Note: At Marketing Essentials, we’re marketers, not lawyers. Please don’t take any of this information as legal advice, but as guidelines for building a more accessible website.
From updating pages and writing content to finding the right photos and promoting your services, maintaining a website can be hard work. So when you hear about new web regulations, you might wonder what they are or if it’s even worth it to follow them.
Here’s what you need to know about website accessibility - and why you should care.
What is Website Accessibility?
When you think of accessibility in the real world, you might think of wheelchair ramps, ridged pavement near crosswalks, or large-print text in a book. These features make everyday life easier for people of all abilities without interrupting what they’re doing.
Accessibility online works similarly. Examples of online accessibility features include text sizing that can be adjusted, font colors that can be clearly seen against the background and text descriptions of images.
All of these features can make your website easier to use for people who have various disabilities. Even people who don’t have disabilities could find them handy, too. Making these updates can have other benefits, as you’ll see below.
Does My Website Need to be Accessible?
At this point, you’re probably wondering if your website needs to have features like these and how extensive they need to be.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a civil rights law in the U.S. that prohibits discrimination again people with disabilities in all aspects of public life.
It has this to say about accessibility: “Businesses covered by the ADA are required to modify their business policies and procedures when necessary to serve customers with disabilities and take steps to communicate effectively with customers with disabilities.”
Notice they didn’t say anything to distinguish between online and offline accessibility. That’s where a grey area comes in. While the ADA doesn’t specifically lay out website requirements for businesses, it’s easy to see how the online world would also fall under these regulations.
So, do you really need to be concerned with accessibility?
Consider the case of Gil v. Winn-Dixie, a grocery store chain in the southern U.S. The court found that the store’s website was not accessible to users with visual disabilities and was also covered as a public accommodation under the ADA. Under the ruling, the company must update its website and pay more than $100,000 in legal fees.
Moral of the story: Your company may not be as large as Winn-Dixie, but it’s a smart move to make your site ADA compliant sooner rather than later.
Website Accessibility Guidelines
If there are no specific ADA web guidelines, how should you make sure your website is compliant? There are a few ways to approach this.
One is by following the Website Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), which are used by developers around the world to create websites that all people can use. While these guidelines are not part of a law - at least not in the U.S. - they are a good starting point for making your website accessible.
If you fulfill WCAG guidelines, you’ll almost certainly be fulfilling ADA requirements. WCAG uses the acronym POUR to explain which aspects of a website need to be accessible:
Perceivable - The information and features of a website must be able to be perceived by all users.
Operable - All functionality can be accomplished by using a keyboard, not just a mouse.
Understandable - Everyone should be able to understand the content and site layout.
Robust - Websites should be compatible with assistive technologies like screen readers and other user agents.
There are two levels of WCAG compliance: AA and AAA. AA is the recommended standard for most websites. AAA represents the highest standards that are ideal, but probably not attainable for most companies. Below, you’ll find a list of some of the simplest features to begin updating.
Add a text description - or alt tag - to all images on your site. This can be done easily through Wordpress or another platform. Keep it brief and describe your image clearly in context.
This can be a good place to add keywords, but use caution: Only add them if they make sense for the image. Focus on describing what the photo shows, not keyword-stuffing.
For accessibility as well as good design, use a dark font against a very light background. Try using an online color accessibility checker to see how your palette stacks up.
As for font, many websites include a toggle that allows users to increase or decrease the size of the text. Make the font large enough to easily read, and consider adding a font size selector to your site, especially if (like many senior living companies) many of your users are older.
Add closed-captioning to your videos. This can be done right in YouTube or with a Vimeo integration. For a more extensive video, you can pay for a professional service. And for other types of multimedia, add descriptions and captions that explain the content.
Visit the WCAG website for a full list of AA-compliant website guidelines. Remember, the goal is to make your site as easy to use as possible for everyone. That means making it simple for people with disabilities to find and access information without going out of their way.
You probably noticed that many of these guidelines not only make for a more accessible website, but also create a better overall user experience - and some can boost your SEO. That means making these updates is a win-win for both you and your audience.
Need Help With Your Website?
Keeping up with website updates and changes can be exhausting, especially if you’re also juggling other marketing and sales tasks.
While we’re talking about websites, let’s talk about yours. Is it attracting and converting enough leads? Are you proud of the design? Or are you struggling to make it work for you?
Get website improvement suggestions in a matter of minutes with our free digital marketing checklist. Download it today, take charge of your digital strategy and see what you need to know to stay competitive.