Consent decrees and/or settlement agreements for inaccessible websites have hit Target,, PeaPod, Netflix, H&R Block, Hilton International and many other corporations. For over a decade, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) has been advocating standardized website development and content to increase website accessibility of the Internet for those with disabilities. Overlooking easy-to-do tasks such as adding alt text and headings is what cost Target $6 million to settle a class action suit filed by the National Federation of the Blind.

When it comes to website accessibility, compliance with the American Disabilities Act (ADA) is not just about better serving the individuals with vision or hearing issues. Some of the disabilities that keep someone from enjoying your full customer experience are:

  • Color blindness
  • Blindness and low vision
  • Deafness and hearing loss
  • Learning disabilities
  • Cognitive limitations
  • Limited physical dexterity, such as the inability to use a keyboard or mouse, and more.

To help navigate the web, tech innovators have done a great job providing assistive devices. Some of the options that people with disabilities can use are screen reader software, voice interactive software, Braille output devices, or closed captioning. Even with technology aids, the estimated 18% of the United States population with disabilities still have website access issues. This is a big deal. And, not just because the maximum penalty the DOJ imposes for a first violation is $75,000 (subsequent violations are $150,000). Or because settlements are in the millions.

What business can afford to ignore almost 20% of its target audience? Especially when the U.S. Department of Labor estimates this population controls more than $200 billion of discretionary spending power.

If improving your customer experience is not enough incentive, the lawyers say the best way to avoid an ADA problem, and the courts, is to be proactive even though the government does not have the legal standards for website accessibility defined.

The Spring 2015 Unified Agenda of Federal Regulatory and Deregulatory Actions says the DOJ’s Public Accommodation Website Regulations originally expected in June 2015 have been delayed until April 2016.

The good news is there are Web Content Accessibility Guidelines that provide designers with standards for making web content more accessible. While the DOJ sorts out the legal definitions and rules regarding website accessibility compliance, they are using the WCAG as criteria for any consent decrees and lawsuits. This means businesses can easily prepare for next April by meeting WCAG’s basic A-level standards.

That said, designers and developers just need to be more mindful and aware.

Layout and color rules the world for anyone that works in website design. Personally, I had my own ‘aha’ moment during an ADA workshop that reviewed the different levels of color blindness. As part of the course, we had to navigate a website using only the arrows on a keyboard.

This is something I challenge all website designers to try. To navigate through the page(s), tab or use the arrow key to read one of your own websites. This is how someone who has to use a screen reader consumes a page. It’s just like reading a book and goes left to right.

When a designer does not tag, or name all subheads, they stop the reader from being able to navigate the website. If the skeleton structure is not named appropriately, the reader just cannot do its job.

Providing text alternatives is critical for any non-text elements and adding labels are a must. The behind-the-scenes text allows assistive devices to transform the element into large print, braille, speech, symbols or simpler language.

There are simple tools that allow you to test your design. For example, Photoshop has a color blindness checker built right into the program.

Making your website compliant benefits everyone not just those with disabilities. Consistent and clear labels improve your SEO, as browsers crawl the same elements. Following the level A guidelines also makes the site easier to navigate for all visitors not just those with disabilities.

Below is a checklist of 14 tips you can use to improve your accessibility.

Videos with audio

  1. Provide captions
  2. Provide full text transcript of the video or a version of the video with a text description
  3. Include a mechanism to stop, pause, mute, or adjust volume for audio that automatically plays on a page for more than 3 seconds

Non-text content

  1. Add a text alternative to all of your images
  2. Add a text alternative to your audio and video (a succinct description of the topic)
  3. Add a name to all of your controls (such as `Search’ or `Submit’)

Text content

  1. Break up content with subheadings for new sections
  2. Add a `Skip to Content’ link
  3. Label elements and give instructions
  4. Clearly identify input errors
  5. Avoid elements that flash more than 3 times per second
  6. Ensure that each page of the website has a language assigned

Color Usage

  1. Use more than color to communicate instructions
  2. Use more than color to communicate other critical information (charts, graphs, etc.)