How to Make Your Ecommerce Website ADA Compliant
Ensuring ADA compliance on your ecommerce store has the benefit of promoting inclusivity and accessibility for all – not just across your online store, but for your brand too.
Though most ecommerce companies emphasize the importance of a great customer experience, many online stores are nearly unusable by those who have disabilities that prevent them from typing, clicking a mouse, or even seeing website content.
If you really want to enable great customer experiences, you must focus on all customers – not just those who are able-bodied. Find out how to ensure ecommerce ADA compliance on your website.
In this ADA compliance guide:
- What is ADA compliance?
- Are ecommerce websites ‘Places of Public Accommodation’?
- How to ensure ADA compliance for websites
- What are the business benefits of making an ADA complaint website?
- Frequently asked questions
What is ADA compliance?
The ADA was created to protect the civil rights of disabled individuals and prevent discrimination. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was signed into law by former President George H.W. Bush on July 26, 1990.
The ADA has been instrumental in improving quality of life and making public places more accessible to millions of Americans with physical disabilities. But these benefits often don’t extend to the digital world.
Having been written into law before the internet had taken off, the relationship between websites and ADA regulations is somewhat vague. However, in a series of landmark cases over the past few decades, several courts have ruled that the laws should now extend to websites.
What is ADA Title III?
When it comes to the discussion of accessibility and ecommerce, Title III is the most important element of the ADA regulations. It reads: “No individual may be discriminated against on the basis of disability with regards to the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, or accommodations of any place of public accommodation.”
Among other categories, “places of public accommodation” includes stores, educational institutions, restaurants, places of recreation, and much more.
Are ecommerce websites 'Places of Public Accommodation'?
When the ADA was signed into law in 1990, the dot-com bubble was still looming on the horizon – most people still didn’t know what an email was. There were no legal provisions that specifically outlined the steps that websites, including ecommerce websites, must take to ensure ADA compliance.
How to ensure ADA compliance for websites
Wondering what specific steps can be taken to make a website more accessible? Let’s explain how certain website elements can be adjusted to make them usable for disabled individuals.
To assist users who use screen readers, menus should be navigable by using Tab to go to the next element and Shift+Tab to go to the previous element. Menu buttons should be navigable using left and right arrows, and drop-down menus should be navigable using up-and-down arrows.
When an error occurs in a form, users should be taken to the first invalid field, and a visual and text-based explanation must appear to inform the user of the error. In addition, a confirmation message that’s readable to a screen reader must be displayed when a form is submitted.
Images must have alt tags describing their content so that blind users can understand them. These alt tags can be left out of images that are purely decorative.
Links within text should be accessible using Tab key navigation. In addition, there should be a visual indicator if they will be opened in a new window, and this should be announced using hidden text or an HTML title for users of screen readers. Links should also be made more visible on a page and be a contrasting color so that those with low vision can easily recognize them.
As with menus, the entire website should be operable by keyboard only. Using a keyboard for full site navigation and operation ensures those that cannot use a mouse can still explore and use your ecommerce site.
Consider adding audio descriptions to any video or graphical elements of your site. Adding these descriptions is effectively bonus editorial content, which can help with SEO performance. Further to that, you’ll be ensuring that your creative video content can be enjoyed by those unable to access it visually.
You’ll want to test functionality across a range of popular devices and screen sizes. It’s good practice to ensure your website looks and works as it should on the devices that people use to access it. This is even more important for ensuring ADA compliance for websites.
Use your website on smartphone, tablet, and desktop to get a feel for how it works – this is an opportunity to identify any pain points or bottlenecks along the way.
It should be easy to rectify user errors, like adding the wrong item to a basket or needing to return to a previous page. Signposting error correction and making sure these methods work in practice are essential elements of ensuring your website achieves ADA compliance.
This is just the tip of the iceberg. For more information, you can consult with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), the leading set of guidelines related to designing ADA complaint websites.
Site maps are essential for disabled individuals using screen readers. Using the easily accessible Jeep site map, people using screen readers can quickly get an overview of the content on the website and access the pages they need to use.
What are the business benefits of creating an ADA complaint website?
It’s the right thing to do.
Everyone deserves a great online experience, so accessible websites are the way forward. As the coronavirus pandemic has underscored, the internet is an essential part of all our lives, and that includes disabled individuals.
Boost your sales.
About 61 million adults in the US live with a disability. That’s one in four people. With an accessible website, you can reach even more customers and enhance your overall sales.
Avoid legal liability.
ADA compliance is mandatory for all local, county, state, and federal government agencies, any business which relies on the general public, and any company with more than 15 employees. Regardless of the outcome of any specific legal case, it seems likely that accessibility will become a requirement for ecommerce companies at some point in the future, and litigation over ADA compliance for websites is rising dramatically. The rate of web accessibility-related lawsuits and demand letters has risen by 300% since 2018 alone.
Create a more usable website.
Creating an easy-to-read, easy-to-navigate site benefits not only individuals with disabilities, but all users of the web as well. By adhering to the WCAG, you allow everyone — disabled or not — to quickly find the content they’re looking for. Some additional benefits of creating an ADA-complaint include:
Showcase innovative technology.
Recently developed innovative technologies and design strategies have accelerated the techniques of accessibility, making it easier than ever before to create an ADA-compliant website. For example, using cascading style sheets (CSS) allows more flexible use of content and easier implementation of more dynamic models versus older, static HTML designs that often jumble content with formatting.
Improve your search engine optimization.
Following the WCAG not only helps you create an ADA-compliant website, many of the suggestions are also SEO best practices. For example, here are a few examples of WCAG guidelines as well as SEO best practice.
By creating a compliant website, you can do the right thing, enhance your sales, and avoid legal costs – not to mention the bad PR that a lawsuit can cause for your company.
So, start thinking about accessibility compliance on your ecommerce website now, and take the first steps toward a more accessible design.
Frequently asked questions regarding ADA compliance
How do I know if I’m ADA compliant?
You can undertake an ADA-specific audit of all your existing website content. You should refer to the WCAG (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines) that outline how to achieve accessibility for all. WCAG guidelines can be quite extensive and are not always possible to implement depending on the size and functionality of your website, but it’s best to do as much as you can.
What if my website is not ADA compliant?
There is no specific legal requirement for your website to be ADA complaint as the law was not written with website accessibility in mind. However, several legal cases have ruled in favor of defendants bringing cases against particular websites for their lack of or poor functionality in this area.
So, it’s best to ensure your website is as ADA compliant as you can make it in your circumstances.
Do all sites need to be ADA complaint?
Websites don’t have an official legal requirement to be ADA compliant under the law. However, several cases have ruled in favor of defendants and confirmed that websites should be accessible to all. With that in mind, it’s best to ensure your website is as ADA compliant as possible.