Get Out of OIG/OCR Crosshairs by Making Your Website/App ADA Compliant

  • Sep 24, 2019

Compliance is very serious business. Whatever be the nature of your business, and whichever the industry you operate in; if you have an online presence, you need to know why non-compliance with the ADA provisos could be disastrous for you. Specifically, it is the Standards for Accessible Design which the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) published to amend the Americans with Disabilities Act in 2010, which impact you directly. The information technology (IT) regulations of the ADA make it mandatory for all websites, and online commercial marketplaces to make their goods and services uniformly accessible to people, including physically challenged people.

Background: How do these standards impact you? The Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and later the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 sought to prevent discrimination against people with disabilities by enhancing accessibility. In the initial stages, physical access was the focus. So, where necessary, structural modifications to existing buildings, and to plans of upcoming buildings must be made. 

Structural Modifications That These Provisos Entailed

This implied the construction of ramps in buildings, widening of entry and exit points, making articles reachable by placing them at predefined heights, installing elevators, providing handrails for support, ensuring even surfaces for walking on, and providing sufficiency of light in places where the public might congregate. These places are markets, offices, educational institutions, libraries, hotels, restaurants, healthcare institutions such as hospitals, long term care facilities, clinics; public parks, recreational areas, bus depots, railway stations, parking lots, and public toilets which must conform to these norms of accessibility. 

What’s Different About the New Standards? 

The new standards defined in 2010 apply to all information technology, including computer hardware, software, and documentation produced electronically. The latter refers to files produced digitally which could be audio, video, or PDFs. Therefore, the architecture, coding, overall design for user interface, navigation, sitemap, even the content of your website must be developed keeping in mind ADA compliance. Ease of access, operability, visibility, readability, robustness, and comprehensibleness are vital for your website’s compliance. The DOJ recommended following the technical standards outlined in the World Wide Web Consortium’s (W3C’s) Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG).

Browsing Your Website Should Be a Pleasure — Not Induce a Seizure

It can be quite vexing to find that the website you are visiting is so chock a bloc with sliders, that finding what you were looking for you becomes a major challenge. You find that you become uncertain whether you have reached the correct site. Sometimes, there is no proper site map for you to search accordingly. Even the aesthetics of a website can be problematic. Light colored fonts against an even lighter background would make it difficult for even a person with normal eyesight to read the text. Think of what it could imply for someone with marginal, or severe visual impairment. Some websites have only videos, and practically no text. So, if you are looking for a product within certain paradigms, knowing for certain becomes a no show. Worse are the websites which crash if you try to open two or more pages simultaneously.

Identify Any ADA Violations on Your Website First

First things first. Do a swift audit, if you already have a website, since self-regulation is an essential component of ADA compliance. You could also bring us onboard to audit it to identify if there are any existing violations of the standards defined by the DOJ. Then, we will help you identify the elements which could need modifications.  Make a checklist of whether your website has the following elements:

1. Ease of access: Is it easy to reach your website? The kind of server which hosts your website would impact response time. Does it load easily, or does it take several minutes to load because it is so full of features? Is it accessible regardless of browser? Do you have multimedia options for people accessing your website? Data heavy sites are often not so easily accessed if they don’t use superior service delivery systems. If your website has a defined cookie policy, is it placed prominently enough for even a differently abled person to read, and comprehend? Is it possible to navigate your site by simply using a keyboard? Are visitors able to pause content? Incorporating options to slow downward scrolling could be beneficial for disabled people who need more time to navigate. If there are linkages to external sites, always keep checking for changes as broken links undermine your credibility, and make differently abled people exit faster.

2. Visibility: Are the sliders moving too swiftly? Is the textual content easily readable? What is the color composition? How bright does a user need to keep the computer screen to read the content easily? What kinds of fonts have you used, and in which size? Are there options for assistive technology for visually impaired people? Are there audio options for them? Are there captions for audio content regarding product description, or how to use it? Are any photographs, or other images too hazy or too small to help identify products? Are there clear markers to indicate how to close pop-ups? Are warnings posted in larger fonts? Are there textual alternatives for non-text information?

3.  Stability: The robustness of your website’s architecture would enhance its stability, preventing crashes which can be a nerve wracking experience for a disabled individual. Is it designed to take sudden increase in hits, which might have been triggered by some special offer? Further, does your website give users sufficient time to read and understand its contents? Does it have simple, consistent design, and a unified portal? Overuse of plugins and flash can make it inherently unstable. The coding you use would also impact its stability. The WCAG recommends sticking to standard HTML tags. Trust gets eroded if navigation options, or structural appearance keep changing, and might easily make differently abled persons feel they have reached some other website. Also, constantly updating website software keeps it more stable. 

4. Understandability: Is the language used on your website easy to understand? Have you provided options for translating into other languages? Will users understand what’s on offer without being techies? If you are making a novel offer for your customers, especially new customers, they should be able to easily comprehend what’s in it for them. You don’t want to drive away potential customers simply because they couldn’t catch the payoff for signing up.

5. Predictability: If your website springs surprises on its users, you are headed danger street. This is specially relevant if you need to use graphics. Your design should be optimized for user experience, and focus on outcomes to make it ADA compliant. Your users should be able to amend inputs, in case of errors.

Don’t Jeopardize Your Business; Take Action Now

If you think that ADA compliance doesn’t have teeth to enforce it; think again. Not just the DOJ, but the US Office of the Inspector General (OIG), and the US Office of Civil Rights (OCR) could well be breathing down your neck for violations. These include lawsuits for discrimination as specified in ADA, compel you to pay damages to injured parties, or even impose civil monetary penalties amounting to a whopping $55,000 for the first offence, and $110,00o for the second violation. The reputational loss, and consequent business loss can’t be brushed off as collateral damage.

What We Can Do for You

We help you design, modify, and reorganize your website to ensure thorough ADA compliance. With a proven track record, we understand the intricacies involved in combining structural robustness, accessibility, aesthetic elements, visibility, ease of use and navigation, apart from ease of comprehension, when we build, or modify a website. This will assure you better monetary outcomes, and greater peace of mind. 

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