Meeting Website accessibility standards
First and foremost - We Hedgehogs are not attorneys and this page should not be considered legal advice.
ADA is short for the Americans with Disabilities Act, which became a law in 1990. The law prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in all areas of public life. In physical locations, there are clear guidelines to ADA compliance. However, at this time there is no clear legal definition of "ADA compliance" regarding websites. The US Government has not yet published any official technical requirements regarding compliance as it relates to the web.
A number of law firms are suing companies under ADA even though there are no published guidelines for compliance. Rather than fight a protracted legal battle where the rules are unclear, many companies choose to settle.
Do I need to be compliant?
Yes- website and business owners need to proactively plan to make their sites accessible to users with disabilities. Plus, ADA accessibility comes with benefits!
This is where the waters become slightly murky.
Technically there is no single legal definition of ADA compliance since the requirements are still being forged through numerous court cases. These are only suggested guidelines. ADA only provides direction on some of the most common accessibility problems, not all of them.
These guidelines are not set in stone and could very easily change tomorrow. Most companies are using the WCAG 2.0 guidelines as the blueprint for accessibility. These come in 3 levels – A, AA, and AAA, in increasing levels of stringency. So to prepare for the eventual ADA compliance legal guidelines, adhering to WCAG 2.0 AA level standards is an important first step in the process. A very similar option is to follow the US Government’s own guidance for accessibility, known as Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. It maps closely to WCAG 2.0 level AA, but has some differences.
It is impossible for any automated tool to be 100% certain that your system meets any or all of the 61 WCAG Success Criteria. In fact, some of WCAG’s Success Criteria can’t be reliably tested via automated means at all. You and your digital partner must stay up-to-date on your chosen compliance standard. To keep your website compliant as it grows and evolves over time, you will need to come up with ongoing maintenance procedures.
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Steps to Meeting WCAG 2.0 Standard
Find all of the places where your site fails the standard. Typically this is done through a combination of a software tool which will examine every page of your site and look for non-adherence to the standard, and a human mimicking the experience of a visitor using a screen reader browser for the visually impaired.
Remediation, where all of the issues found in Step 1 are addressed. This includes changes to internal software and processes to ensure future web content is compliant with the chosen standard. For example, making alt text a required field for images will force content managers to adhere to WCAG 2.0 standard 1.1.1.
Ongoing evaluation, where the site is re-examined regularly to make sure it is still in compliance with the chosen standard. As new pages are added and old ones edited, it is possible for some pages to fall out of compliance.Content editors must also be educated on guidelines that apply to raw content and must enter extra content for all images, videos, audio, etc.
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