Your Website May Soon Need to be ADA-Compliant
The internet has revolutionized the way we work, play and live. As technology marches forward, we find ourselves increasingly free of constraints. While we don’t have flying cars yet, we live in a world where your workplace can be anywhere you set up your laptop, and just about everything you need can be delivered to your door following a brief interaction with an internet-enabled device.
The ability to work, make purchases, and conduct other routine tasks from wherever we are has especially impacted the lives of people with disabilities. Many people with circumstances limiting their mobility can avoid difficult journeys by using web-based services. Beyond the pragmatic completion of necessary tasks, the internet is undoubtedly the sole option for many disabled people to complete some tasks independently. But in order for individuals with disabilities to fully utilize the internet’s offerings, websites must first become fully accessible.
New website-specific ADA requirements expected in 2018
The World Wide Web Consortium first published Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) nearly 20 years ago. The current WCAG 2.0 identifies design and content considerations to support specialized output devices and otherwise enhance accessibility of websites for people with various disabilities.
In 2018, the Department of Justice is expected to issue regulations providing specific guidance for website compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). That guidance is expected to share scope with the WCAG. For now, the lack of a clear definition of what is necessary for a website to comply with the ADA does not prevent litigation. But once those regulations are published, they will represent a defined set of specific criteria to evaluate a website’s compliance with the ADA.
An accessible website extends your reach
Most people think of a website as a primarily visual medium. We are accustomed to selecting options and clicking buttons. But just as a computer has multiple options for input devices (such as a keyboard, mouse, or trackpad), there are also various output devices (such as a printer, monitor, or speaker.)
With today’s output options, visually impaired people, including people who are completely blind, can use the internet to the same extent as individuals with sight. These non-visual output devices, such as refreshable braille displays and audible screen readers, allow visually-impaired individuals to navigate the world in the same way as someone without a disability. Similar devices exist for people with hearing loss, limited movement, and other circumstances, giving all people access to the internet — everyone just doesn’t necessarily use or experience it in the same way.
Making your website accessible is only the beginning
The key to ongoing accessibility, and what we see many clients have not addressed adequately, is structuring a formal process. It is not just about making your institutions’ website accessible — it is about keeping it that way. Processes should be increasingly formalized in two distinct areas.
Building an accessible website
Your institution should specifically identify accessibility-related criteria during the planning phase of the project as your prepare to build or rebuild your website. Prior to completing your website, it should be tested using this criteria to validate that accessibility features were included and work as expected.
Maintaining an accessible website
The difficulty is that even if a website is originally designed with accessibility in mind, it must be maintained. Otherwise, modifications and updates may not include accessible features, so your website’s accessibility will likely only be temporary.
The process for building an accessible website (or improving accessibility for your current website) must be supplemented by a change management process which includes incorporating accessibility into modifications, and evaluating the overall impact on accessibility of any changes to the website.
When you create a process for developing and changing your website, identify opportunities to build in accessibility, and keep these changes within your budget. The goal isn’t just about making your website accessible to meet compliance — it’s about going beyond compliance when a reasonable opportunity exists to do so to make sure that everyone has access to your institution.
How we can help
At CliftonLarsonAllen (CLA), we can assist many of our clients — including financial institutions, nonprofits, health care and higher education organizations, and government entities — by performing consulting procedures that include aspects of WCAG 2.0, and are expected to also include aspects of the upcoming regulations. These procedures include the identification of potentially problematic aspects of clients’ websites, facilitating corrections, and evaluating change management processes to support ongoing accessibility.