July 25 2016

Certifying a Website for ADA Accessibility Compliance

website ADA complianceFor businesses, website ADA compliance is about as hot of a topic as politics is at the dinner table these days. Whether you are at the beginning stages of researching website ADA compliance, or your company has been handed a report of website compliance violations by an attorney, you are undoubtedly looking to gather as many facts as possible and understand exactly what is expected – and required – of your business.

Myths versus reality of the website certification badge
Fixing a few compliance errors on your website and getting a badge does not make for a WCAG Level AA certified website. In fact, w3.org (the arbiters of WCAG 2.0 AA) will only allow a business to use their badge on a page by page basis, not globally throughout the site. Let’s explore why:

  1. Websites aren’t static anymore. Any push of new content or any update to a page renders any 3rd party certification null and void. Most companies update their sites multiple times a day.
  2. Companies over-rely on automated tools. Automated tools are a great starting point and they catalog a lot of errors quickly, but tools do not have the level of intellect that humans do. They cannot comprehend that some CSS files should suppress underlining. They can tell you if an ALT has text or not but can’t tell context. Maybe the ALT says “Add descriptor here before launch”. Guess what? That passes an automated test, but it sure will make your company look bad when the site launches.
  3. Evaluators tend to stick to the guidelines. ADA compliance guidelines are a great place to start. But what about best practices, or new techniques born of user experience? What about conformance to those who suffer from dyslexia? That’s 40 million Americans right there and WCAG says virtually nothing about how to make a better user experience for them.
  4. Focusing on removing errors from a list over making sure sites function. Checking items off a list is not the reason why sites should be conformant. The point is not to get a clean scan to appease regulators, but rather to ensure that a blind person can access their bank account, or a person who cannot use a mouse can find your business’ nearest location.

Focusing on conformance instead of compliance
Successful businesses will commit to designing with persons with disabilities in mind rather than designing against compliance regulations. Doing this will serve the greater good and will also undoubtedly support your brand positioning. The Department of Justice (DOJ) knows that it is impossible for a large site to be 100% compliant all the time. This is why their agreements speak of conforming to WCAG 2.0 AA over complying with1 as well as requiring an easily accessible way to report and remediate issues on a page. Conform to accessibility and commit to the idea that going forward every successive version of your site should strive to improve the experience for all users. This is what you committed to for most users since you put up your very first site.  

Going beyond automated reports
Yes, you should still use automated reports as a baseline for action. Once those reports are in hand, it’s essential to follow that up with:

  • Manual testing, using the tools the way a person with disabilities would.
  • Use cases targeting the most important aspects of your site: Logging in, finding a location, ordering a product, searching for terms, etc.
  • Exploratory testing with the tools, the way a random user would. Developers design the code to work flawlessly on what is known as the ‘happy path’, what happens when you deviate from that?
  • Using best practices that go above and beyond the bare minimum, like removing serif fonts and unwieldy paragraphs for persons with dyslexia, or providing a tab only ‘Skip to Sitemap’ to help a person who can only use a keyboard if they are lost.
  • Providing an easy way to report issues and have a system in place to reply and repair.
  • Training for your team on the history and concepts behind accessibility.

When you commit to accessibility as a core principal, you actually accomplish what the law wants and at the same time give users what they need. In the end, this serves everybody, your company included, better than ‘certification’ does. Once you internalize this, you won’t have to constantly revisit ‘certification’ because you will be adhering to the principles behind inclusion.

1 http://www.ada.gov/hrb-cd.htm

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