by Expio Marketing In Partnership with Clark Hill PCL
ADA and WCAG: Why it matters more than ever and what you need to do next.
Expio is Partnered with a Leading Law Firm with Expertise in ADA/WCAG Compliance
What is online ADA compliance?
Imagine not being able to see, hear, or perceive critical information for your life, family, or career. For those of us who do not have disabilities it’s easy to forget about the millions of people who also rely on technology, but struggle to be able to use it effectively or, sometimes, at all.
Now more than ever we live in an age where accessibility to technology is critical to our financial and overall well being. Every person deserves the opportunity to have as much accessibility as possible to the same technological resources and opportunities. This is not only the kind and ethical thing to do. It’s also smart business. As organizations, why would we want to miss an opportunity to serve and interact with potential customers simply because of some minor changes to our online presence?
The Americans with Disability Act (“ADA”) is a civil rights law that was enacted by the United States Congress in 1990 with the intent to eliminate discrimination against individuals with disabilities. The Department of Justice (“DOJ”) has established that the ADA requires any person, business or organization covered under the ADA to communicate effectively about their programs, services and activities, including information provided through business websites.
Website owners should therefore ensure that they can show compliance, and their intent to comply, with the ADA as well as the DOJ standards to avoid liability and punishment.
What is Online WCAG compliance?
“WCAG” stands for Web Content Accessibility Guidelines. These were developed by the W3C (World Wide Web Consortium) with the goal to improve accessibility guidance to cover a wide range of disabilities including visual, auditory, physical, speech, cognitive, language, learning and neurological disabilities.
The new DOJ standards are expected to incorporate these guidelines, which provide valuable insight regarding online ADA compliance, in part because these guidelines have become the internationally recognized benchmark for web accessibility. As a result, website owners will need to ensure compliance with the DOJ standards to avoid liability and potential DOJ enforcement and punishment.
Why is ADA-WCAG Compliance Important?
Just as poorly designed buildings prevent some people with disabilities from entering, websites can unintentionally create barriers for people with disabilities. Access problems can occur when website designers assume that everyone sees and accesses online information in the same way. This mistaken assumption can frustrate assistive technologies and their users and make equal access to information more difficult or impossible.
What are the Legal Risks and Consequences of ADA-WCAG Non-Compliance?
Online compliance with the ADA is required, and the DOJ will soon be able to enforce its new mandatory technical standards and take action against website owners who are not in compliance with the law.
To provide nondiscriminatory information and avoid liability and punishment, including fines and economic penalties, every website owner should take action to comply with the ADA and DOJ standards. Working with technical experts at Expio Digital Marketing LLC and legal experts as Clark Hill is an excellent way to become compliant with the new governmental standards and establish intent to comply with these requirements.
Please read <AMERICANS WITH DISABILITY ACT APPLIED TO ONLINE USE> below
Do Online ADA and WCAG Guidelines Apply to My Company, Brand or Organization?
If you are providing any kind of online product, service or information (as a for profit or non-profit) on a publicly accessible website, you are most likely required to be compliant.
What Do I Need to Do to Ensure My Company’s Website is ADA-WCAG Compliant?
At Expio, we can provide you with a comprehensive ADA-WCAG audit that identifies compliance issues and provides technical recommendations to remediate the issues. Also, we are uniquely and exclusively partnered with the ADA online legal experts at Clark Hill. Clark Hill will provide a legal validation and opinion exclusive to Expio audits.
Your site and applications will be evaluated using the following methods:
- Automated testing
- Automated scanning
- Manual testing
- Screen reader testing using JAWS / Chrome
- Low vision / color blindness testing – color contrast analysis
- Low vision ZoomText
- Keyboard testing
- Cognitive testing
- Multisite implications
- When compliance issues are discovered through this process, we will compile them into a list that either the in-house team or Expio experts can execute.
We assess all content types, templates and exceptions to templates (custom forms, etc) for ADA-WCAG compliance.
- Conducted by a Certified Accessibility Expert CPACC Auditor (WCAG 2.0/ 2.1, Section 508, ADA and Assistive Technology).
- VPAT (voluntary product accessibility template).
- Implementation Standards (WAI-ARIA 1.0 standards, html5, CSS, Angular JS, Developer Tools, etc).
- Only licensed software for manual testing.
- Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.0 and WCAG 2.1), WAI-ARIA, and ADA Section 508 guidelines.
- Use of most recent VPAT revisions.
- Assistive technology including JAWS 2019, NVDA, VoiceOver, Dragon 15 and ZoomText 2019.
- Use of accessibility testing tools such as aXe, WAVE, MS Insight, Lighthouse, etc.
- Expert mobile screen reader user in both Android (Talkback) and iOS (VoiceOver)
Legal Considerations and Penalties
*See Addendum Below: AMERICANS WITH DISABILITY ACT APPLIED TO ONLINE USE
Upon delivering the assessment, we will recommend a list of changes. These can be performed by your in-house team or contracted to Expio experts to execute.
- Website and application reviews/audits with technical recommendations.
- VPAT (voluntary product accessibility template) document.
- Color/ design reviews for accessibility compliance report.
- UI/Prototype design reviews for usability compliance report.
- Legal assessment and opinion of the technical assessment.
The cost is dependent on the size of your website as well as the type and number of applications or software that are native to the site.
*AMERICANS WITH DISABILITY ACT APPLIED TO ONLINE USE
The Americans with Disability Act (“ADA”) is a civil rights law that was enacted by the United States Congress in 1990 with the intent to eliminate discrimination against individuals with disabilities. Although the ADA started as a law intended to provide equal physical access to physical business locations, it now also applies to provide equal access to all online services and business services.
The Department of Justice (“DOJ”) has established that the ADA requires any person, business, or organization covered under the ADA to communicate effectively about their programs, services, and activities including information provided through business websites. Not only must “brick and mortar” locations be physically accessible, but websites must also be accessible to, and usable by, all people with disabilities. Website owners should therefore ensure that they can show compliance, and their intent to comply, with the ADA as well as the DOJ Standards to avoid liability and punishment.
Website development and management experts such as Expio Consultants LLC, can help website owners develop and maintain ADA compliant websites. A premier law firm with online ADA compliance expertise such as Clark Hill can help establish a website owner’s compliance as well as the intent to comply.
Just as poorly designed buildings prevent some people with disabilities from entering, websites can unintentionally create barriers for people with disabilities. Access problems can occur when website designers assume that everyone sees and accesses an online information in the same way. This mistaken assumption can frustrate assistive technologies and their users and make equal access to information more difficult or impossible.
Online Barriers Faced by People with Disabilities.
Millions of Americans have disabilities that affect their ability to obtain and understand information transmitted through vision, hearing or touch senses. Many of these people use assistive technology that enables them to use the Internet and websites to understand information transmitted via the Internet. Some assistive technology involves separate computer programs or devices, such as screen readers, text enlargement software, and computer programs that enable people to control the computer with their voice. Other assistive technology is built into computer operating systems. For example, basic accessibility features in computer operating systems enable some people with low vision to see computer displays by simply adjusting color schemes, contrast settings, and font sizes. Operating systems also enable people with limited manual dexterity to move the mouse pointer using key strokes instead of a standard mouse. Many other types of assistive technology are currently available, and more are being developed.
- Visual Disabilities
Individuals who are blind or have low vision or have color blindness often confront significant barriers to web access. This is because many websites provide information visually without features that allow screen readers or other assistive technology to retrieve information on the website so it can be presented in an accessible manner. Similarly, complex websites often lack navigational coding or links that would facilitate navigation using screen readers or may contain tables with header and row identifiers that display data but fail to provide associated cells for each header and row so that the table information can be interpreted by a screen reader.
Two commonly used assistive technologies are screen readers and refreshable Braille displays. A screen reader is a computer program that speaks the text that appears on the computer display, beginning in the top-left corner. A refreshable Braille display is an electronic device that translates text into Braille characters that can be read by touch. Although these assistive technologies read text, they cannot translate images into speech or Braille even if words appear in the images. For example, these technologies cannot interpret a photograph of a stop sign, even if the word “stop” appears in the image. As a result, other website modifications may be necessary to assist such users.
- Physical/Dexterity Disabilities
Website owners also need to provide accessibility to people who cannot use their hands, and therefore, cannot use a mouse or touch pad due to a physical condition or muscle control issues. Such alternative access can include using speech recognition software to navigate websites, delaying or extending response time requirements within a website, teletypewriters and alternative means of directing a cursor to use a particular website such as eye tracking technology.
