The ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) was first introduced in Congress in 1988 by Senators Tom Harkin and Patrick Leahy. After many years of negotiation, the ADA was finally signed into law by President George H.W. Bush on July 26, 1990. The ADA is a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in all areas of public life, including employment, education, transportation, and access to public services and accommodations.
One of the main goals of the ADA is to ensure that people with disabilities have the same opportunities as everyone else to participate in the mainstream of American life. In order to achieve this goal, the law requires that all public accommodations and services be accessible to people with disabilities. This includes websites.
While the ADA does not specifically mention websites, the Department of Justice has said that public accommodation websites must be accessible under Title III of the ADA. This means that all website content must be accessible to people with disabilities, including text, images, audio, and video content. Although there are no official guidelines on how to make a website accessible, there are some general principles that all website owners should follow. W3C’s Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1 Level AA are generally recognized as the standard for website accessibility.
What can happen if my website is not ADA accessible?
If your website is not ADA accessible, you could be sued by a person with a disability who is unable to access your site. Currently, the Federal Courts of Appeals are split as to whether the term "public accommodation," as used in the ADA, refers only to an actual physical location or whether it can be applied to websites and mobile applications.
Dominos recently settled a lawsuit brought by the National Federation of the Blind for $12 million because the pizza chain’s website and mobile app were not accessible to people with vision disabilities. The settlement is the largest ever under the Americans with Disabilities Act for a website accessibility case.
After this case was settled, the Ninth Circuit Court settled that web-only businesses are not covered absent some nexus to a physical location (e.g., placing orders through Domino's website or mobile application for pickup at a physical restaurant) in the ADA. This means that many smaller businesses that only have an online presence are not currently covered by the ADA.
The line currently seems to be grey for web-only businesses. However, this could change in the future as other courts may interpret the ADA to include them. In addition, the DOJ has said that it is currently working on regulations that would extend the ADA to cover websites. So, in the future all websites will most likely be required to comply with the ADA. Regardless, of whether your website is currently covered by the ADA, it is always a good idea to make your site as accessible as possible.
Is My WordPress Website Accessible
The first step in checking to see if your WordPress website accessible is to perform an accessibility audit. An accessibility audit is a comprehensive review of your website to identify any potential accessibility barriers. There are many free and paid tools that can be used to perform an accessibility audit.
There are two types of audits, internal and external. An internal audit is conducted by someone within your organization, such as an employee or contractor. An external audit is conducted by an outside party, such as an accessibility consultant.
Both types of audits are important in order to get a complete picture of the accessibility of your website. It is generally a good idea to conduct both an internal and external audit. That way you can get a sense of any potential accessibility issues from both perspectives.
Internal audits include downloading plugins like the WP Accessibility Helper, which will help you identify any accessibility issues on your website. External audits are taken from an outside perspective, such as by using an online accessibility checker.
We recommend WAVE for external auditing and the One Click Accessibility plugin for internal auditing. Once you have performed an accessibility audit, you should have a list of potential accessibility barriers on your website. Common types of accessibility issues for WordPress websites include:
- Missing alt text on images
- Lack of color contrast
- Poorly organized content
- Missing headings
- Non-descriptive links
These are just a few of the potential accessibility issues that could be found on your website. Once you have identified any potential accessibility barriers, you can start working on fixing them.
How to Fix Accessibility Issues on Your WordPress Website
While it takes tons of hours to ensure your site is fully accessible, you can start by fixing some of the most common accessibility issues on WordPress websites. Here are five things you can do right now to make your WordPress website more accessible:
1. Use Alt Text for Images
Alt text is a text description of an image that is used by screen readers to describe the image to people who are blind or have low vision. It is important to use alt text for all images on your website, including images used in headers, footers, and sidebars.
To add alt text to an image in WordPress, simply click on the image in the post editor and enter your alt text in the “Alt Text” field.
2. Improve Color Contrast
Color contrast is the difference in lightness or darkness between two colors. It is important to use a high color contrast on your website so that people with vision disabilities can see your content.
You can improve the color contrast of your website by using a dark color for your text and a light color for your background. You can also use an accessibility plugin like WP Accessibility to automatically adjust the color contrast of your website. If your contrast is not accessible, users will have a hard time seeing your content if they are visually impaired.
Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) indicate that there should be a 4.5:1 ratio for regular text. If content is large a contrast ratio of 3:1 can exist. WCAG also provides requirements for non-text contrast. Non-text contrast requires visual information to meet a 3:1 contrast ratio.
3. Properly Organize & Structure Your Content
Poorly organized content can be difficult for people with disabilities to understand. That’s why it’s important to organize your content using headings, lists, and other HTML tags.
You can use the Heading drop-down menu in the WordPress post editor to add headings to your content. Headings should be used to denote different sections of your content. For example, you could use a heading for the introduction, another heading for the main body of the article, and a final heading for the conclusion.
You should ensure a proper heading styling across all your pages, only having 1 h1 per page that is the title, and using h2-h6 for subheadings without skipping levels.
4. Use Descriptive Links
Links should be descriptive so that people know where they are going to be taken when they click on them. For example, a link that says “click here” is not as descriptive as a link that says “ learn more about accessibility audits.”
Descriptive links help users understand the purpose or destination of the link, which can help them navigate the website more effectively and efficiently. This is especially important for users with visual or cognitive impairments, who may rely on the link text to understand the context and meaning of the link. Descriptive links can also help search engines understand the content and structure of your website, which can improve your search engine ranking and make it easier for users to find your website.
To edit the text of a link in WordPress, simply click on the link and enter your new link text in the “Link Text” field.
5. Ensure Content Works with Screen Readers
Screen readers are software programs that convert text to speech, so people who are blind or have low vision can listen to your content. It’s important to ensure that your content is accessible to screen readers so that people with disabilities can access your information.
There are a few ways to test if your content is accessible to screen readers. The most in-depth way is install a screen reader on your computer and test your website yourself. We recommend instead using a screen reader such as NVDA for Windows or Voiceover for Mac.
Accessibility use very important for tons of reasons. Often times people don't think about how important it is because they don't have to. If you take the time to make your website more accessible, you're opening the doors for a lot of people who might not otherwise be able to experience your content. It's a simple task that can go a long way!
We hope your WordPress websites are now more accessible than before! If you have any questions or suggestions, feel free to leave a comment below.