What is ADA?
The American with Disabilities ACT (ADA) was passed and signed into law in July 1990. It prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in areas such as employment, transportation, communications, education, health and architectural & transportation barriers.
Regarding software, the ADA standard applies to commercial and public entities that have “places of accommodation” (included in architectural & transportation barriers) which includes the internet.
The objective of this is standard is to ensure websites are compatible with Assistive Technology (AT) used by people with disabilities.
In order to accomplish the ADA, we must follow the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.1) which is an international standard that explains how to make a website accessible to people with disabilities. These guidelines are a set of recommendations, each corresponding to one of three levels of conformance:
- A (lowest) – essential requirements, not meeting this level means that it is impossible or exceedingly difficult for disabled people to use the website.
- AA – addresses the most common barriers, meeting these recommendations ensures that the website is accessible and usable for most people with or without disabilities.
- AAA (highest) – supreme level that includes the maximum number of users. Although meeting this is ideal, it is not always possible to satisfy all recommendations for all content types.
Following WCAG manually can be a very exhausting task given that there are over 100 hundred recommendations and many of them are not easily distinguishable. For example, one recommendation states: “Success Criterion Contrast: The visual presentation of text and images of text has a contrast ratio of at least 4.5.” This may not be something you’ll be able to identify or implement manually.
Ideally the guidelines recommendations should be addressed at the development stage and tested at that moment, but often they are not done until much afterwards. For that there are several browser extensions that can help.
As an illustrative example we will run AXE DevTools (free version) extension on some ecommerce homepages which will scan and give us a quick status of the site. The WCAG level to evaluate in this case is AA.
Example of not so compliant site:
The results show too many issues, some of them critical and should be fixed urgently. For that the tool gives us more information regarding the problem description (with link to explanatory web), element location (can also be highlighted), related node and tips to fix each problem.
Example compliant site:
The result shows only two minor issues, this site is level AA compliant.
There are very good reasons to pursue ADA compliance. Of course, being inclusive is by default an excellent reason, but it also expands the business as it reaches more people, it builds a good reputation for the company and brings us closer to providing the best service. Also, it prevents lawsuits that would cost thousands of dollars (legal actions against Harvard University, Netflix, Uber and Domino’s are very good examples of this).
Given that the effort to follow the guidelines (test and fix these issues) is not extreme, the cost-benefit is very positive, and it would be wise to accomplish ADA.