Field Notes

ADA Website Compliance: A Human Service That’s Good for Your Brand

illustration of different types of people with different abilities using a computer - designed by Infantree

In the past few years, businesses have seen a dramatic uptick in lawsuits for websites that don’t meet minimum requirements for the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) or Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act. Before we get bogged down with legal jargon, allow me to simplify: organizations are being sued when people with disabilities can’t use their website. Between 2017 and 2018, the number of lawsuits skyrocketed from 814 to 2,258. 1

Domino’s has been tangled in a lawsuit that made it all the way to the Supreme Court. Three years later and multiple verdicts in the plaintiff’s favor, Domino’s is still fighting the lawsuit that requires they fix the accessibility issues, estimated to cost $38,000.

Even the Queen Bey herself has been caught in this conundrum. When news broke that Beyoncé was being sued for an image-heavy website that blind visitors couldn’t navigate, her fans were quick to jump to her defense. This, my friends, is a demonstration of “ableism:”

Beyonce’s website has been redesigned and redeveloped since the lawsuit was filed.

Why Accessible Websites Matter

For some organizations, all that matters is not getting sued. It’s worth noting, however, that search engines are also starting to use accessibility as a ranking factor when displaying results, so not having an accessible website can impact your discoverability.

In reality, accessible websites benefit all of your users, not only those with disabilities. Video captions were created for deaf people, but are also helpful for all viewers that want to watch something privately or in a loud environment. Similarly, using accessible color contrast ratios will make your site easier to read, even for those without a visual impairment.

What I really want to talk about, though, is something that surpasses all these things: people.

Accessible websites are important because real people need them to be that way.

For most of us, daily inconveniences are when the wifi stops working, when someone is driving too slowly, or there are “way too many” handicapped parking spaces for what we deem necessary. For some people, daily inconveniences include not having the physical autonomy to dress yourself or grab a cup of water; suddenly losing your vision as a side-effect of the drugs fighting off your life-threatening cancer, forcing you to relearn how to navigate the world; or even just not being able to order a simple pizza because your assistive technology can’t navigate the website of a multi-billion dollar corporation.

  • 26% of adults in the U.S. have a disability (61 million people)
  • 2.5M+ are blind or have major difficulties seeing
  • 3.6M are deaf or have major difficulties hearing

Contrary to the crass responses to the Beyoncé lawsuit, people matter, therefore accessible websites matter.

What makes a website ADA compliant?

In the digital industry, many complaints about these lawsuits have revolved around the idea that accessibility for the web has been poorly defined. However, abundant website accessibility advocacy over the past few years leaves few excuses for web designers and developers.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has provided a very helpful checklist to meet the bare minimum requirements for Section 508 / ADA compliance. The items in this checklist span multiple vocations: development, design, and video / animation. Some high-level items include:

  • Designing with high contrast between text and backgrounds
  • Proper use of headings, lists, and links
  • The ability to navigate the site with a keyboard
  • Providing closed captioning for videos

There are three tiers for ADA compliance: Level A (required), Level AA (ideal), and Level AAA (overachiever). At Infantree, our team strives to meet Level AA compliance on all websites, but we don’t just check the boxes off the list. We aim to consider the actual user experience for those using assistive technology.

It’s important to note that the majority of the items in Levels A and AA compliance checklists can be completed with intentional design and the implementation of semantic HTML5, CSS, and JavaScript.

Simply put: making an accessible website requires a knowledgeable developer, but it shouldn’t take a rocket scientist.*

* The amount of skill and effort required to make an accessible website varies based on the site’s functionality. A large, content-driven site like a blog doesn’t take much additional engineering, but a custom, complex booking site could.

Great. How much will it cost?

Each Infantree website proposal falls into one of three camps:

  1. No ADA Compliance Line-item

    This is the case for the majority of our clients. That’s because our developers leverage the default features built into HTML5 and CSS, which are inherently accessible. These websites are still ADA compliant, we just don’t charge extra for it. Just like we don’t charge extra for knowing how to build WordPress themes or using semantic HTML5. It’s part of the job.

  2. An “FYI” ADA Compliance Line-item

    Sometimes we have clients that specifically ask for ADA compliance. In these cases, we’ll add a line item that describes our process for meeting those requirements, even if we won’t be charging extra for development. (We get it: websites can be expensive and we want you to understand what we deliver.)

  3. “Special Requests” ADA Compliance Line-item

    Some of our clients have needs that do require some extra elbow grease. Examples that could lead to an extra charge include:

    • A mega-nav that could benefit from keyboard arrow keys for easier page selection

    • Dynamic page content that requires special announcements for blind visitors to know changes have been made to the page

    • Requesting Level AAA compliance site-wide

    • Making a custom pizza builder that blind customers can actually use

The cost for making more extensive accessible interactions varies depending on the complexity, uniqueness, and quantity of interactions on the site. For example, the additional time needed for our most complex ADA compliance build to date, PCADV, only amounted to 3.5% of the initial cost of the site. Special attention was given to keyboard navigation of the robust mega-nav, screen reader announcements and keyboard navigation for the Help Finder tool, and screen reader friendly graphics on the statistics page, to name a few items.

What’s most important to note is the classic, tried-and-true adage:

It’s always better (and cheaper) to do it right the first time.

Retrofitting an inaccessible website can add many layers of complexity that can be costly.

Conclusion: Accessibility is a Non-negotiable

Regardless of whether it’s listed in the proposal, it’s important to note: we are not asking for permission. Every website Infantree works on will be developed to be accessible to all audiences, even if that means simplifying design or cutting fancy animations to make it happen.

People are important to us. And we hope they’re important to you, too. Let’s make a better web.