What is ADA Compliance?

"The Americans with Disabilities Act was signed into law in 1990 in order to prohibit discrimination and guarantee that people with disabilities have the same opportunities as everyone else to participate in the mainstream of American life." This critical law certainly includes online activities! For those with disabilities, accessing a website can be difficult if it's not properly optimized for their respective needs. Consider the following to better understand the importance of tailoring your presence to meet the needs of those with disabilities:

  • Approximately 54.5 million people have some type of disability in the US-that's 18.7% of the total population.
  • 53% of people over the age of 75 have a disability, so as baby boomers are growing older, this number is only increasing.
  • Disabilities when accessing websites include visual impairment, hearing loss, and physical challenges using keyboards and a mouse.
  • Additionally, consider those with mental disabilities such as autism-as this can be a challenge when adding front end visual effects or elements.

When Do You Need to Think About This for Your Website?

While there can be many circumstances under which creating an ADA compliant website is a conversation, there tends to be several scenarios that businesses face most frequently. While this surely isn't limited to the list below, these situations are generally what we see most frequently when working with clients, so keep them in mind as you begin initiatives for your own website.

  • Do you need an ADA compliant website for internal purposes? Would this help improve the efficiency of work at your organization?
  • Does your corporation have a CSR (corporate social responsibility) policy that includes this?
  • Is a significant portion of your targeted audience impaired or disabled?

Challenges for Visually Impaired Users

Visually impaired users (with limited visual fields or complete loss of sight) cannot interact with an interface the same way a non-challenged user is able to. It's not only the blind that can have trouble with visuals on a website-a lot of the time common users can have issues reading certain font sizes, font styles, or even color choices. Solution: Avoid Dictating Colors and Font Settings Websites should be designed so they can be viewed with the color and font sizes in a user's web browser and operating system. Users with low vision must be able to specify the text and background colors as well as the font sizes need to see the content on the page.


In a similar vein, Facebook's first blind engineer has been making headlines as he's created an incredible tool to help Facebook users with vision disabilities use the popular social platform similarly to how their peers do. The new program identifies general but essential elements of a friend's photograph and shares it with the user through audio. As this becomes more "mainstream," the importance of using technology to help those with disabilities engage with brands and communities online will hopefully become more widely understood.

Challenges for Hearing Loss Users

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While visually a site may pose no challenges, the trend to include video content means that this valuable information may not be reaching a portion of the site audience. Hearing impaired users cannot engage with videos or audio guides. Solution: Provide Text Scripts Not only is it good for SEO, but a text version of your video can help communication with hearing and visually impaired users.

Challenges for Physically Challenged Users

larger buttons for usability

Physical challenges impair the ability to interact with keystrokes and using a mouse. This can cause difficulties as far as engaging and interacting with calls-to-action, buttons, or user inputs. Limited use of hands or fingers can make it very hard for users to click on items if they're too small or close to other items on a page. Solution: Consider Simplified User Pathways Larger CTAs and more space between interactive elements can make navigation easier for physically impaired users. To be sure that your website is "disability-friendly" for those physically challenged, make all clickable items have a wider range so that someone can easily click in the area surrounding the "button" and it will still click through.

Challenges for Users with Cognitive Difficulties

simple web design

For people with cognitive impairments such as autism, brain injuries, or dementia, problems with layout, design, and navigational structure can make all the difference between the ability to use a site or not. Learning disabilities typically make it difficult to digest language or numbers in content. Including too many design elements or functionalities on a site can actually increase the stress levels of users with autism. Solution: Simplify Tasks While this is always a goal, it's even more important for users that suffer from sensory overload. Limit the number of options available, provide users with a cohesive and narrow decision structure, and avoid the use of simultaneous tasks.

Web Design Process and ADA Compliance

When beginning a new website design project that will follow the appropriate ADA guidelines, it's important to think about the project implications as it will play a role in the entire process. Think about the considerations, objectives, and needs of your business:

  • Will this meet your internal requirements?
  • Are there limitations with your design and content types
  • Do you have the budget to complete this project and test it for usability?

From a design and development standpoint, it's essential to remember that creating a website according to these guidelines does require additional planning, design, development, and quality assurance. The length of time for the project as well as the cost can be more than your average website design project because of additional:

  • Usability considerations
  • Font and color limitations
  • Coding requirements
  • Quality assurance and testing needs
  • Content considerations

SEO and ADA Alignment

With SEO playing such a significant role in online business growth today, it's interesting to take a look at how closely best practices with SEO and ADA compliance are aligned. Search engines place value on web pages that can offer the highest value and best user-experience to readers, so it's no surprise that the guidelines and best practices for both mirror each other so closely:

  • Include alt text on all images
  • Links should have a text description (not "click here")
  • Use text descriptions for all videos
  • Make all PDFs available also in HTML format
  • Use descriptive ghost text for forms

Basic Considerations for Managing ADA Compliance

Ultimately, when creating websites with ADA compliance top of mind, it's important you think about users and how those with disabilities will actually be using the site. Below is a list of basic considerations that can serve as a simple checklist and guide for your business' site:

  • Provide every image, video or audio file, and plug-in with an alt tag
  • Use detailed text descriptions to accompany complex graphics
  • Alt descriptions should describe the purpose of the objects
  • If an image is also used as a link, the alt tag should describe the graphic AND the link destination
  • Include captions on videos
  • Include audio descriptions and text transcripts
  • Create a link to the video rather than embedding it in your web pages
  • Data tables should have the column and row headers appropriately identified using the tag
  • Table cells should be associated with the appropriate headers -with the id, headers, scope or axis HTML attributes
  • Provide a link to a disability-accessible page where the plug-in can be downloaded
  • When form controls are text input fields, use the LABEL element
  • The ADA has created a checklist to help guide the decision making and planning process. Other guidelines from additional institutions are also available to help serve as a regulatory point of view for ensuring websites are accessible, including the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines or the Web Guidelines from Section 508 of the US Rehabilitation Act. However, there is no governing body that reviews websites on a regular basis to see if they meet compliance measures, so it's up to your business to make sure that you're taking the appropriate measures to accommodate your users.