with disabilities.
What Does Accessibility Mean for Business Websites?
Since ADA was first passed in the 1990s, before the internet looked as it does today, specific requirements around website accessibility are scarce or vague. The primary reference for organizations is the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG).
The most recent version is WCAG 2.1 (as of Dec. 2022), and it includes three different levels of accessibility:
- Level A – A high A-level translates into meeting the minimum accessibility requirements.
- Level AA – This is the recommended minimum compliance level. A strong AA score means you’ve fulfilled both the A and AA-level requirements.
- Level AAA – The most accessible sites have a high AAA level. However, it can be challenging to comply with all the success criteria for all content types.
So, what are the “success criteria” that indicate accessibility? Currently, they are divided into the five groups we outline for you below.
Content in this category must be easy to view. In practice, this means you should have text alternatives. This can include:
- Text-to-speech options
- Pre-recording sign language videos
- Closed captions
- Audio descriptions
- Other similar identifiers
In addition, providing options to resize text, alter image contrasts, text spacing, or audio controls all lend themselves to more accessible websites.
One of the most common accessibility issues that can be easily fixed is how you integrate links into your content.
An operable website means that it’s effortless to navigate. There are mean tools you can use to improve site navigation, such as:
- Keyboard shortcuts
- Minimal animations
- Using headers and labels
- Offering point gestures
In fact, one of the most common accessibility issues that can be easily fixed is how you integrate links into your content. For example, instead of writing “click here,” put “Check out our amazing DEI checklist.”
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All content should be easy to comprehend. The text should be focused on specific topics and error-free. In most cases, the concern will be ensuring the content is clear and consistent.
Furthermore, it should be readable. Readable content means it should be written at an 8th-9th grade level. Many resources help you accomplish this, including the free Hemingway App.
The Robust standard is more focused on what’s going on code-wise. This involves ensuring:
- The HTML is consistent
- All tags are closed properly
- That status messages are set up properly
These factors can affect how assistive technology conveys information to the user.
This final point essentially checks how well each web page conforms to the above accessibility standards. The more pages of your website conform, the higher your score.
4 Examples of ADA-Compliant Websites
Are you looking for inspiration? Then look no further than these examples of ADA-compliant websites:
- The BBC – This premier news channel has a fast and efficient website that complies with ADA requirements. To see what accessibility features they have and how they work, check out their Accessibility Help page.
- ACLU – Another prime example is ACLU’s website, which has straightforward, focused content, as well as sound web development and design. They also have a specific email for any questions or issues with the website’s accessibility.
- Patreon – This website allows users to fund creators. It’s also highly accessible, uses keyboard shortcuts, and asks its third-party partners and vendors to use accessible tools. While they can’t control user-generated content, their website has an AA ranking.
- SSE Energy Service – This UK-based energy company offers various accessibility options. In their extensive list, SSE states that they update screen readers to match current content, add alt-tags to images, use keyboard controls, measure code quality, and offer physical bills in braille.
Simple Fixes for Your Website
Depending on your hosting platform, you may be able to use plug-and-play tools to improve your accessibility.
The fact is, there are many common but easily fixed issues when it comes to website accessibility. Some things you can do today are:
- Add alt-tags or alternative text tags to images, videos, and audio
- Check your website color contrast
- Create closed captions for videos
- Generate and offer transcriptions of audio and video content
- Have an organized layout
- Limit animations
- Make sure all your links are contextual (no “click here” text)
- State the website’s language in the header code
Depending on your hosting platform, you may be able to use plug-and-play tools to improve your accessibility. WordPress users have been examples, including:
Risks of Non-Compliance
So, what happens if you’re not compliant?
There are a few different scenarios:
- High disabled employee
- Lost customer sales, resulting in lower revenue
- Lower web page rankings, hindering discoverability
- Potential lawsuits
Potential disability discrimination claims can be costly and can come from employees and customers. Digital ADA violation suits are also becoming more common. Between 2017 and 2020, there were 8,000 claims, most were filed in:
- New York
In particular, website and mobile accessibility lawsuits make up 1 in 5 Title III claims annually. And these suits can get expensive. For example, in a 2008 accessibility case, Target paid $6 million in class damages, $3 million in plaintiff legal fees, and an undisclosed amount in defense fees.
Business owners in the Bay Area voiced their concern over ADA-related website lawsuits in 2019. While an individual case could claim $4,000 in damages, some businesses could be hit by 5 to 10 suits. For many local stores, that amount could be devastating.
Businesses can invest in third-party employment practices liability insurance to protect against customer claims. Reducing the risk of a lawsuit through sound processes and updated technology may result in lower monthly insurance premiums. Without a proactive strategy to make business websites accessible, the cost of liability insurance premiums could be higher.
Strengthening your DEI Programs
Disability protections and accommodations are an essential part of diversity, equality, and inclusion (DEI) programs. Creating a usable web experience for your customers is one part of the puzzle. The other is ensuring that the employee experience is inclusive and accessible.
Before diving into the nitty-gritty of fostering a better workplace, it helps to have a clear statement to refer to. Check out our guide to writing a powerful and effective diversity and inclusion statement for all the details.