When you create a website or social pages for your brand, the ultimate goal is probably good exposure. You want people to know about your brand, purchase your services, and share your message across their channels. But what happens when not everyone can access your content? The new ADA guidelines are working to make the internet––and your brand’s site––a more accessible place. 

Still unsure what this means? Read on. 


What does ADA compliance mean? 

As you probably know, ADA stands for the Americans with Disabilities Act. This began in 1990 “to ensure that people with disabilities have the same opportunities as anyone else.” If the first thought that comes to mind when hearing ADA compliance is wheelchair accessibility, that’s not wrong. It’s just not the whole picture.

ADA compliance trickles over into every facet of business, which is where it can impact your brand. In the last couple of years, ADA compliance has changed for websites and mobile sites. Title III of the ADA outlined new official standards for businesses. And, in 2020, they’re cracking down. 

This is, in part, because disabled people are half as likely to be online, have high-speed internet, or have multiple devices. And, with an estimated one billion people with disabilities in the world, the new ADA guidelines are a change that could not come soon enough. 


Inequality Online 

A YouTube upload from 2014 shows what it’s like for someone who is using web accessibility tools (like VoiceOver) on the The New York Times site. The 60-second video is a small sample with a significant impact. During it, you can hear how many blank links and incorrectly marked titles and objects there are on just one page. With ADA guidelines, the idea is so anyone, regardless of their abilities, can properly access websites. While this often includes those with visual or hearing impairments, it applies to everyone.  

For your brand, this might mean boosting your e-commerce site or making sure all your alt tags are up to date, among other things. 


Which types of businesses must be ADA compliant? 

Title III compliance applies to businesses that are “public accommodations.” Examples include hotels, restaurants, banks, accountants’ and lawyers’ offices. As well as health care providers, public transportation, schools, gyms, and social service centers. Business owners who fit into this category have to comply with the ADA guidelines, as well as any state disability laws that might apply.    


How do the ADA guidelines benefit my brand? 

If your brand is a public accommodation (and, let’s be honest, even if it isn’t), it’s time to get compliant. Besides making it so that people of all abilities can access and experience your site, following ADA guidelines: 


Boosts your SEO

Meeting the ADA requirements includes adding alternative image tags, meta-tagging, and video transcripts. Which give your site a boost when it comes to SEO.

Increases usability 

An ADA compliant site is “a more operable and navigable website” with easy to understand pages and navigation. This usability can then convert to leads as your users can more easily find the content they need.

Helps you avoid penalties

The ADA guidelines place websites on a grade scale––of which AAA is the highest and an A what you should aim for. Brands like Target, Toys R Us, and Netflix have faced lawsuits for lack of compliance. Any content that is created or altered after January 18, 2018, is subject to these new guidelines and a potential penalty if ignored.  

Increases your audience 

It’s simple math: more accessibility equals a broader audience. Without making your site ADA compliant, “you are automatically missing out on millions of potential customers who cannot access your site due to disabilities.” Using alt tags and transcripts may take more time on the backend, but could pay off in the end. 

What happens if you’re not ADA compliant 

From 2017 to 2018, there was a 177% jump in lawsuits related to website accessibility. Brands in industries like retail, finance, and travel are being hit the hardest with these lawsuits. 

If you do not comply with the law, your business could be fined “up to $55,000 for the first violation and $110,000 for each subsequent violation.” What’s more, if you receive federal funding, that could be revoked for non-compliance. 


Meeting the ADA accessibility guidelines 

With the looming threat of a potential lawsuit and the all-too-real fact that many people may not be able to access your website, why are you waiting? Luckily, following the ADA guidelines isn’t too complicated. And, once done, is something that you can easily maintain (and be proud of). So how do you go about it? 


Add alternatives 

Alternatives for a website refer to adding alt text or captions on the backend. This includes alt text on all images and text transcripts for video and audio. As well as audio descriptions and closed captions on live video presentations. If you have a web developer or hire a digital marketing agency, this should be a step they are already integrating into their process. 

Adjust presentation 

Adjusting the presentation of your website may be a more complicated task if you’ve had the same site for a while. If, however, you are doing a rebrand or are just creating a website for your brand, this is a perfect time. Presentation adjustments include correct web structure (including heading tags), meaningful order, use of color, audio control, text resized up to 200%, and not using images of text. Also, keep in mind that you need “a color contrast ratio of at least 4:5:1 between all text and background.” 

Fix user control 

The usability of your site is a big one for the ADA guidelines. For this, you need to make sure “all content and functions on a website [are] accessible by keyboard only (i.e., no mouse).” You also must ensure users can navigate forward and backward, can turn off time limits on a site, ability to pause, stop, or hide content, have fewer than three flashes in a row, and allow users to bypass the heading. 

Make it understandable

Your site needs to be understandable to a broad audience. To achieve this, each website needs a unique page title, logical order, purposeful links, search bar or navigation menu, descriptive headings, and focus indicators like borders around a text link. You must also ensure that you set a language for your site and “indicate any language changes for an entire page or within the content.” 

Make it predictable 

Lastly, your website’s predictability with positively influence its ADA compliance score. Predictability refers to not having input changes, having consistent navigation, consistent identification, form labels and instructions, error suggestions, and making sure the “HTML code is clean and free of errors.” 

Ways to test 

Your website developer should be implementing the above from the get-go, but there are ways to check a site for ADA compliance. These include manual testing with keyboard-only navigation or screen reader software, testing for contrast ratio with this tool, or using tools like WAVE and Lighthouse to “help generate a report on potential issues.” 


What else to expect 

Even though the ADA guidelines for sites have been around a while, they are just getting started (and more serious). While it’s not entirely clear what to expect in the future of web accessibility, it’s not too much of a stretch to think that affected businesses will expand past service-focused ones. There’s evidence that social media sites will also have to beef up their accessibility––which would include brands posting on social. 

It’s also likely true that there will be a “higher demand for UX professionals with specialized knowledge in accessibility. In the long term, this knowledge will be required for all UX professionals.” As the guidelines expand and grow, programs and platforms will likely start integrating in accessibility to make it easier for brands to achieve it from the beginning. 


Making the change 

Accessibility is a big deal. While it may be a lot of work at the moment, making your brand’s site more accessible will increase your audience reach, boost your SEO, and help you avoid unnecessary penalties and lawsuits. Plus, it’s the right thing to do. Maybe the best way to sum it up is this quote by Gregg Vanderheiden: “Disabilities do not change, technology changes.”