You’ve finally decided to update your business’s website. You chose a user-friendly theme, customized your design, and are ready to roll it out to the world. However, there might be one thing you’ve overlooked: creating an ADA accessible website. It’s the law in many cases, and failure to make your website ADA accessible could mean facing significant financial penalties.
In this article, we’ll explain ADA guidelines and show you seven practical and easy ways to make an ADA accessible website for your real estate business.
The Americans With Disabilities Act and ADA Accessible Websites
You may already be somewhat familiar with the Americans With Disabilities Act, or ADA. This law, passed in 1990 and updated regularly since, regulate public access for people with various disabilities.
The ADA covers a broad spectrum of entities, ensuring those who are impaired have equal access to buildings, employment opportunities, public transportation, and yes, multimedia sources. While we often think of ADA accommodations as being in the physical realm – wheelchair ramps at public buildings, accessible stalls in public restrooms, braille on ATMs, etc. – these protections extend to cyberspace, too.
Title I of the ADA protects citizens from workplace discrimination based on real or perceived disabilities. Under this section, businesses with more than 15 employees are required to make reasonable accommodations to give people with disabilities equal access to the hiring process, workplace necessities, job training, and other job-related spaces or resources. Under this section, websites are required to be ADA compliant for many businesses.
Under Title III of the ADA, places of “public accommodation” must meet accessibility guidelines for people living with disabilities. While this section doesn’t implicitly mention websites, court cases have determined that many websites fall under the “public accommodation” umbrella.
Some real estate agencies may fall under one or both of these sections. If that’s the case, your business must have an ADA accessible website. Failure to comply could lead to costly lawsuits.
For more information about accessibility guidelines, and whether or not your business must adhere to those guidelines, consult a disability lawyer.
Traits of an ADA Accessible Website
Under the ADA, websites that meet Title I or Title III requirements must provide equal access to their website. That is, a site must meet the needs of those with physical, hearing, visual, or other impairments.
However, the frustrating part about website ADA accessibility is that there isn’t a playbook to follow. Website developers and business owners are mainly on their own to interpret the law, leaving many feeling confused and overwhelmed.
While the law isn’t crystal clear on website accessibility requirements, your best bet is to ensure those with disabilities can still access every part of your website. Many web designers and businesses follow the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), which give a relatively clear picture of accessibility features your website should contain to meet ADA requirements.
While this isn’t an official list, it’s a great starting point for keeping your website compliant. Many of these features assist the hearing or visually impaired to access information on the site.
And here’s a bonus: making your website ADA accessible will increase the overall online traffic. According to studies, 71% of people with disabilities will immediately leave a website if that site doesn’t have accessibility features in place. However, about 80% say they will spend considerable time on websites designed with ADA compliance in mind.
ADA accessible websites aren’t just the law: they’re also good for business.
7 Ways to Make Your Website ADA Accessible
Using the WCAG guidelines mentioned above, your website should be POUR:
P – Perceivable
O – Operable
U – Understandable
R – Robust
There are many ways to meet these requirements, but here are seven easy and practical ways to make your website ADA accessible:
1. Make it Keyboard Navigable
Many disabled people navigate websites using only their keyboards and not a mouse. Those with visual impairments, motor impairments, or limited use of their hands often use a modified keyboard or standard keyboard only.
With that in mind, your website must be accessible from only a keyboard, without the use of a mouse. Users should be able to move from one page to another, click on links, scroll, and perform other functions using only the keyboard functions.
2. Include Alt Text
Each image on a website is assigned an alternative text or “alt text” that describes what the image on the screen is. Those with vision impairment often use a technology called a “screen reader,” which, as the name suggests, reads the content on a web page out loud to the user.
If the images on your website don’t include alt text, the screen reader has no way to describe that image to a visually impaired person. Under the ADA, that could be interpreted as discriminatory, since the photos on a page often provide vital information to the user.
Including descriptive alt text is an easy way to maintain ADA compliance on your website.
3. Create Text Transcripts
If your website contains video or audio files, make sure you include a text transcript for the hearing impaired. If you link to a video from another site, be sure that the video contains a closed captioning option. However, if you created the video yourself, make sure to include either a written transcript of the video or include closed captioning.
Additionally, be sure the closed captioning is accurate. Some automatic text transcript software programs can have trouble interpreting speech accurately, so check it over before posting to your website.
4. Use Contrasting Colors
We’ve all encountered websites that, shall we say, go overboard on their color choices. If you don’t have any visual impairments, but you still find it hard to read green text on a purple background, imagine how a visually impaired person feels.
Your website should offer plenty of contrast, with text that is easy to read and large enough to see. Choose relatively plain fonts and pay attention to your font size.
5. Update Online Forms
Perhaps one of the most important roles of a website is to capture user information accurately. Users with disabilities should be able to see and understand the form and its instructions clearly. Visually impaired users using a screen reader should also have access to error messages that notify them of any problems. These error messages should include specific instructions on how to fix the error and return to the form.
If a disabled user has trouble understanding or completing a form on your website, that could indicate discrimination.
6. Add Descriptive Links
You may think that the links on your website are self-explanatory. “Click here” or “Learn more” might seem self-explanatory, but those with disabilities may find them unclear.
Instead, try making your links clearly explain to the user what will happen after he or she clicks. For instance, “click here to contact a real estate agent” or “learn more about your home’s value” are much better options. These descriptors will help disabled users clearly understand the intent of the link.
7. Make it Third-Party Tech Ready
Your website should be designed and written in such a way that third-party adaptive technologies can easily interpret and navigate the site. Keep your website consistent, with clear menus and labels throughout.
Furthermore, the “language” of your website matters – computer language, that is. Your developer should include the programming language in the website’s code. This information helps the screen reader accurately interpret the content and turn it into audible content for a visually impaired user.
Liability for Noncompliance
Failure to comply with ADA regulations can leave you open to lawsuits and other litigation. In the past few years, there has been an extraordinary increase in the number of ADA accessible website lawsuits brought against business owners. One statistic shows a 177% increase in 2018 compared to the previous year. With lawsuits for ADA non-compliant websites on the rise, it’s more important than ever to address your website’s ADA accessibility.
If the courts determine your website is not ADA accessible, your business faces substantial financial penalties. Besides paying to ensure you have an ADA accessible website moving forward, you will likely be responsible for all legal fees – both for your defense and for the complainant – which could reach upwards of $50,000.
How the Winning Agent Themes Ensure ADA Accessible Websites
Here at Winning Agent, we provide stunning website themes designed specifically for real estate professionals. And we make sure every customer gets an ADA accessibility-ready website template. During the development stage, you or your developer can ensure compliance with all ADA accessibility regulations.
Have questions about our website themes or ADA website accessibility? We would love to chat! Contact us here for more information about Winning Agent themes for real estate websites.