Get ready: The federal government is expected to expand the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) to require business websites to be more accessible to the disabled and handicapped. What’s this mean for your website?
Pretty big changes, most likely.
The ADA makes it illegal to discriminate against disabled individuals. But its regulations were constructed prior to the Internet boom, which means none of its rules extend to the websites of private companies (some ADA rules have been imposed on government sites).
That’s all expected to change soon.
What’s going to happen? It’s expected that the Department of Justice (DOJ) will soon release new rules requiring commercial websites to become more compatible with the assistive technologies disabled individuals use to navigate the Internet.
Problems the disabled face
Currently, many commercial sites are not set up to function with some of the programs disabled individuals need to navigate websites.
For example: Some software designed to assist the blind will navigate a website and read all of the text on that site to the user. But if a site contains lots of photos and videos that aren’t accompanied by descriptive text, the software will not be able to do its job.
What to prepare for
It’s expected the DOJ will issue new regulations soon — perhaps before the end of the year. And it’s expected they’ll look something similar to the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 created by the World Wide Web Consortium, according to Brian G. Muse, a law partner with LeClairRyan in Williamsburg, Va., who specializes in ADA law.
In addition, Muse expects the DOJ to utilize portions of existing ADA guidelines government websites must follow.
Both sets of guidelines are a window into what the expanded ADA rules will likely require.
Using those guidelines, Muse has compiled this list of modifications companies should start prepping to make to their sites in anticipation of the expanded rules:
- attaching descriptive text alt tags to any photos, videos or graphic content that is essential to the operation of your site
- providing an audio description of any video that is essential to operating your site
- displaying captions for any audio or video content on site
- labeling controls for online forms, drop down menus and check boxes with descriptive text
- minimizing blinking or flashing features that can cause seizures in those with cognitive disabilities, and
- making sure your website isn’t dependent on a user’s ability to recognize certain colors (for those who are color blind).
These are good places to start, and many may even provide a double benefit.
Example: Not only can adding descriptive text and captions to photos, videos and graphics help disabled individuals use your site, it can help improve SEO, as well as overall usability.