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Accessibility Online and Your Website

Does your website need to be accessible? Disabilities rights advocates say the answer is yes, but the actual requirements are less clear.

Federal websites have had a mandate to make sites accessible for some time now. Most state and local government sites have complied as well. When I worked at Fairfax schools, making the websites Section 508 compliant was a major priority.

Legal Requirements for Accessibility

Recently, the Supreme Court declined to take up a case  from Domino’s, in which the pizza chain argued that the Americans with Disabilities Act, which protects individuals with disabilities against discrimination, doesn’t apply to online spaces. A blind man, Guillermo Robles, sued Domino’s when he couldn’t order food on their website and mobile app using a screen reader that helps people who are blind read text online.

The Supreme Court decision to not hear the case means the lower court’s decision, which stated that customers should be able to access Domino’s website and app, stands.

Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Title III federal civil rights law, public businesses are required to provide effective communication with the people served. Effective communication isn’t happening, disabilities rights advocates argue, when someone who is blind can’t use a business’ website or mobile app.

However, the requirements of the law related to online spaces are vague. There aren’t any explicit federal regulations mandating that businesses make websites and mobile apps accessible. The ADA was passed in 1990, when internet was just emerging.

Requirement or not, every business should ensure that the website – their online home base – is accessible to everyone. Everyone uses the internet. Period.

Accessibility Factors to Consider

Many of the web content accessibility guidelines are easy to incorporate into any website.

  • Provide clear and consistent navigation that can be navigated with keyboard keys
  • Use “alt text” for any non-text elements of a page, such as pictures and charts, so that a screen reader can identify what’s in the image
  • Pay attention to color contrast to be sure that text can be read by people with low vision and those with color blindness
  • Mark up videos with closed captioning and audio descriptions
  • Use proper structural elements on pages (heading and body tags)
  • Ensure that moving, blinking, scrolling, or auto-updating objects or pages can be paused or stopped

Check Your Website

Not sure how well your website does on these and other accessibility checkpoints? Website accessibility tools can help. Keep in mind that not all tools pick up on all issues. Any progress you make on being more accessible increases the number of people who can meaningfully experience your website.