The Americans With Disabilities Act, or ADA, has received a lot of attention this year, its 30th anniversary. It covers things like access to buildings and offices, which need to be accessible by people, whatever their limitations.
On the Internet, websites also need to be usable: for people with a visual limitations, diminished motor skills, and other disabilities, if possible. It’s not hard to do, and it’s the right thing to do.
Over the last few years, ADA “trolls” have used scare tactics to force companies into costly legal settlements. There are also various agencies claiming they can stave off these threats by cleaning up your website. Again, for a very hefty fee. We are designers, not lawyers, so we can’t advise clients on what to do if they are approached, but we can share our experiences in improving website accessibility. In our experience, this can often be done with just a few hours of work, and need not be expensive.
We use several tools to test sites, including the WAVE Web Accessibility Evaluation Tool at wave.webaim.org. It displays problems on your website based on the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG).
We address many of these by changing the site’s “style sheets” and other structural elements, but some can even be fixed directly by you, if you use a platform like WordPress.
Type contrast: icons in the WAVE tool indicate where text is too light. Changing a single number will usually solve the problem, although font weight and size may also be a factor, and you may have to face some trial and error to get it right.
Headings: web pages have six levels of heading, like an outline, starting with “H1”. If these are placed out of order, it will hinder a screen reading device from guiding a visually impaired reader through your page. Often these can be fixed by site owners, but in some cases we have to make structural changes to the site.
Image tags: a screen reader can describe an image to someone who cannot see it. In web design parlance, you use an ALT tag (short for “alternative”), which can be as descriptive as you need. Depending on your platform, you may be able to edit ALT tags, or your designer may need to do it for you.
ARIA “roles”: The parts of a web page can be tagged as to their function, such as headers and footers, or special elements such as search forms, reading these to a user tabbing through a page. This usually requires a designer or developer to fix.
“Focus”: most people have no trouble selecting links, but they may not be accessible to those who have trouble controlling a mouse. Focus simply means the single word or other element that a user can link to at a single moment in time. A short bit of code enables the highlighting of any linkable element by the action of tabbing to it on the page.
These are just some of the things we have incorporated into our work, and DLS Design is always available to review and discuss them.
When we have completed work on a site, we generally recommend including an Accessibility Statement, which can be part of your website’s disclaimer, or a separate page. In a few simple sentences, it declares your intention to make your site more accessible to users, and you can also use it to enumerate the actual steps you have taken, such as the methods we’ve described here.