- Hearing Impairments
Website owners also need to provide access to users with hearing impairments. Individuals who are hard of hearing may need to make sound adjustments other than simply increasing speaker volume and deaf persons are unable to access information in web videos and other multimedia presentations that do not have captions. As a result, deaf individuals have a need for alternatives to sound such as written text or pictures, graphics or video that relay the same information.
- Cognitive Impairment
Individuals with learning disabilities such as Dyslexia may require special accommodations and may need assistance with understanding written language. Audio or video presentation of information can be helpful in making the same information available to people with cognitive impairment.
- Documents Not Posted In An Accessible Format
Websites often post documents on their websites using Portable Document Format (PDF). But PDF documents, or those in other image-based formats, are often not accessible to blind people who use screen readers and people with low vision who use text enlargement programs or different color and font settings to read computer displays. It may therefore be advisable to provide documents in an alternative text-based format, such as TML or RFT (Rich Text Format). In addition to PDF, text-based formats are the most compatible with assistive technologies.
- Specifying Colors and Font Sizes
Webpage designers often have aesthetic preferences and may want everyone to see their webpages in exactly the same color, size and layout. But because of a disability, many people with low vision do not see webpages the same as other people. Some see only small portions of a computer display at one time. Others cannot see text or images that are too small. Still others can only see website content if it appears in specific colors. For these reasons, many people with low vision use specific color and font settings when they access the Internet. Settings that are often very different from those most people use. For example, many people with low vision need to use high contrast settings, such as bold white or yellow letters on a black background. Others need just the opposite – bold black text on a white or yellow background. And, many must use softer, more subtle color combinations.
Users need to be able to manipulate color and font settings in their web browsers and operating systems in order to make pages readable. Some webpages, however, are designed so that changing the color and font settings is impossible. Under the ADA, websites should be designed so they can be viewed with the color and font sizes set in users’ web browsers and operating systems. Users with low vision must be able to specify the text and background colors as well as the font sizes need to see webpage content.
- Videos and Other Multimedia May Lack Accessible Features.
Due to increasing bandwidth and connection speeds, videos and other multimedia are becoming more common on the websites of state and local governments. Today, some show websites post training videos for employees, show automated slide shows of recent public events, and offer video tours of facilities or services.
These and other types of multimedia can present two distinct problems for people with different disabilities. People who are deaf or hard of hearing can generally see the information presented on webpages but may not be able to hear the audio track of a video. On the other hand, persons who are blind or have low vision are frequently unable to see the video images but can hear the audio tract. As a solution, videos should incorporate features that make them accessible to everyone. Such as providing audio descriptions of images (including changes in setting, gestures, and other details) to make videos accessible to people who are blind or have low vision, and providing text captions synchronized with video images to make videos and audio tracks accessible to people who are deaf or hard of hearing.
- Other Considerations When Developing Websites
Website development and management experts such as Expio Digital Marketing, LLC often consider other factors when developing websites, such as:
- Whether to include a “skip navigation” link at the top of web pages that allows people who use screen readers to ignore navigation links and skip directly to webpage content;
- Whether to minimize or alter the use of blinking, flashing or other distracting features; if they must be included, ensure that moving, blinking or auto-updating objects or pages may be paused or stopped;
- Whether to design online forms to include descriptive HTML tags that provide persons with disabilities the information they need to complete and submit the forms;
- Whether to include visual notification and transcripts if sounds automatically play;
- Whether to provide a second, static copy of pages that are auto-refreshing or that do not require a timed response;
- Whether to use titles, context and other heading structures to help users navigate complex pages or elements (such as webpages that use frames).
Technology is changing, and many website designers such as Expio Digital Marketing LLC are using creative and innovative ways to present web-based materials. These changes may involve new and different access problems and solutions for people with disabilities.
The W3C, Web Accessibility Initiative and Application to Online ADA Compliance
In an effort to create standardized policies for online ADA compliance for websites, the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) works to establish common web standards so that web developers have a common foundation from which to work. Within the W3C’s mission is the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) to aid in creating techniques to address accessibility issues for everyone including disabled persons.
