There was once a famous story in which Count Bassie told a night club owner that he wouldn’t be back until their piano was fixed. The owner called him and said it was fixed. Count Bassie sat down and played the piano and said, “It’s still out of tune.“ The owner said, “but I gave it a new coat of paint.“ It’s a story of not knowing the right thing to fix, or knowing what is important to comply with what outcome is expected.
Likewise, in the world of websites, life can get complicated, especially if you are a mid-sized to large business. What is appropriate and what that means is that regulations can sometimes be complex. What sounds simple, fixing a website so it’s ADA compliant, may actually be complex. The coding to adhere to the regulations can take many man-hours to retro fix a website to do a simple task.
With the world of E-Commerce in full swing, come the same ADA rules that apply to brick and mortar businesses. Websites of places of services, like hospitals also come into play with these new rules. Except, in an odd virtual way, they don’t. Many don’t realize that there is a requirement to have your website be ADA compliant and that without ADA compliance 15% of the internet population cannot see or access your site. How much money are you leaving on the table with that statistic alone? Never mind the possibility of a lawsuit and judgment against you. The additional fact that the ADA has not finalized its criteria for what actual constitutes and ADA compliant website make it all the more difficult. However, there are guidelines that you can begin to follow.
When you are a global managed IT service company, you need to keep up-to-date to provide your customers with the best available website. Not only do you have to worry about SEO, but ADA Compliance has become the new element in web design that must be mastered.
Currently, this means that the MSP website must also be ADA compliant. Nevertheless, discerning what is mandated and what are the minimum requirements fall into territory that is ambiguous and difficult, but what does that mean for you?
Oddly, it’s not clear what some of the rules and some of the risks of not having an ADA compliant website are. These rules and law seem to currently be in a trial and error phase in the court system. The government pushes one way, and big business pushes another and the subtle and not so subtle lines of what is ADA compliant are pushed back and forth endlessly. As a web designer or a business with a website, knowing what some of those boundaries are cannot only make your website more accessible to many, but it also takes care of the legal compliance that can get you in trouble.
On the other hand, this seeming lack of direction and attempt at absolute focus can make these rules feel like the equivalent of trying to hold wet, oily noodles. Squishy and you don’t know what to grab.
You need to determine:
- What is necessary?
- What is required?
- How are you held accountable?
Some of the rules seem to be well explained, but in implementing them, they may not be. You must also look at the cost effectiveness and time constraints in altering a large website to comply.
What is ADA Compliance?
ADA is the acronym for the Americans with Disabilities Act. In 1990, the Americans with Disabilities Act was created in the United States to help individuals with many kinds of disabilities so that they have easy access in a multitude of ways. This act relates to all public spaces, which should be accessible to persons with disabilities. But now, this goes beyond the brick and mortar buildings with braille on elevators and ramps to access the building. The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) updated the ADA Standards for Accessible Design in 2010, making it a law and a necessity to apply this law to applications, websites, and documents. This got another bump in January 2018, when new federal regulations, which are more stringent, took effect. Now, all federal institutions’ websites must meet ADA compliance. They must also comply with on all items in WCAG 2.0, which came into effect in January of 2019. Often, there is a 60-90 day grandfathered grace period to alter the website. By including these non-physical locations, the ADA has ushered in a new level of accessibility. ADA makes it clear that the same level of accessibility should be granted online to disabled people, who are already are guaranteed accessibility, by law, offline.
In the modern age, of drop shipping and delivery, as well as filling out forms online, these guidelines set a precedence of caring for our most vulnerable population.
So what does this mean to your MSP website?
When you are a managed service provider, you need to keep your MSP website up-to-date and compliant. It’s not just fun and games; it’s a necessity. It can have grave consequences if these standards of protocol are not met. There have been a number of lawsuits involving large companies who were not ADA compliant. This costs the companies time and money and trouble. Big Trouble. According to the Law 360 website, “a federal judge has ruled that the lack of accessibility of the supermarket chain Winn-Dixie’s website violated a blind Florida man’s rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act.“
Another high-profile case was the National Federation of the Blind and their detailed lawsuit against the Scribd digital library. They sought to have Scribd digital library redesign the website so that it would work with screen reader software.
As of 2016, there were over 240 lawsuits involving mid-size to large companies who were not ADA compliant on their websites. According to the Bureau of Internet Accessibility: “Between January and August 2017, there were 432 ADA lawsuits filed in federal court—more than the total number of ADA lawsuits in 2015 and 2016 combined.“ The number has increased exponentially.
Many of these lawsuits were class actions, and many were in the hospitality, retail, and financial services industries. Schools, hospitals, and educational institutes have not had as much time in courts, but that does not make them exempt from being sued or being audited with the same rigor. Winn-Dixie and Target were two of the most prominent and high-profile class action suits involving their website access; there are many others. Some companies have been blindsided by the ADA compliance mandate.
Should you be worried? Probably.
What is the WCAG 2.0?
The Web content Accessibility Guidelines or WCAG for short, it is now in the 2.0 version.
According to the WCAG 2.0 Guideline website:
“Web content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 covers a wide range of recommendations for making Web content more accessible. Following these guidelines will make content accessible to a wider range of people with disabilities, including blindness and low vision, deafness and hearing loss, learning disabilities, cognitive limitations, limited movement, speech disabilities, photosensitivity and combinations of these. Following these guidelines will also often make your Web content more usable to users in general. “
It seems that it would help your website be more available to all individuals, but especially those with disabilities. It sounds good, but implementing some of the requirements can be tricky and time-consuming.
