February 17 2019

Designing for Accessibility Vs. Retrofitting a Website for ADA Conformance

designing for web accessibilityIf your organization is planning a website redesign, it’s a great investment to design for website accessibility upfront instead of worrying about it later. Ensuring your website is conformant to current ADA standards will help your site be accessible by the 20% of Americans with a disability, and can protect your company or institution from potential lawsuits, which nearly tripled in 2018 to over 2,250. If you’re trying to figure out how to make your website ADA compliant, it’s best to start with that as a goal instead of trying to bolt-on fixes later. Here’s what to keep in mind about ADA and website accessibility in 2019. 

How to Design for Accessibility 

Designing for accessibility is similar to building a store and installing ramps for those wheelchair-bound. It may seem overwhelming to build a website that caters to all these needs, but it will yield success for your website and visitor usability in the long-run. Before you begin the website design process, understand the accessibility design guidelines. 

  • Choose your colors wisely. If color is the only way you plan to separate important text from the remainder of your text, think again. Those who are color blind or visually impaired will not be able to understand this emphasis. Use colors that match the required contrast ratio of text and background (4.5 to 1) and make sure that the text itself can emphasize its own importance to those using screen readers. Allow your users to change this contrast, so that it suits their needs.  

  • Write text for images. Don’t rely on your images or videos to convey your message. Always add captions to describe this information. Another way to present this information is through alternative text. Try to include the words, “image” or “video” to give context to the user listening to the description. Plus, adding alt text to images can be good for SEO. 

  • Markup your content. Consider the structure of your content and how it is conveyed. Using heading tags to denote section headings will help screen readers understand the structural hierarchy of the website and is an SEO best practice. It also helps readers of all abilities get a sense of what the page is about quickly. Your content should also be simple and clear. Using bulleted lists to break up your text and a Sans Serif font will help those with dyslexia understand your content better.

  • Make sure your website is responsive to keyboards. A mouse should not be the only way for the user to navigate through your website. Those with motor skill deficiencies or those who have issues with sight need to be able to use their tab keys to scroll through your website’s content. In addition, limit timing out your windows. Some users will need to spend more time understanding your content and if they consistently have to reopen the webpage they will soon give up and move to a new site.

Why to Avoid Retrofitting for Accessibility

If you decided not to build your website against ADA conformance guidelines or you are facing a lawsuit and considering retrofitting your site, here are some the major issues you will may face.  

  • A last-minute bolted-on approach may result in a bad design, and a bad user experience. It might be possible to create a last-minute solution that is semi-functional or maybe even technically compliant with the accessibility design guidelines—but depending on your design, it may make more sense to start over. ADA conformance is driven from the very onset of a website project, from the site’s navigation and color scheme to content and code.  An ADA audit can determine the extent of the website fixes you will need, and help you understand the best route for your business or institution.

  • Adding accessibility at the end can be difficult. Consider retrofitting for ADA conformance similar to adding electrical wiring and plumbing to a building after the building is finished, and all of the interior design is in place. Where would you even begin? With some sites, you're going to have to tear apart the walls and force things to fit where they weren't designed to fit. You might be able to do it, but it may be messy and stressful. This again may require you to restart your design, but a website ADA audit will help you understand if your issues are major or minor.​

  • The cycle is self-perpetuating. Until website accessibility is considered in the concept and design stage, it is impossible to produce a website that is conformant to the WCAG 2.1 guidelines. This will result in an inferior website because of the practical constraints of trying to retrofit a finished design when it's too late. 

  • A last-minute approach exposes systematic neglect, which can call for a lawsuit. Even if it is not intentional, failing to design for accessibility puts your business at risk for a potential lawsuit, and is considered discriminating against people with disabilities. 

Designing your website with ADA and website accessibility in mind from the start requires extra planning but saves a lot of work down the road and allows your site to have broader appeal. For assistance in how to make your website ADA compliant, please contact ZAG

Disclaimer: This article has been prepared by ZAG Interactive to provide information of interest to our readers. It is not intended to provide legal advice. Please consult your own legal or compliance team for specific questions and concerns.

  • Regs & Legislation
  • Website Compliance

posted by
Danielli Franquim
Danielli Franquim
Sr. QA & Certified Accessibility Analyst

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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