In recent years “ADA Compliance” has become an essential topic for website owners. Business websites that aren’t accessible to persons with disabilities may be seen as discriminatory, so FMG works hard to ensure everyone can access your website.  Complying doesn’t have to be difficult, but you do need to learn a bit and take a little time to use them properly. 

The Spirit of the Law

The Americans with Disabilities Act was enacted in 1990, only a year after the invention of the World Wide Web as we know it and more than a decade before most Americans began using the internet. Even significant amendments in 2008 left the law without mentioning the words “internet” or “website.” However, how our public consciousness has started to view the web as a place one can visit has allowed common law to apply to new technology.

Title III of the ADA requires that “places of public accommodation” be made accessible to persons with disabilities. Federal courts have clarified that the same rules that require businesses to make their physical offices accessible also apply to websites. While the text provides no specific instructions for this, the spirit of the law is being applied in the same way. Virtual or otherwise, business locations that offer public goods and services must be available for the entire public.

This doesn’t mean that your site must offer every visitor the same experience.  If it’s even possible, it would be counterproductive for everyone. Like many businesses offer stairs next to ramps or braille menus to supplement the written ones, your site may provide different features to those using a text reader, a screen magnifier, or the more common experience in a web browser. There is no reason not to add some “wow” factor for a subset of your users, so long as basic functionality is available in some form for everyone.  FMG sites offer visual flair that has no impact on users of screen readers. We also support screen reader-friendly keyboard navigation that most users, generally interacting with a mouse, never notice.  It’s all a matter of making sure there is some way for every visitor to find the content you’ve offered and accomplish the tasks your website asks of them.

Common Sense Accessibility

There are some interesting challenges for a website to comply with a law that didn’t explicitly envision “public accommodation” as a virtual location. There is no clear legal standard for a site to achieve ADA compliance. Justice Department officials have commented that businesses have flexibility in how they comply with the law, which is nice to know but isn’t practical advice. Prominent ADA-related court cases tend to reference something called the WCAG 2.0 AA Success Criteria. 

These Web Content Accessibility Guidelines are maintained by an international community called the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). They do well in telling developers how to create new components for complex web applications. WCAG helps solve disagreements between people regarding User Interface and User Experience in their titles.

They are also deep, technical, and very long. 

WCAG is difficult for business owners to deal with, which is why FMG handles the heavy lifting. There is a whole list of accessibility requirements we cover for you, helping people access our content while using a variety of assistive technologies. The tricky bits are handled automatically, and you don’t need to worry about them. However, there are also a few requirements where our sites offer all the tools needed, but we need your help to ensure that your content remains accessible. 

Things You Don’t Need To Worry About

Error-Free Code, Default Language, and Uniform Labelling

Every visitor appreciates consistency, but it’s doubly important when using an alternative way to interact with your site. Our site themes help you ensure that navigation and content elements stay the same across every page.

Consistency in Layout and Navigation

Every visitor appreciates consistency, but it’s doubly important when using an alternative way to interact with your site.  Our site themes help you ensure that navigation and content elements stay the same across every page.

Our default styling for in-text hyperlinks and navigation buttons provides clear, easy-to-see indicators for linked content. This is one of those areas where you technically can make less accessible through color choice, so you’ll want to be careful!

Keyboard Navigation and Focus Indicators

Our sites are built with a clear tab order and a clear outline to indicate a focus on menu items or hyperlinks. This lets visitors who cannot use a mouse navigate via a keyboard or other accessibility aid.

Nested Headings and Standard Tags

Our editor offers standard heading tags behind the scenes (like H1, H2, H3…), and our themes nest them under one another by default. This makes it far easier for screen readers and magnifiers to parse the page. 

Click here to learn more about using header tags!

Avoid Cues Requiring Color

No part of our standard themes or regular content requires users to distinguish between various colors to navigate the site or understand its message.

Text Magnification

Our sites can gracefully handle at least double zoom on the text. No fiddling is required!

Labeled Forms With Clear Feedback

Our contact and signup forms have clear labels for each field and provide feedback when invalid entries are made.

High Contrast Colors

Our default theming options allow for the use of highly readable text on properly contrasting backgrounds. Ensuring high-contrast colors are used throughout your site is likely the most impactful accessibility decision you can make, so we start you off with a great toolset.