According to Christian Antkowiak:
“Courts have taken essentially the following position on the issue of whether websites are places of public accommodation: Website accessibility fulfills the spirit of the ADA by lowering the barriers for people with disabilities to participate in business and commerce.“
Four Categories of guidelines for ADA Compliance
The guidelines are broken down into four distinct categories. Each category describes the objectives of website testing and evaluation.
- Text Alternatives: There must be the possibility of the use of alt text within the HTML captioning of the image to allow any relevant non-decorative and/or non-textual content to have a text that describes the content.
- Additionally, these text alternatives must convert into accessible equivalents: braille, larger text, or speech. This component seems easy enough but can take quite a bit of coding to comply.
- Time-based Media: All pre-recorded and live audio content must have captions and transcripts.
- Adaptable: Sounds and visuals, like shape and size should never be used as the only means supplying applicable information.
- Distinguishable: This deals with users who are color-blind as well as others with visual impairments, like macular degeneration. Color should never be the only way to prompt the user or give information. Not only is this difficult for those with visual problems, but it can be confusing. Additionally, any audio lasting more than 3 seconds should have the ability to be paused, and the volume must be independent of the regular system volume. Text must have specific contrast ratios for regular text, and large text. The text must be able to be resized up to 200 percent without causing distortion of the website.
- Keyboard Accessible: All the functionality of the website must be able to be used via the keyboard, without requiring specific timing for individual keystrokes..
- Enough Time: Users must have the ability to turn off time limits, with the exception of specific places like auction websites where time is of the essence for the functionality of what the web owners are trying to accomplish. Content that blinks, moves, gyrates, dances or updates must have the ability to be paused or stopped. These aid to the clarity of cognition.
- Seizures: Flashing or gyrating content can trigger seizures or migraines in some people with neurological disorders. Flashing content must not exceed in flashing more than three times in one second. This not only helps someone with a disease like epilepsy, but the migraine-proned user or someone whose eyes are simply overtired. It also behooves you not to repel potential clients through annoyance.
- Navigable: Navigating the page must be sequential, orderly, and easy to anticipate. Linked text should be descriptive enough so that the users understand clearly where the link will take them. You don’t want someone accidentally ending up on the highway to hell, when their destination should solve their needs.
- Readable: The language of the website’s content needs to be clearly defined. The coding of lang attributes, or language attributes, defined as “ language attribute embedded in the HTML tag to declare the default language of the text in the page“ must be clear. It must also have a tag in any Flash content or PDF documents if it is a different language from the one originally defined.
- Predictable: Websites must function in a manner that is familiar, predictable and easy to use. For example: Navigation, as well as labeling should remain consistent from page to page. Life is confusing enough, without needing a crystal ball to predict where the website will take you.
- Input Assistance: When users have decided to enter data on a website, any input errors must be detectable. The website must also provide several suggestions in which these errors can be fixed. If the user’s data is for legal or medical purposes or financial transactions, then the user must be able to reverse submissions or correct errors.
- Compatible: Websites must be compatible with assistive technologies such as screen readers.
There are many subtleties to the WCAG 2.0 guidelines. Following them, and testing them can be complex. It is easy to overlook one of the steps. Although they sound logical and directed, the implementation is far less direct.
Added to this is the success criteria for implementation your website might fall into one of the three levels of compliance:
- Level A (must satisfy): Most basic level of compliance. The site is accessible to a small group of people with disabilities
- Level AA (should satisfy): Make sites accessible to people with a wider range of disabilities, including the most common barriers
- Level AAA (may satisfy): Most demanding level of WCAG compliance
- Additionally, the Accessibility Guidelines Working Group has various task forces to make sure these guidelines are being followed and implemented.
Accessibility Conformance Testing (ACT) Task Force
ACT develops and creates a framework of rules, guidelines and bylaws, thereby promoting a unified interpretation of WCAG 2.0 web accessibility test tools. This is broken down into several key task forces, which each handles a different element of compliance.
- Cognitive and Learning Disabilities Accessibility Task Force
The CLDA drafts proposed guidance and techniques, this makes web content and content authoring accessible to people with cognitive and learning disabilities.
- Low Vision Accessibility Task Force
The low vision division identifies issues, then implements and specifies solutions specific to users with low vision.
- Mobile Accessibility Task Force
As the Mobile Accessibility task force, they create guidance to addresses the mobile space.
The guidelines created by the Silver Task Force, which has members in various countries, will address the process of making content and functionality accessible to people with disabilities.
Where in the world is this applicable?
Not only are these guidelines applicable in the United States, but with some minor differences, they are legally applicable in various other countries like: European Union, United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, and Israel. Many guidelines have been adopted by numerous countries as their accessibility standard. The implications are global and far-reaching.
Carlos Brown, Regional Vice President at Trinity Health and Compliance Officer, states that his hospitals are acutely aware of the implications of being ADA compliant for the health and well-being of their clients and patients. One example is that they make sure the reading level is low, so it can be easily read, and Google translate is an option that is attached to their sites.
It is advisable to have an audit of your online properties; this will pinpoint any violations that may exist.
Grade your MSP website now at https://www.ulistic.com. You don’t want to be fixing the wrong elements in your website to be ADA compliant.
Stuart Crawford serves as Creative Director and CEO with Sebring, FL and Fort Erie, ON-based Ulistic, a specialty MSP Marketing firm focused on information technology marketing and business development. He brings a wealth of knowledge and experience pertaining to how technology business owners and IT firms can use marketing as a vehicle to obtain success.