The importance of website ADA compliance has only increased over the years. With the Department of Justice opting not to develop or enforce website accessibility regulations, website conformance-related lawsuits have surged. While only 240 lawsuits were filed in 2017, the next two years saw more than 2,400 website accessibility lawsuits annually. The the lack of federal regulation is certainly muddying the legal waters, so current Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) must be top of mind during every website design or redesign, and while sites are updated.
WCAG 2.1 Offers Expanded Accessibility Guidelines
The latest guidelines, WCAG 2.1, were released in 2018. WCAG 2.1 represents minor updates and improvements to its predecessor, WCAG 2.0. These guidelines are meant to ensure websites are fully accessible to people with disabilities, including blindness, dyslexia and more.
WCAG 2.1 updates are largely based around the concept of “the internet of things,” meaning they focus on handheld devices, smart watches, and tools that extend the internet beyond desktop computers. All prior guidelines remain in place, so any work you’ve done to achieve WCAG 2.0 conformance still applies. Here are a few of the guidelines that were released as part of WCAG 2.1:
Websites must now expand to 400% without degradation in function. WCAG 2.0 required websites to expand to 200%. This increase is due to the fact that many devices have very high pixel density these days.
Target inputs, such as buttons and accordions, must meet a minimum threshold to ensure users can successfully activate them. For example, target inputs on mobile devices must be 44x44 pixels. This recommendation falls in line with well-established size requirements for mobile apps.
Labels must match the names of their respective items. For a field with a visible name like “email address,” the actual programmatic label should start with “email address.” This ensures that users who rely on speech to navigate are able to select the desired form field. WCAG 2.0 guidelines required a label for every field but did not specify that the label needs to match the start of the visible label.
The Importance of Maintaining ADA Conformance
If you’ve built your website to adhere to WCAG 2.0 or 2.1 standards, it’s important to ensure it stays that way. Websites are ever-evolving things that can change daily if not constantly throughout the day. While most content updates, like creating a new page, are unlikely to affect baseline conformance significantly, over time, new content can introduce a variety of common issues. These issues include but are not limited to:
Missing or invalid image alt tags
Links that share the same name but direct to different places (like several “Read More” links on a given page)
Links that are not descriptive enough for a user or screen reader to know where they will take them to (e.g., “Click here”)
Tables without headers and descriptors for each column
Missing “presentation” labels on tables that are used to lay out content
Use of <b> and <u> in content (signifying bolded or underlined text) rather than using cascading style sheets (CSS)
While any one of these issues alone won’t amount to a lawsuit or major user experience challenge, cumulatively, they can make a site inaccessible. Ongoing maintenance and scanning are just as important as initial conformance. Since 2017, businesses have trended toward self-policing these issues. The best way to ensure ongoing conformance is to develop a familiarity in-house so new content can be conformant as it’s created, in addition to using an agency or in-house resource to perform quarterly or biannual comprehensive scans.
There has also been a proliferation of third-party accessibility tools to help monitor and maintain website accessibility. Some of these are purchasable apps, while others are SaaS (software as a service) tools that perform ongoing monitoring, such as Siteimprove. While these tools can be excellent and very thorough, many come with a learning curve. Out of the box, even a perfect site will have a low score due to the tool’s exhaustive list of checks. Having an accessibility expert set up a clean instance of Siteimprove, for example, is the best way to ensure you will continue using and understanding the tool.
The Future of Website Accessibility
Many things are uncertain in 2020, but website accessibility is not one of them. In fact, with more users reliant on the internet for everything from grocery delivery to banking. prioritizing website accessibility remains an essential component of website design and development. Here’s what we can expect in 2020 and beyond:
- The World Wide Web Consortium, or W3C, is finalizing the next generation of accessibility guidelines in WCAG version 2.2. Like the shift from WCAG 2.0 to WCAG 2.1, changes will likely be minor.
- The legal climate will likely remain volatile, with a constant or increasing volume of lawsuits and advisory letters sent to nonconformant sites. Some states are working to develop their own legal frameworks based on WCAG, but these may take a backseat to more pressing concerns.
- A potential administration change in January 2021 could mean the Department of Justice (DOJ) may revisit updating the ADA to codify website regulations. Regulations would be consistent with WCAG. They could come with helpful timelines and possible exemptions for things like third-party content and old content that cannot be efficiently updated. If the current administration remains in place, expect the DOJ to remain out of WCAG and allow the courts to continue.
It’s important to stay up to date on the latest WCAG guidelines to ensure your website is fully accessible to all users, and to protect your business against costly compliance lawsuits. The experts at ZAG Interactive continue to monitor accessibility best practices as they evolve and change. To discuss your ADA conformance needs, contact us