Nebraska ADA Website Compliance: How to Protect Your Business and Grow Your Customer Base

Disclaimer: little guy design is a branding, web design, and web development agency located in Omaha, NE. We’re not lawyers, and you shouldn’t consider this blog legal advice.

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Juan Carlos Gil likes to be independent. His inability to walk, due to cerebral palsy, doesn’t keep him from competing. He’s a Paralympian who races in wheelchair and rowing events.

And his legal blindness doesn’t keep him from navigating websites, which are almost exclusively designed with visuals in mind. He orders so many things on Amazon, he’s never quite sure what’s in the packages that arrive at his door. He’s able to be active online because well-designed websites can be described by screen-reading software as he navigates using the keyboard.

But when he tried to order prescriptions online from a local grocery chain, he was stymied by the poor design. He couldn’t access the menus he needed to.

So he sued the grocery chain under the American’s With Disabilities Act (ADA). This summer he won (case summary). Although companies have been sued before because of their websites, every other case has either been thrown out or resulted in some sort of settlement. This was the first case to go all the way to trial. Gil’s victory sends a clear message to business owners. Now is the time to make your website work for people with disabilities. Businesses they need to take making their websites accessible as seriously as they would adding ramps and rails to their retail stores.

Like other businesses, little guy design has received the wake-up call. We’re in the process of revamping our own website, and we’re working to get the word out to other businesses about what they need to do.

While making the necessary changes for ADA website compliance can be difficult, LGD believes that it’s worth it, not only to meet the demands of the law, but also to increase the number of people who can interact with your site and become valuable customers.

What Is ADA Website Compliance?

Unlike ramp slopes and rail heights, which are spelled out clearly in regulations, so far the Department of Justice hasn’t issued clear regulations for ADA compliance for business websites, creating a worrying and confusing state of limbo that lawyers are capitalizing on.

“In the absence of website regulations, the courts are filling the void with a patchwork of decisions that often conflict with one another,” writes Minh Vu, a lawyer, in an article on ADA website compliance. “The uncertain legal landscape has fueled a surge of lawsuits and demand letters filed and sent on behalf of individuals with disabilities alleging that the websites of thousands of public accommodations are not accessible.”

The DOJ has been promising to clarify things for years–the latest promised date for regulations was 2018. But now the Trump Administration postponed them indefinitely (Department of Justice announcement). No one knows when, if ever, they will be released.

Meanwhile, hundreds of lawsuits have been filed, some resulting in substantial settlements, including $10 million settlement involving Target’s website. And it’s not only retail outlets than need to worry. The number of industries facing lawsuits is increasing and now includes restaurants, banks and credit unions (pdf), schools, hospitals, clinics, health insurance companies, and drug stores and optical stores.

How do you measure your site’s ADA Compliance?

Without clear regulations how do you know if your site is safe from lawsuits? And if there are problems, how do you fix them?

The good news is that that over and over again, courts have pointed to a particular set of voluntary industry guidelines, put out by the World Wide Web Association, as a standard businesses can refer to in lieu of official government regulations. The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.0) give business owners a great place to start, and a way to show they’re making good-faith efforts to make their websites accessible. Business owners can also look to Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act, and its related guidelines, which Federal Agencies use to make their websites accessible.

The bad news is that understanding those standards and applying fixes in some cases requires HTML, CSS and JavaScript coding knowledge, which can be a challenge for those who use WordPress plugins and themes or services such as Squarespace to avoid coding. While some plugins and themes can help make websites ADA compliant, many can actually create problems.

Customer support at Squarespace warns, “It’s important to note that some Squarespace elements may not be fully accessible. If your site is required to comply with accessibility standards, we recommend working with an accessibility specialist.”

According to court documents in Gil’s lawsuit, fixing the problem completely could take between $37,000 and $250,000, far too expensive for many small businesses. Even the the University of California recently opted to take down content rather than spend the money to make it all accessible.

At little guy design, we’re currently developing ADA compliance solutions that will cost far less than these figures for most websites. If you’re worried about compliance, get in touch.

Strapped for cash? While you might not be able to completely achieve ADA website compliance, there are still steps you can take today to make your website less of a target for lawsuits and more friendly to people with disabilities.

Four Simple Steps to Improve Your Website ADA Compliance

  1. Clean up clutter

    Website ADA compliance starts with a clean, orderly website design, without unnecessary clutter. Blind website users typically rely on software known as screen readers to interpret a page for them. Packing the top of your site with 20 links to social networks, for example, means a blind user has to patiently step through each one of them before reaching the main content of your site.

    To get a sense of how screen readers will describe your site, try the free Chromevox screen reader for Chrome or the built-in VoiceOver app on Macs. Use the arrow keys to attempt to navigate without a mouse, as someone with vision impairments would.

    If you can’t access something on the page, consider whether you really need it. Sometimes the easiest way to make your website easier to use for everyone (not just those with disabilities) is to just to cut stuff out. Does your WordPress site for selling shoes really need a weather widget? Can you get away with 3 social media links instead of 10?

  2. Describe images

    By default, screen readers will try to pronounce the filenames of images it comes across.

    Unfortunately, those can be hard to understand. Consider this image name that used to be on our website: “18382181_1838909929705701_6405486325146845184_n.jpg”. Imagine a computerized voice suddenly reading out loud a long list of meaningless digits.

    Renaming images can help, but the best solution is to include something called an “alt attribute” with every image, which describes the image for those who can’t see it. In many cases, you can add the alt tag without any coding knowledge. For example, in WordPress, click on any image in the Media Library, and you’ll see something like the screenshot below. The text you enter in the “Alt” field will be read out-loud by a screen reader instead of the file name.
    WordPress media library alt text

  3. Caption videos

    For people with bad eyesight, describe what’s happening in your videos. Transcribe spoken audio and describe sound-effects for people who are deaf.

    YouTube provides clear help on adding subtitles and closed captions. Even many simple video-editing apps, such as iMovie, allow you to add captions.
    YouTube's subtitle page

  4. Make text and links legible

    It might be tempting to squeeze a lot of text onto the screen by using small font sizes. But there’s no need to do this:

    everyone knows how to scroll, so it doesn’t matter if your text spills off the page. Larger font-sizes make your site easier for everyone.

    Also, avoid low-contrast text and background colors, like grey text on a slightly lighter grey screens. You can check contrast with this free tool. High contrast colors will also help people with color blindness: that’s roughly every 20th visitor to your site.

    In general, avoid relying on color alone to distinguish something. For example, instead of just making links a different color, underline them, or include a link icon. Many WordPress themes will let you make these changes without any coding.
    color contrast checker screenshot

When to Get Expert Help

These relatively simple steps will make your site far more friendly to people with disabilities. As an added bonus, they will also make your site easier for anyone to use. For example, on slow mobile connections, it can take a while for images to load. An alt tag will appear in place of the image, so users know what is coming, and can choose to scroll past it.

These steps in themselves aren’t necessarily enough for a website to achieve ADA compliance, especially if you are using forms or other interactive elements. Fixing those can require digging into HTML, JavaScript, and CSS.

To see where you stand, consider using one of several free tools to test your website’s accessibility. I personally like the free Axe Accessibility Chrome extension, although it takes a little knowledge of web development to use.

Depending on what you find, you may want some expert help. We can help walk you through the results of your tests, or run our own, and give you a free estimate of what it will take to fix your current site. Considering a new website? Let us build it with accessibility in mind from the beginning.

Professional-Quality Accessibility

We offer three ADA website compliance packages.

Contact us today. We can help you meet the industry guidelines, help protect you from lawsuits, and make sure your customers with disabilities have a good experience on your site.

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