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How to Integrate ADA Compliance into Your Site Development Process

Posted by: Molly Lee on Mar 8, 2017 8:30:00 AM in Design Strategy


When businesses think about complying with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), their first considerations normally turn to physical access to their facilities. But did you know the U.S. Department of Justice has said the ADA also applies to website accessibility?

The department first indicated ADA applies to websites in 2010, according to an article in The National Law Review. The department is preparing amendments to ADA on website accessibility expected out in 2018, but it’s been enforcing website accessibility in the meantime. Companies or organizations that receive federal funding risk losing that funding if they are not ADA-compliant.
That means as a website design and development team you need to be aware of ADA compliance issues throughout your strategic planning for a new website or for a website redesign or update. If you are wanting to incorporate this into your team's process, but don't know where to begin, here is a roadmap for how to start.
Businessman standing in front of opened doors and making decision.jpegEducate your team
As with any part of designing a website, ADA strategy should be thoroughly woven into your team's process. While this may start with the user experience team, ADA compliance comes into play on when considering the visual side of site design as well as the development and quality assurance process. So everyone on your team needs to know about accessibility guidelines.

Too often it is assumed that such guidelines deal only with people with impaired vision issues but the principles also take into account people with limited muscular control, limited hearing, memory issues and more.

Your goal is to be sure that all users who come to your site get the same information even if they may not be having exactly the same user experience. So you need to educate your team on important site accessibility issues. Lynda has some great videos to get some of the basic concepts if your team is looking for an educational resource. 

Assess the site

If your team is already doing research on an incoming project, try and incorporate an ADA assessment during that part of Discovery. It is important that all members of the team think about this as your are doing your analysis, so that the different facets of Accessibility can be considered.

How are you using colors, for example, and what impact does that have on those with color blindness? How is your site being coded? Are tags being used in a way that a screen reader, which is used by visually impaired individuals, will know what the tag actually represents and translate it appropriately?

Does your site include a magnifier for those who need it? That was something Duo Consulting client Cook County included on its site, for example.

What about actions on the site that are normally done with a mouse? Will they function properly for someone with muscle control issues who may be using a tab key to navigate the site instead? The tab issue comes up most notably in how a user would navigate a form to be filled out on your site. Does a keyboard user need to tab through an entire form to return to a box still to be completed?

Think about what the alternate text for your site images says. That text will be read by screen readers so it should speak clearly to the content of the photo.

Determine The Standards
The most common set of ADA guidelines are the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines which were developed by the Web Accessibility Initiative of the World Wide Web Consortium. The first version of guidelines dates back to 1995 in the early days of the Web but the most recent version to guide your efforts was published in 2010.

Companies and organizations can achieve three levels of compliance with A being the highest (AAA the lowest). If part of the funding you receive is predicated on compliance, know which level you need to reach in order not to jeopardize that funding.

Document your Process
So once you’ve educated your team on the standards to be met and assessed how you’re doing now, you can move on to document you’re WCAG compliance during the design and development process and end with testing for compliance in your quality assurance process. While some pieces of ADA compliance are implicit in the design, such as color or avoiding tricky interaction patterns, some components need to be spelled out more explicitly. You may want to include a note in the wireframes to indicate Tab order for keyboard users, and specify the alternate text on images so that isn’t left to the discretion of the content team.

Test your ADA experience
Additionally, when you run your user experience cycles, make sure that at least one of your personas has a physical or cognitive challenge to test elements you’ve included to assure compliance. Use a screen reader to go through your site to ensure the experience is what you. Be sure the members of your team who did the initial ADA compliance audit for your site are involved in this final testing phase to see if all the issues they raised have been addressed.

So, you’re major take-aways on this topic should be:

  1. Educate your team about website accessibility issues and guidelines.
  2. Access the current state of your site.
  3. Determine the standards that you need to meet. What level of WCAG compliance is required for any federal funding you may receive?
  4. Document how your design and development process takes into account ADA compliance.
  5. Include testing on compliance features in your quality assurance cycle.

See how we helped the City of Chicago improve its UX