October 25, 2022
As technology continues to advance and become more prevalent and necessary in our daily lives, the Department of Justice (DOJ) has begun to pay more attention to ensuring that the internet is accessible for everyone. According to recent C.A.R. Reports, there has been a recent increase in brokerages and other business facing ADA claims in relation to the accessibility of their websites. While the DOJ has not yet codified rules regarding best practices for maintaining web accessibility, it has issued web accessibility guidance under the ADA to help businesses ensure they are compliant with industry standards for web accessibility.
The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1 are broken down into Four Principles of Accessibility: Perceivable, Operable, Understandable, & Robust. Each of these Principles have detailed Success Criteria ranked by three levels of conformance – Level A, the minimum level of conformance; Level AA, the middle level of conformance; and Level AAA, the highest level of conformance. Maintaining all Level A Success Criteria will help prevent ADA claims in relations to web accessibility. This article is not an exhaustive list of WCAG 2.1 requirements, but it provides a brief overview of the Four principles of Accessibility and provides general tips about steps you can take to conform your website with the new standards.
Success Criteria that fall under Perceivable Principle of Accessibility are intended to help website manages ensure information and user interface components can be easily presented to consumers in ways they are able to perceive. Because some internet users having hearing or vision deficiencies, perceiving some aspects of a webpage may be difficult for them. To conform with Success Criteria in this section, ensure that all content can be perceived with only one sense. For example, all audio content should have subtitles and all text content should be easily decipherable by a text-to-speech program. Other examples include ensuring that your website has scalable text for those who struggle with small fonts, providing text-based or visual alternatives for all audible content that is integral to perceiving the message of the page, keeping background noise or music at least 20 decibels lower than other content on the page, and using a contrast ratio of at least 7:1. By designing your website in a way that it all parts of it can be easily perceived with any one sense, it will be more accessible to disabled users.
Success Criteria under the Operable Principle require websites to be compatible with technology that allows disabled individuals to use the internet. This section covers technology used by individuals with physical disabilities that restrict their ability to use computers using traditional methods. To conform with Success Criteria in this section, websites must be easily operated using alternative input methods. The most important method is keyboard navigation. Websites must be easily navigated exclusively using keyboard commands; there should be a clear indicator showing what the navigation is focused on, content should be organized in a way that simple arrow-key navigation moves users through the content sequentially, and the use of cursor functionality is not necessary to access any critical content on the page. Websites should have functional headers that display not only where content can be found, but also which page the user is currently on. Web content should not restrict the use of alternative input methods like speech-to-text software. When designing your website to meet Operable Success Criteria, the goal should be to maximize ease of use and compatibility with assistive technology.
Understandable Success Criteria regulate how understandable the content on a web page must be. All content must be clearly readable and predictable. Any subtle action like clicking a drop-down menu or hovering the cursor over an icon should not change the presentation of the page significantly enough to disorient or confuse the user. Unless the content of the page is highly technical, it should be written in a way that it would be understandable at a 6th grade reading level. Navigational tools that appear on multiple pages or in multiple places within the same page should function uniformly and in a predictable way. Any substantial change to the way the website works caused by an action initiated by the user should have a warning before its affects take place. There should always be labels or instructions where user input is required. To conform your website with the Success Criteria under the Understandable Principle, ensure your website is as comprehensive and clear as possible.
The Success Criteria in the Robust Principle provide guidance for how websites can be reliably interpreted by various user agents and be forward compatible. All content on the code end of the website should have complete start and end tags so future software can easily identify and read the content of the page. All interface components should have names and roles that can be determined by programs and states, properties, and values that the user can change. Status messages should be clearly categorized in such a way that assistive technology can relay the type of message to the user. User agents should also be notified of any changes to how the website achieves these goals.
The internet has become an integral part of daily life and business operation. Today, people do their banking, look for housing, do business, and many other essential acts entirely online. In the same way that the DOJ eventually cracked down on the accessibility of physical businesses with the ADA, it is likely they will soon do the same with the internet. These tips to help bring your website into conformance with WCAG2.1 recommendations will prepare you and your company for potential future changes and protect from the threat of an ADA related law-suit..
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