Today, all modern websites incorporate a diversity of images, graphics, videos, and a plethora of other visual elements. The trouble is that assistive devices like screen readers can’t “read” visuals. That’s why WCAG 2.0 standard stipulates that website developers use alternative text descriptions for all visual elements. These include alt-text, alt-tags, closed caption text, and so forth.
The large number of people who have disabilities, coupled with the challenges that they face, is one of the reasons that the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was passed in 1990.² As its name suggests, the ADA is designed to protect individuals with disabilities in the United States. The ADA essentially makes it illegal for any government entity or business to provide goods and services to the general public without ensuring that the entities are accessible by people with disabilities. In today’s digitally driven world, many businesses fail to follow web accessibility best practices. In fact, this is why the Supplemental Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (SANPRM) was created by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ). To ensure that they are implementing digital accessibility best practices, organizations are encouraged to use the WCAG 2.1 technical requirements.³
When the Americans with Disabilities Act became law in 1990, modern communications technologies such as the Internet were still in their infancy. The past few decades, however, have seen the rise of new channels such as websites and mobile applications, raising questions about the ADA’s original mission to make U.S. society more accessible to people with disabilities.
Level AA is a little more significant, and makes sites accessible to people with a wider range of disabilities, including the most common barriers to use. It won't impact the look and feel of the site as much as Level AAA compliance, though it does include guidance on color contrast and error identification. Most businesses should be aiming for Level AA conformity, and it appears to reflect the level of accessibility the DOJ expects.
Until the ADA is updated to address the special case of website accessibility, or the Department of Justice releases its website accessibility regulations, complying with WCAG 2.0 Level AA is the best way to ensure that people with disabilities have equal access to your website. The overview below is a great starting point about meeting the WCAG 2.0 Level AA recommendations.
Because the ADA does not specifically mention websites, it also does not outline standards for how organizations can make their websites accessible. However, the DOJ has frequently cited recommendations such as the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 as acceptable metrics for accessibility. WCAG 2.0 includes many different criteria at three different “success levels” of accessibility, ranging from high-contrast color schemes to closed captions for video content.
The program comes in English, German and Italian formats, and supported formats include CSS, HTML and XHTML. It is an online checker and hosted service that automatically checks single web pages, as well as password protected or restricted pages. Once these are checked, reports are generated with the evaluation results in HTML, PDF, XML and EARL report formats. The API is a Web service, and licenses are free as well as open source.
Input Assistance: When users are entering input into the website, any input errors are automatically detected and written out, providing, for instance, text descriptions that identify fields that were not filled out or data that was in the wrong format. The website also provides suggestions to fix the errors. Input fields and buttons are labeled to provide their functions and instructions. If the user’s input is being used for legal purposes or financial transactions, then the user must be able to reverse submissions or correct errors.
The most recent Version 4.2 was released on March 27, 2013. The guidelines included are WCAG 2.0—W3C Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0, WCAG 1.0—Section 508, W3C Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 1.0, U.S. federal procurement standards, RGAA, French government standards. HiSoftware generates reports of evaluation results, giving step-by-step evaluation guidance and displaying information within the web pages. Reports are provided in HTML, PDF, and CSV format. The program automatically checks single web pages, groups of web pages or sites, as well as restricted or password-protected pages. Browser plugins include Firefox and Internet Explorer 9.
The U.S. Department of Transportation enforces regulations governing transit, which includes ensuring that recipients of federal aid and state and local entities responsible for roadways and pedestrian facilities do not discriminate on the basis of disability in highway transportation programs or activities. The department also issues guidance to transit agencies on how to comply with the ADA to ensure that public transit vehicles and facilities are accessible.
While legal considerations might be your biggest worry, making your site more accessible is simply good customer service. More than 39 million Americans are blind and another 246 million have "low vision," Another one million are deaf in the U.S. Add to that people with mobility issues that prevent them from using their hands and that's a huge portion of the country's buying power.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and, if the government entities receive federal funding, the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 generally require that state and local governments provide qualified individuals with disabilities equal access to their programs, services, or activities unless doing so would fundamentally alter the nature of their programs, services, or activities or would impose an undue burden.2 One way to help meet these requirements is to ensure that government websites have accessible features for people with disabilities, using the simple steps described in this document. An agency with an inaccessible website may also meet its legal obligations by providing an alternative accessible way for citizens to use the programs or services, such as a staffed telephone information line. These alternatives, however, are unlikely to provide an equal degree of access in terms of hours of operation and the range of options and programs available.
Case law has been the most helpful in illuminating the implications of the ADA for websites.There have been lawsuits involving companies like Expedia, Hotels.com, Southwest Airlines, and Target as defendants and primarily featuring accessibility organizations as plaintiffs. These cases had mixed results, but each helped clarify the ADA's jurisdiction on the web.