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OCTOBER 17, 2017 //     

Web Design and Your Business: The Benefits of ADA Compliance

Image: Wedgie MediaBy: Patrick Dean Hodgson

Boot up, launch your browser and pull up your favorite website. Now, close your eyes and have someone cover your ears. Try to navigate and go to your favorite hot spots on that website. This is the obstacle millions of Americans with disabilities face every day.

A good corporate website isn't all about appearance and content. Ensuring accessibility is as important as providing visitors with solid information. According to the United States Census Bureau, 56.7 million Americans have a disability. That figure makes up nearly 20 percent of the U.S. population. Now think about if one in every five customers can’t use your website. How much revenue might you lose? That’s why it’s critical to understand how beneficial ADA compliance can be to help these Americans and for the future of any company.

What's ADA compliance and why is It so important?

The Americans with Disabilities Act of 2010 sets the standards for accessible design. Implemented by the Department of Justice, it states how all commercial and public websites should be built to remain easy to use for everyone.

While there are a lot of guidelines governing ADA websites, you should be aware of Section 508 of the Americans with Disabilities Act and Website Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) developed by the Worldwide Web Consortium (W3C). Both documents carry much of the same rules, however WCAG is more extensive.

A few best practices you can easily use to combat common ADA violations:

  • Add text to images and videos. Many sites are guilty of not using text to identify pictures. Not only is it harmful for search engine optimization (SEO), but it also creates a challenge for blind customers. For example, a sports apparel website may have a picture of LeBron James. The blind person should be able to use a screen reader on the image and hear “photo of LeBron James.” If your customer is deaf, text captions and descriptions on your videos are effective tactics.
  • Avoid PDF files. PDF and other similar files are problematic for the visually impaired too. Unlike images, these types of formats usually can’t be read by screen readers.
  • Adjust colors and font sizes. When designers and developers build websites, high contrast colors are often an afterthought because of brand guidelines or overzealous creativeness. This is one of the great missteps by web teams because most people with vision issues rely heavily on high contrast settings.

While listing all the guidelines is beyond the scope of this article, here's why building an ADA-compliant website should be a top priority.

  • You'll increase your organic reach, drawing more people to your pages: For the disabled, choosing which sites to visit often isn't a choice at all. Achieving total ADA compliance means everyone will feel comfortable browsing your pages. In turn, that leads to more engagement from a broader range of people, resulting in more social media shares, mentions and an overall increase in brand awareness. 
  • You'll rank better in searches, beating out competitors: While search engines won't check whether a website respects ADA, Google and its peers do care about the number of hits each URL receives. Since building an ADA-compliant website attracts more visitors, it in turn increases your ranking. More pageviews and longer sessions show how relevant your space is, taking it straight to the top of Google search results.
  • You'll bolster your reputation as a socially responsible organization: Today, disabilities and their effects are no longer just medical issues. Throughout the world, hundreds of organizations fight to defend the rights of those suffering from disabilities. When you dedicate time and effort to create an ADA-compliant website, you make a statement about your company’s social engagement depth, which can drive real business results.

Even though a significant number of Americans have trouble accessing the web, most websites fail at ADA compliance. This is risky for businesses, since the Department of Justice is planning on enforcing these rules on websites in 2018. The time to become ADA compliant is now.

Patrick Hodgson is digital director at Allison+Partners. 

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