understanding americans with disabilities act

If you’ve been asked to improve the web accessibility of your business or government website, you may be wondering how this requirement came to be. While web accessibility—which means making sure that all of the content on your website is easily understandable for, and usable by, people with disabilities—is good business for your customers and constituents, it’s also a legal requirement of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Need help with your web accessibility? Tools such as the accessWidget from accessiBe help to review and improve your current accessibility levels.

In this article, we’ll discuss more about the ADA and how it has helped drive our current industry requirements for web accessibility.

What is the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)?

Passed in 1990, the ADA was sweeping, bipartisan civil rights legislation that provided broad legal protections for people with disabilities in the United States. It afforded disability the same standing as other protected classes like race, ethnicity, gender, and more.

Through its five sections, called titles, the ADA prohibits disability discrimination and prescribes equal access and opportunity for people with disabilities in numerous areas and institutions, including:

  • Employment;
  • Education;
  • Public transit;
  • Government services;
  • Public-facing businesses.

It also provides a framework for anyone who experiences a violation of their disability rights to file a complaint and seek remediation through an investigation, mediation, or lawsuit.

This law is considered a landmark achievement for disability rights advocates, who historically have faced substantial hardships and discrimination when trying to participate in many daily functions.

How Does the ADA Impact Web Accessibility?

So how does web accessibility factor into the ADA?

Under Title II and Title III, the ADA requires that all products, programs, and services offered by state and local governments and public-facing businesses be equitable and fully accessible to people with disabilities—this also includes all websites and web offerings.

Since 1996, the U.S. Department of Justice has consistently defended the ADA’s use in web content, and this precedent has helped give rise to the broad web accessibility standards we encounter today. These standards ensure equitable experience for users with audiovisual, movement, or muscular disabilities that may use screen readers, voice-activated controls, and other assistive technologies to navigate websites.

In practice, web accessibility encompasses a variety of design, development, and writing techniques, such as:

  • On-page text that is clear and direct, written at an appropriate grade level for the audience, and free from confusing, directional, or visual-based cues.
  • Designs that consider the use of colors and color contrast for those with visual acuity problems or color-blindness, or allow for larger resizing if needed.
  • Alt-text alternatives for all pictures, videos, and audio files (including captions and transcripts) so users with visual disabilities can still enjoy the content.
  • Menus and navigation that can be easily accessed without needing to use a mouse or other extremely precise movements.

These ideas are just the start—there are many more tips and guidelines that you can explore to optimize the web experience for all of your users, both disabled and non-disabled. A step forward in web accessibility for your website is also paramount to promoting inclusiveness and setting precedent for others to spearhead the same initiative.

Visit ADA.gov to learn more about the ADA, its functions, and how it is enforced for websites.

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