Making your site accessible to all users, including those who have sight, hearing, or other difficulties is a positive, inclusive step to make and — though current regulations are a somewhat gray area — a smart way to prepare for future legal developments.1
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is the governing law on accessibility in the United States. It was enacted in 1990, so it doesn’t say anything specifically about websites.
At this time, there are no specific, finalized laws around website accessibility and ADA compliance, but the ADA Title III: Public Accommodations section of the ADA has been interpreted by some US courts to apply to websites. Assuming the ADA applies, your website needs to be operable, regardless of impairment or ability, to be considered compliant.
We believe it’s a best practice to make your site as accessible as possible, regardless of the legal arguments around the ADA. Below is a brief summary of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1, a widely recognized resource that helps you understand what accessibility entails.
What are the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines?
According to WCAG 2.1, you should look at your site through the lens of four principles, using the acronym POUR:
Perceivable: Users should be able to consume the content on your site in a variety of ways, such as both visually and audibly.
Operable: Users should be able to navigate your site and all of its features using a variety of tools — not exclusively through the use of a mouse.
Understandable: Users should be able to easily understand the content and functions of your site.
Robust: Your site should be usable across all browsers, devices, and assistive technologies, such as screen readers.
How can I perform an accessibility audit on my website?
This checklist isn’t exhaustive, but it’s a great way to start assessing your website and making improvements toward accessibility:
Does your font stand out enough from the background colors on your site?
Users with low-contrast sensitivity can have difficulty perceiving your content if there is not enough contrast between your content and background.
WCAG 2.1 recommends: Text and interactive elements should have a color contrast ratio of at least 4.5:1 for normal text and 3:1 for larger text. Test this with a browser extension like WAVE.
Clear anchor text
Are your links obvious and is it clear to the user what they are linking to?
Writing clear and meaningful text to accompany all hyperlinks on your site is always important, but it’s essential to users with visual impairments that rely on a screen reader to navigate your site.
Rather than placing a hyperlink with the text “click here” or “more information”, use the destination content as part of the anchor text. Example: The following link will take you to the WCAG 2.0 quick guideline on link text.
Do all of your images include alt-text that accurately describes the visual?
Users with visual impairments rely on screen readers that communicate text descriptions of images. For a site to be fully accessible, every image should have an alt tag or attribute that describes the image.
For example, if you posted the below image on your site, your alt tag might be “photographer taking picture of mountain landscape”.
Most publishing platforms have an easy way to add alt text to an image, but this is what the html code might look like with an alt-tag included:
<img src="https://yoursite.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/10/mountain-photographer.jpg" alt="photographer taking picture of mountain landscape">
Video closed captioning
Do your videos include closed captioning so they can be understood without sound?
Deaf and hard of hearing users rely on closed captioning text when watching videos, so the WCAG 2.1 recommends providing captions for all videos on your site.
Can your site and links be navigated without the use of a mouse?
Users with mobile or visual impairments may not use a mouse to navigate the internet and instead rely on the keyboard or other assistive technologies. Check to see if you can use the ‘tab’ and ‘enter’ keys to select and click through links on your site. If hovering over an element is required for interaction, see if the same result can be achieved with keyboard commands.
Standard HTML markup
Does your site use standard HTML markup?
Using standard markup assists in your site being usable across browsers, devices, and assistive technologies. You can check for any errors in your HTML markup with this validation tool: W3C validation markup.
Assess your site’s accessibility with a browser extension
WAVE is a free browser extension tool that will assess your site’s level of compliance with WCAG guidelines. Run your site through WAVE to see where it stands, and make any suggested changes to improve your site’s accessibility.
1We’re not lawyers, so please appreciate that this article is for informational purposes only and is not legal advice. Whether and how you act upon this information is up to you and your professional counsel.