April 27 2021

Keeping your Website ADA Conformant

ongoing ADA scanningToday, when redesigning a website, it’s common practice for businesses to ensure their websites are conformant to WCAG 2.1 level AA guidelines. Collaboration during the site redesign between design, development and copywriting is essential to making a website conformant. The result is a site that provides an improved user experience for those with disabilities.

However, all too often, websites quickly fall out of compliance after they launch, creating a poor experience for site users and a legal liability as well. If you are thinking about making your website compliant and planning for post-launch too, or you have a compliant website but no formal plan to keep it compliant, read on. Similar to keeping your CMS updated, staying in conformance requires employee training, scheduled check-ins, and periodic audits. Explore best practices for keeping your website compliant.

Follow your Accessibility Policy

An Accessibility Policy is necessary for having an accessible site. An accessibility review could be performed as often as monthly and as infrequently as yearly, but most companies find that quarterly reviews hit the sweet spot; they’re frequent enough to quickly find violations that have been introduced, without having the site constantly crawled.

Website accessibility audits combine a manual review of the results gathered by automatic site-crawling software and manual testing with a screen reader and keyboard. All issues are reported so they can be fixed, and all false-positive and third-party exceptions are presented in a report. A typical site’s review takes only a few hours and provides peace of mind that an organization is maintaining WCAG 2.1 Level AA conformance.

You can also use automated audit tools like Monsido and Siteimprove. Although they require some setup and come with a cost, they instantly make you aware of any accessibility errors, misspellings, 404s, or SEO issues on your site. You will still need to sort through what issues are critical.

Keep Track of Updates to a Page

Sometimes a mistake can be made in an earlier version of a page, then fixed during a later review. When the CMS is updated or changes to a page are deployed, it is possible to revert to an earlier, non-compliant page version. For that reason, it is important to have a CMS that can support versioning, or keep track of when changes are made and who made them. This may not be the point at which you find a problem, but it can be invaluable to try to track down why an issue pops up later down the road.

Also, some CMSs allow plugins that check accessibility as you’re creating the page, not after. This won’t guarantee zero errors but will catch several common content errors before they go live.

Check in with Your Content Editor

If you notice consistent issues from a particular page or group of pages, it can be worth hosting periodic training sessions for your content editor(s). As a result, you will have an extra set of eyes at the literal entry level.

Sometimes content editors make errors without knowing or intending to. For instance, in some CMSs, if you wish to remove a link or a heading and don’t omit it from the HTML source, it will get rid of the visible part but leave the HTML anchor behind. This leaves what’s called a ‘ghost’ link (an <a> tag with no visible link to click) or an empty heading. If you show this to your content editors once, they’ll never make this mistake again.

Keep WCAG 2.1 and 2.2 (and even WCAG 3.0) in mind

As established by court cases, and the Department of Justice’s own ruling, the ‘law’ in its current state is still WCAG 2.0 Level AA. But 2.1 has been here for a while, and the additional clarifications it introduces over 2.0 are minimal, but important. Likewise, WCAG 2.2 (due to be released Summer 2021) will add additional important clarifications for website designers, developers, and administrators. Additional clarifications include:

  • ensuring the focus indicator area is at least 2 pixels larger than the control
  • focus indication using color changes have a 3:1 contrast ratio relative to the colors from the unfocused control
  • indication boxes must have a 3:1 contrast ratio relative to the background and must be at least 2 pixels thick

Furthermore, although it won’t be released for the next few years, the W3C Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 3.0 Working Draft was released for the public’s first look. Additional clarifications include the replacement of Levels A, AA, and AAA with Bronze, Silver, and Gold, which will be awarded based on a website conformance score between 0 and 4. Site owners should strive for the highest rating that makes sense for their site, knowing that all sites are not the same. This update will help more people, especially those with cognitive disabilities, make WCAG easier to understand, provide accessibility guidelines for more than just the Web, and encourage site/app owners to achieve greater accessibility.
 
None of these are the law, yet, but they make a difference and are what many automatic tools use as criterion. And just like your CMS will need to upgrade and improve over time, so too will your site accessibility.

Your Site Visitors Will Be Appreciative

You have made a commitment to help make the Internet more accessible for the 61 million Americans with a disability by including the ADA standards in your redesign. Now, it is equally important to keep up the responsibility of minor updates and check-ins to stay committed to that goal. 

Being proactive about how you maintain your site’s ADA conformance will help your business or institution stay relevant and inclusive well into the future and will better position your brand as being accommodating to all types of visitors. Need a partner who can help keep your website ADA conformant? Talk with one of our website compliance experts.

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posted by
Jenna Paternostro
Jenna Paternostro

ZAG Interactive is a full-service digital agency in Glastonbury, CT, offering website design, development, marketing and digital strategy to clients nationwide. See current job openings.
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