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ADA Compliance in Digital Spaces

According to the estimates by the General Assembly of the United Nations, there are over 1.5 billion people with disabilities across the world. That number is only expected to grow in the future due to aging societies.

However, the problem is that most digital spaces today aren’t nearly as accessible as they should be. The 2023 report on the web content accessibility released by WebAIM detected failures to conform to the international accessibility standards set by WCAG 2.0 (aka Web Content Accessibility Guidelines) on 96.3% of top one million home pages.

This is why it’s absolutely necessary to create digital spaces that will be fully accessible to people with disabilities.

What Is ADA Compliance?

ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) is a civil rights law enacted in 1990 to prohibit employment discrimination and guarantee equal access to public services and transportation, public accommodations and commercial facilities, and telephone and internet services for people with disabilities.

The law applies to federal, state, and local governments, all businesses and organisations that offer public accommodations such as hospitals, doctor's offices, pharmacies, banks, schools and colleges, airports, restaurants, hotels, theatres, museums, libraries, parks, daycare centres, retail stores, as well as most other businesses. But the law doesn’t only apply to physical spaces (i.e., the bricks-and-mortar businesses), but also their online domains (i.e., their websites and other web content).

Ignoring ADA requirements can cause not only risk to the reputation of a business, but can also create a potential for lawsuits. According to the latest data by UsableNET, a New York-based accessibility solutions company, website accessibility lawsuits have risen exponentially in 2023.

What’s particularly interesting is that 77% of those lawsuits in 2023 were filed against small companies, those under $25 million in revenue - as opposed to large businesses. In other words, no matter the size of a business, accessibility is an absolute must.

The Significance of ADA in Digital Spaces

ADA compliance is not only necessitated by law, it’s also a moral imperative and an important business consideration. W3C (World Wide Web Consortium) that creates WCAG guidelines argues that digital accessibility can drive innovation, enhance your brand, and extend your market reach, and minimize your legal risk.

Businesses prioritizing accessibility concerns in their digital environments can reach an enormous untapped customer base. According to Forbes, the annual disposable income of people with disabilities is estimated to be around $544 billion in the U.S. alone, and $6.9 trillion globally when family and close friends of people with disabilities are included in the equation.

A survey by Click-Away Pound determined that in 2019 alone, customers abandoning a retail website because of accessibility barriers cost UK business over £17 billion in sales. So, it’s easy to conclude that creating fully accessible digital environments can prove to be quite profitable.

What’s more, creating more accessible digital spaces can benefit all people, including those without disabilities, by creating a more accommodating and customer-friendly environment. Accessible digital spaces, such as websites and applications, provide more flexible options for user interaction that are useful to all customers in various situations.

It’s worth remembering that many innovations, including automatic door openers, email, voice controls, text-to-speech, auto-correct, and others, were initially created as means of accessibility for people with disabilities but have later found a broader application among all people, regardless of their ability status.

ADA Compliance in Web Content

The problem that often occurs with ADA is that the law itself doesn’t specify what online content creators need to do to make their websites accessible. However, the United States Department of Justice has frequently referenced WCAG 2.0 Level AA as the goal for website accessibility. Note that Level A is the most basic, and Level AAA is the most advanced conformance level.

In order to comply with WCAG 2.0 or WCAG 2.1 Level AA, here are some of the most important elements your web content must provide:

Captions

Pre-recorded and live videos that contain audio should provide accurate, synchronised captions that clearly identify the speaker. Captions are not only helpful to people who are deaf or hard of hearing but also to people who are watching videos in noisy or quiet environments, as well as people who process written information better than audio information.

Alternative Text

Alternative text (also known as alt text) provides textual information for non-text web content, such as images, graphs, CAPTCHAs, etc. It’s a requirement for people using assistive technologies who may not be able to see the graphical elements. Note that this requirement doesn’t apply to purely decorative images.

Audio Descriptions

Audio description is used to provide visual information (including actions, changes in scene settings, costumes, etc.) necessary to understand a video's content in a voiceover form. The inclusion of audio descriptions makes a video accessible to people who are blind, have low vision, or other visual impairments.

Transcripts

Pre-recorded videos should also include a non-synchronized text version of speech and non-speech audio information, ideally on the same page as the video (for example, in the video description section) or on another linked page. Transcripts are useful for people who are deaf or hard of hearing, have difficulty processing auditory information, or can’t listen to or clearly hear the audio due to being in noisy or quiet environments.
Colour Contrasts

Sufficient colour contrasts between the text (including hyperlinked text and coloured buttons) and backgrounds are necessary for people with colour blindness or low vision. It’s also important not to use colour alone to convey meaning or important information, but rather to use different patterns, graphics, or text instead. A website should also use readable and legible fonts so that people with certain vision impairments have no difficulty reading the text.

Keyboard & Video Player Accessibility

All website functions should be operable with a keyboard so people with limited mobility or other disabilities don’t have to rely on a mouse for navigation. Your media player should also feature functionality that can support all accessibility requirements, including playing and controlling a video and its volume solely through a keyboard.

Easy Navigation

A website should include a “Click to Content” link allowing users to skip directly to the main website area (e.g., skipping a website intro to reach the main menu). Website content should also be available in any screen size (computer, tablet, mobile phone, etc.) and either screen orientation (portrait or landscape).

Other things that can ease navigation include an option to turn off or change single-key shortcuts, an option to pause or stop auto-playing content, and an option to control time limits when reading or engaging with any kind of web content. It’s also recommended to use clear and helpful headings, web page titles, and labels that make finding content and navigating a website easier.

Adjustment Functionality

Make sure that website visitors can resize text up to 200%, as well as adjust text spacing without loss of functionality or content (e.g., text being cut off or disappearing).

To fulfil ADA compliance requirements in digital spaces and save hours of content creation work, use Subly to:

  • Create highly accurate subtitles or captions in over 30 languages and dialects, as well as translate them in over 70 languages
  • Create transcriptions
  • Create audio descriptions
  • Improve colour contrasts that boost the accessibility of your video files

Remember that ADA compliance in digital spaces creates an optimal user experience for everyone, regardless of their abilities, lowers your risk of lawsuits, and helps you reach more potential customers than ever before.

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