At its best, the internet should present a level playing field, welcoming people from all walks of life and all over the world to the same information and services. In reality, though, the web presents barriers at every turn, particularly for people with disabilities. That’s because, even with the use of various supplementary programs, many websites aren’t accessible. This can cause a range of problems, ranging from the mundane – a business reduces its potential client base when they can’t use its site – to the legal.
If you’re responsible for building or maintaining websites, it’s incumbent upon you to understand and abide by the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) and Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requirements. By ensuring your site meets these standards, you can avoid potential legal action and ensure all users have equal access to your website.
Getting Started: Plug-Ins And Possibilities
One of the first things that inexperienced web developers do when trying to meet accessibility standards is attempt to retrofit their website with accessibility plug-ins. Sometimes this works well; there are a lot of great, paid plug-ins on the market that can help move your site towards greater accessibility. However, there are also countless free plug-ins that, while supporting a few basic modifications, will ultimately cause more issues than they solve. It’s important to be careful, then, that you choose a reputable plug-in with a wide range of features and ongoing support or you may create more issues for your site than you solve.
Know The Problems: Perform An Audit
Rather than just leaning on plug-ins or your individual knowledge of website accessibility in order to make page adjustments, the best thing that you can do is to connect with an expert organization that can provide an accessibility audit. Such audits can identify the specific problems your website may be having and that could make you vulnerable to a lawsuit under the ADA. Based on the information, you can then make the necessary changes to your site so that it serves all users equally.
Is It Really Mandated?
Online, ADA requirements can be imprecise, at least in regards to what companies are mandated to comply with them. However, public facilities like hotels and libraries, any site that supplies educational materials, and, of course, all government websites, are required to meet certain standards. Given this fact, along with the growing number of access-related lawsuits and demand from disabled clientele, it’s in your best interest to pay attention to federal accessibility standards. If nothing else, it will power up your customer acquisition process by including potential clients who often experience structural exclusion.
You Can’t Do It Alone
Just as using accessibility plug-ins can create new issues for web developers, trying to upgrade your website based on your own interpretation of accessibility guidelines can just make it harder to correct in the long-term, which is why working with a consultant is so important. Most people have a limited sense of what type of access needs disabled users may have, leading to half-measures and new mistakes. A comprehensive revamp requires an expert eye.
Making your website accessibility to users with a range of physical and cognitive disabilities may take time and hard work, but in the long-term it will be well worth it. By taking steps to facilitate the inclusion of all potential users, you can make your site a hub for connection regardless of disability status.