Understanding the Ins and Outs of Digital ADA and Section 508 Compliance
Your website IS a public space. That means the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Section 508 apply just as much to your digital assets as any physical facility. And just like a physical facility, it’s not just the front door that needs to be accessible for all to enter. Every room, every page, and all the things contained and linked therein must be compliant for comprehensive digital accessibility.
Closing the Digital Accessibility Gap
Think about a hotel. Even if it has a ramp, automatic doors and an elevator, if there are no Braille way-finding signs, floor listings or buttons, you’re not compliant yet. If you’re like most organizations, your website contains many digital assets, including files, forms, images and media, along with links to the images and posts you share on your social media feeds. Here are some common elements to apply across file types and media to close the digital accessibility gap.
Common Digital Accessibility Drivers
Whether you’re developing a web page, a PDF, a Microsoft Word or PowerPoint document, or incorporating media from charts to images or even video, there are many common elements that will make or break your digital accessibility compliance. Some of the top areas of concern (or opportunity) fall within the general categories of Structure and Alternative Text (Alt Text).
One of the primary ways people with various disabilities gain access to the same information as people without those disabilities is by navigating digital assets using tools like screen readers and simple keyboard navigation. That only works when the document, page or video is structured in a specific way, including:
- Prioritized Headlines: These should help anyone navigate your material more easily and create a natural order of operations with the most important and broadest concepts at the top of the hierarchy, just like an outline. Be sure your PDFs are tagged to reflect the structure. This is one of the most important elements of digital accessibility.
- Proper Formatting: For example, columns, page breaks, bullets and numbering. Built-in styling tools help make the text easier to understand when applied correctly. Remember not to substitute other characters that are not recognized within the document type (e.g. an indented asterisk instead of a proper bullet in a Word document).
- Video Controls: When you include video, you must ensure that users can control the play, pause, stop and volume using keyboard only or mouse only. They should be able to turn captions on, have audio and captions synchronized, and toggle between the video and a transcript. Browser and player selection is a key consideration.
Alt Text / Descriptions
Another essential component of accessibility in digital assets is the inclusion of Alternative Text. All graphic elements, such as images, graphs, charts and tables should have Alt Text, or an alternative form of description. This is so that all users can get as close to the same experience as possible. Descriptions and Alt Text are required in these primary instances:
- Images: When an image illustrates the content it accompanies, it requires Alt Text, which must clearly and accurately describe the image and how it relates. Images included purely for aesthetics (emojis, for example) are extraneous. In these cases, you should instead mark them as “decorative” so screen readers simply ignore them.
- Descriptive Links: Assistive technologies can allow readers to “skim” the document by navigating from hyperlink to hyperlink. The common practice of using the words “click here” make the skimming function useless. Instead, hyperlinks should be meaningful and provide clear, contextualized descriptions of the link destination.
- Video: Video is an essential asset on many websites, and a major contributor to digital accessibility or lack thereof. In order to make the video asset compliant, you will need to be sure to include captions and/ or a written transcript in the description.
- Tables: Similar to images, tables require Alt Text descriptions. They also require captions, designated header row labels, and built-in styling to make them easier to read and understand. Remember that screen readers read from left to right. That means that when you create your table, make sure the information is clear when read in that order.
- Forms: Don’t forget to label your form fields and ensure that they are navigable by keyboard for digital accessibility and compliance. If your users don’t know what information is required or can’t get from field to field, they can’t connect with you or buy from you online.
Exceptions and Extensions
There are times when you can’t control every element that carries your brand or touches your website. Examples include social media, review modules, store locators, rewards programs, user-generated content, and chat bots and other plug-ins like CAPTCHA.
Not all applications or platform providers offer accessible tools out of the box or even at all. If you choose to use them anyway, it’s important to add that third party provider to an exception list on your accessibility statement.
You do have control over your own posts on social media, so even if the platform itself is not compliant, all of your posts can be, if you treat them with the same level of care and consideration as you do your website and other digital assets in the interest of digital accessibility.
Other Digital Accessibility Basics
Please reference our blog MVP Website Accessibility Checklist for more details.