Americans with Disabilities Act and Your Website

What is ADA?

The Americans with Disabilities Act was signed into law on July 26, 1990 by President George H. W. Bush. The law prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities.

The law applies to state and local governments, as well as businesses that meet the ADA definition of “public accommodations.” Public accommodations would include businesses like restaurants, hotels, movie theaters and doctor’s offices. Also covered are commercial facilities, meaning buildings, factories, warehouses and many private employers.

The law does not apply just to physical access to a government office or private business. It is broader and asks whether there are other limiting factors like policies or procedures that limit access. An example of a limiting policy might be a policy stating no dogs allowed which would limit access to someone who needs a service dog.

The ADA defines a disability as, “A mental or physical impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities.” This isn’t the complete definition of all defined disabilities, but covers the primary definition. Also, the impairment must be a substantial limit on one or more major life activities. The impairment must be long-term as well.

The ADA expects governments and private businesses to make reasonable accommodations for people with disabilities. Accommodations aren’t required if the accommodations would fundamentally alter the service.

The preceding description is a summary of course. Full details can be found here: https://www.ada.gov/. Now that we have a basic understanding of the ADA, consider how it applies to websites.

How Does It Apply to Websites?

The goal of the ADA is to make day-to-day activities available to people with disabilities. A worthy goal no doubt. The internet has become ubiquitous and essential to everyday life. So making the internet and websites usable by all is logical.

People with disabilities often need help operating a computer. There are a number of software and hardware products used by individuals. These include screen readers, text enlargement software and control by voice commands. These tools are sometimes less effective on a website that isn’t designed to accommodate people with disabilities. When the tools are less effective, the person using them is frustrated and unable to use the website. Accessible design takes this into consideration and allows people to use the website without the ability to see, to hear or to use a computer mouse.

Take a moment to look at an example. People with limited or no vision would often use a screen reader. A screen reader speaks the text of a website out loud, starting in the upper-left of the website. It can’t determine what’s in a photo, which to the sighted is easy to determine.

Are There Alternatives to Making a Website Compliant?

The answer is yes. Well, maybe. Court rulings can be unpredictable and a smart attorney may cause you grief. But, the ADA does allow alternatives to a website that isn’t compliant. For example, a staffed customer service phone number would allow a visually impaired member to take advantage of the services of a credit union.

Here’s the catch on websites, they’re available 24 hours a day. Typically, you won’t staff your customer service line 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. So an argument can be made that any alternative should be available 24/7. Telephone banking that’s available 24/7 may be a good alternative to a website if it provides the same capabilities for making transactions.

The guidelines for ADA website compliance aren’t complete. They aren’t absolute. The best solution is to add accessible features to your website. And then provide alternative means that allow people with disabilities to use your services.

What is CU*Answers Web Services Doing?

CU*Answers Web Services is happy to let you know that we develop our sites with modern coding. Much of ADA compliance is based on correctly designed and implemented code. Web Services will verify that the HTML for our websites passes the W3C validator. W3C is the worldwide developer of standards for HTML. Passing the validator assures our clients that the structure of their website is compatible with ADA goals. The W3C validator is located here: https://validator.w3.org/

We will also validate websites for accessibility using the AChecker. This tool checks a website for specific features that assist those with disabilities to use a website more easily. Using the tool, we will correct any “Known Problems” identified using the guidelines for WCAG 2.0 (Level AAA)).  Note that the Department of Justice has not ruled on a specific set of guidelines as of this writing, but we feel the WCAG 2.0 is a step in the right direction. The AChecker is located here: https://achecker.ca/checker/index.php

Validating with the W3C and AChecker tools provides a baseline for accessibility. We use them to make sure our sites meet a minimum standard.  Because the ADA guidelines aren’t finished, there’s no guarantee that a website launched today will meet the final guidelines or even a court’s interpretation of the current guidelines.  This also means that if your website is older, it may be time for a redesign.

What Can You Do?

Your website is probably updated frequently. If you make those updates to your site, you should understand the basics of website compliance. For example, when you upload an image always add what is called “alternate text.” The text should describe the purpose of the image. This text is used by screen readers to announce or speak to the person using the screen. Therefore, this text should be descriptive of what you are conveying with the image.

When adding a new page, assign an appropriate title that describes the content on the page. If you added a page that defines your checking accounts an appropriate title would be “Checking Accounts.” Adding a featured article about an upcoming annual meeting might be titled, “2017 Success Credit Union Annual Meeting.”

Want to find out more about making your site ADA compliant? This article provides a list of basic requirements for the elements on your web page: http://www.techrepublic.com/blog/web-designer/creating-an-ada-compliant-website/

As a final note, when you contract for website services make sure the person or company is aware of what makes a site more usable for everyone.