No Shifting Content

We don’t use techniques that lead to sudden changes in how your site works between pages or as menus are accessed. Our sites don’t include content that slides around, jumps across the page, or dramatically changes color and appearance. These things can be a “wow” factor for some users, but they would be a terrible frustration for others.

Accessibility Rules That Don’t Currently Apply To FMG

We monitor various requirements that don’t currently apply to our service and make sure to address them as we add relevant features. This includes rules for features with time limits and review requirements for certain forms of submissions. We also avoid providing content that is hard to control, like auto-playing media and scrolling messages.

Things You Need To Help With

Writers tend to over-sell titles, using buzzwords and pithy sayings where simple descriptive text might be best. We need to remember what a title or heading would sound like to someone listening to them read out as if they were a table of contents… because some people are doing just that. 

 FMG allows a lot of creative license in designing and populating your site, but you want to remember that the structure of your pages and the titles you use to describe them are much like the rooms and hallways in an office. You wouldn’t make them crooked and hide the doorways behind flowery prose, so you ought not to do the same thing with your titles. Sometimes an “About Us” page is best as just that.  Ask yourself if you could tell what was on a page just by hearing the title, without seeing any images or reading the body content. If you can’t, change it.

Stick to High Contrast Colors

Our design flexibility allows you to make both good and bad decisions with color. If you don’t want to trust your graphic designer on this, there are plenty of tools to check the contrast of key colors. They provide clear, unambiguous numbers in the form of a ratio. You want at least a 3:1 for heading text or titles over images. Regular body text should stand out from the background by at least 4.5:1. In case this isn’t clear… it’s a very different rule than you’d use for the colors in your logo.

Add Descriptive Alt Text To All Images

We offer a cool feature to describe the content of your images – Alt Text. It allows you to describe the image for search engines, which is important because they still love the written word even after AI has learned to categorize pictures. Screen readers also use Alt Text to describe your content to the visually impaired. It’s easy to add a description, and there are multiple benefits when you do. Adding Alt Text to existing images is the most common “retrofit” needed to make a site more accessible. To learn how to add Alt Text to your images, click here.

Don’t Add Images of Text

It wasn’t cool back in the 90s, and it’s not cool now that it violates Title III of the ADA. Screen readers generally can’t recognize and read the text if it is included as a graphics file. Even if you include the message as alt-text to the image, it’s the sort of thing that earns a demerit in an accessibility audit. There are always exceptions, like logos and the labels on illustrations, but we do our best to avoid this whenever we can, and you should too.

Add Explanatory Captions To Your Tables

Large data tables immediately push your content well above any reasonable target reading level, so you should avoid them most of the time anyway. They’re even harder to understand when read or viewed through a screen magnifier. If you need to display a table, it’s a great idea to include a caption that explains the point a viewer should derive from the data. If you can’t summarize a point from the table… all the more reason to cut it from your content.

Avoid Poorly Accessible Documents

The files you upload to your site, whether PDFs or PowerPoint slides, need to follow the same accessibility rules as the rest of your site. High contrast colors, readable text, and avoiding text as an image are key elements.

Choose Videos With Closed Captioning

Wherever they are available, choose videos and video services that allow for closed captioning. This is vital to making video content available and relevant for all site visitors. Checking whether captions are available should be one of your standard steps before choosing to embed a third-party video. Many services, like YouTube, offer automated captions generated by speech recognition for free or at a reduced cost. You will be more likely to find appropriately captioned content on these services.

Avoid Autoplay Media

Videos and audio that automatically play can interfere with the use of accessibility tools. They are also annoying, and some browsers block them anyway.

Offer a “Text Version” Where Possible

Offer a text alternative to a video or illustration to ensure you reach the largest audience. This could include a transcript of videos, and with better video hosting services (like ours), the file behind closed captioning serves this purpose. However you do this, offering a text version of content is a great way to make your site more accessible and demonstrate compliance with the ADA.

We’re Here To Help

Our implementation team works to keep all new websites compliant with the ADA.  If you would like to update your current website to resolve any issues that might conflict with accessibility and ADA requirements, you will need to provide us with a list of items that need to be changed on your site. Depending on the scope of the changes, there may be a fee for these updates.

Please get in touch with our Service team to discuss the changes you'd like to make to your site. You can reach us at 858-251-2420 or service@fmgsuite.com.

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