I’m Not Just Making This Up…Really!

I have been talking about ADA Compliance rule on this site but some of you may be wondering where those rules are specifically written or if I am just making them up. While the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) started as a set of general nondiscrimination requirements for employers, it has expanded over the years to impact website design to ensure that all people can fully interact with your website.

Even today, much of the content you find in print, video and websites is not fully accessible to all people. The difficulty for those of us who may be “fully able” is that it is not always easy to put ourselves in the place of someone with a disability and to understand what we must do to make our content fully accessible. While there are many types of disabilities, the ones that most affect websites include: cognition, hearing, mobility, and vision. Each of these areas has its own rules and guidelines that are included in the WCAG (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines).

You may also ask whether these rules apply to all websites. Strictly speaking ADA applies to sites that include:

    • Governmental websites (local, state & federal) (which broadly includes public schools)
    • E-commerce sites
    • Nonprofits
    • Business to Consumer websites

This may seem to cover everyone, but even if your site is only a business-to-business portal or even a corporate intranet for your employees, you should still consider ADA compliance for those sites. Why? Because according to the CDC, up to 25% of the population has one or more disability. Afterall, you want everyone to get the same message from your site. In general terms, this means you site must be:

    • Perceivable
    • Operable
    • Understandable
    • Robust

Think of meeting the expectations of these four areas as a goal. It is rare that a site completely meets the rules in all these areas. For that reason, many associate the task of making a site ADA compliant as a journey, not as a destination. Even if you get close to following all the rules as defined today, those rules could change tomorrow. However, like the Chinese proverb, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”, you journey toward compliance begins with a single rule. In other words, the solution is to have a plan moving forward to make your site increasingly compliant. For example, you could focus on one rule at a time and make sure your site completely meets that rule. Then move on to the next rule. Over time, your site will become increasingly compliant for all users. This method also avoids having to learn all the rules at once. It also avoids the confusion inherent when attempting to fix dozens or more issues on your web pages at once. For that reason, I will continue on this site to focus on one or two issues in each post and not cover all potential issues unless they are extremely closely related.

However, because some of you wanted to get a 10,000-foot view of the entire ADA landscape, I am going to list my ‘favorite’ ADA compliance sites here. For those of you who want a high-level view of where we are going and the ‘terrain’ we must cover I suggest reviewing the following sites:

Understanding WCAG 2.0Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0

Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1 – Extends the 2.0 release from December 2008

If you look at these sites, you will understand why I want to focus on one or two related rules at a time. There are dozens of rules and quite a lot of information in these sites. However, remember that the 2.1 version is an extension to the 2.0 version so that much of the information naturally appears in both documents. The fact that I show links to both the 2.0 which appeared in December of 2016 and the 2.1 version which appeared on June 5, 2018 clearly indicates that changes have happened in the past. Furthermore, it can also be assumed that there will be future versions. In fact, I have heard that another version may appear at any time. Some say that it is overdue.

You will also notice that the rules are defined by the four areas (or sections) mentioned above (Perceivable, Operable, Understandable, and Robust). Each rule in these sections is also labeled with a level indicator. The level indicator signifies the degree of compliance with Level A being the lowest and thus easiest level to achieve and Level AAA being the highest. However, for the website as a whole to be at a Level AA compliance, it must meet all of the Level A and Level AA guidelines, not just the Level AA guidelines. Levels are cumulative. Similarly, a Level AAA site must meet all Level A, Level AA, and Level AAA guidelines.

My suggestion is that if your website is not one of the websites that are required to be ADA compliant, that you should still aim for Level A compliance across the site with some areas possibly at a higher level. For example, an internal website, or intranet, should at least be Level A compliant. Similarly, for any public website, I recommend at least a Level AA compliance across the site with some areas striving to meet Level AAA guidelines.

In case you are interested, much of what I covered in several prior posts on color contrast falls under Section 1.4.3 Contrast (Minimum) Level AA. Information on Generic Link Text mentioned earlier in this series comes from the WCAG 2.0 Success Criterion 2.4.4 which is a Level A violation.

So stick with me and this blog site as I cover additional requirements. While I will focus on Level A and Level AA concerns, I may occasionally divert into some of the Level AAA rules. In any case, my primary focus will be to cover rules that you can easily check and correct one step at a time.

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