According to the W3C, the most recent set of standards known as Web Content Accessibility Guidelines “WCAG” were “initiated with the goal to improve accessibility guidance for three major groups: users with cognitive or learning disabilities, users with low vision, and users with disabilities on mobile devices…WCAG 2.1 builds on and is backwards compatible with WCAG 2.0, meaning web pages that conform to WCAG 2.1 also conform to WCAG 2.0”. The new DOJ Standards are expected to incorporate these guidelines, which provide valuable insight regarding online ADA compliance, in part because these Guidelines have become the internationally recognized benchmark for web accessibility. Further, the DOJ is in the process of adopting specific technical requirements for web accessibility to accomplish nondiscriminatory and effective communication and is expected to continue basing its requirements on the WCAG Guidelines. As a result, website owners will need to ensure compliance with the DOJ Standards to avoid liability and potential DOJ enforcement and punishment.
Of note, there are four main principles of the guidelines that state should be evaluated when analyzing the effectiveness and compliance of new or updated websites: Perceivable; Operable; Understandable and Robust.
The first main principle is that the online information must be perceivable. All content has a way to be perceived and, by providing different sensory methods, the information may be perceived and received in varying ways. Techniques affecting perception of information include:
- Providing text for images;
- Providing sufficient color contrast;
- Providing text for audio/video content (transcripts/closed captioning);
- Providing visual cues to supplement sound alerts; and
- Providing visual focus on active elements.
Next, the information must be operable. Of note, navigation of a website can be carried out in many ways including without the need of a visual pointing device (the mouse or laptop touch pad). Content navigation can be improved by providing sufficient structure to the navigation tools. Such techniques affecting navigation operation include:
- All navigation and functionality can be achieved using the keyboard;
- Touch screens have sufficient hit areas;
- Headings to denote important content blocks are included; and
- Error recovery is provided.
Because a mouse and a touch pad, which are pointing devices, rely on vision, all functionality must be possible without the need for using a mouse or a touch pad.
Information must also be understandable. Making content understandable means using well-organized information created in a way that is easy to understand. It also includes identifying controls, defining their purpose and using the controls in a consistent manner. Further, non-text information, such as graphics and multimedia, is made understandable by supplying alternative text. An example of alternative text would be a transcript for an audio recording. As a result, making information understandable means including:
- Text labels for form fields;
- Consistent layouts;
- Clear language in copydecks;
- Consistent use of controls and layouts; and
- Information is supplemented with images or audio.
Content should also be sufficiently robust to be usable across various systems. Many different operating systems and browsing devices are used to obtain and interpret information. Robust content is able to render on a wide spectrum of systems, including:
- Creating content that adheres to technical specifications; and
- Using valid HTML.
Development of an Action Plan for Providing Accessible Websites
Website owners should develop an action plan to fix web content that is currently inaccessible and implement procedures to ensure that all new and modified web content is accessible. Consulting with experts such as Expio Digital Marketing, LLC can streamline the implementation of the necessary process and procedures, such as:
- Checking the HTML of all new webpages;
- Making sure that websites are designed so they can be displayed using the color and font settings of each visitor’s browser and operating system;
- If images are used, including photos, graphics, scanned images or image maps, make sure to include a text equivalent, by adding “alt” tags or long descriptions, for each;
- Making online forms and tables accessible by labeling each control (including buttons, check boxes, drop-down menus and text fields) with a descriptive HTML tag; and
- When posting documents on the website, providing them in HTML or a text-based format (even if you are also providing them in another format, such as PDF).
Website Owners Should Show Compliance and Intent to Comply
As noted above, the DOJ has stated that the ADA requires any person, business or organization covered under the ADA to communicate effectively about their programs, services, and activities, including information provided through business websites. Further, the DOJ has explained that it considers the WCAG Guidelines as the accessibility standard for websites and is in the process of mandating specific technical standards in a final rule. As a result, online compliance with the ADA is required and the DOJ will soon be able to enforce its new mandatory technical standards and take action against website owners who are not in compliance with the law.
In order to provide nondiscriminatory information and avoid liability and punishment including fines and economic penalties, every website owner should take action to comply with the ADA and DOJ standards. Working with technical experts at Expio Digital Marketing LLC and legal experts as Clark Hill is an excellent way to become compliant with the new governmental standards and establish intent to comply with these requirements.
More information can be obtained from Andy Roller of Expio Digital Marketing LLC or David Ovard at Clark Hill.
Owner, Expio Digital Marketing LLC
David Ovard, Member