The US Department of Justice (DOJ) recently released their guidance on how the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) applies to websites. Despite thousands of lawsuits from ADA trolls, the issue muddled along for years without “official” clarification on the actual rules of the road.
This article from NAFCU’s Compliance Blog is a great summary of the guidance and how it affects credit unions. Seriously, go read it now: DOJ Issues ADA Website Accessibility Guidance
And the actual text of the Guidance from the DOJ is pretty clear and readable, too. (Pretty neat trick for a Department of the Federal government!)
Yes, ADA compliance means website Accessibility
As expected, yes, the ADA standards do apply to many websites, including credit unions. Fortunately, we’ve been building credit union websites for a long time, and we worked hard to get in front of website Accessibility issues back when the first lawsuits starting hitting credit unions.
The focus is on real-world impacts on real people, not technical standards
I was overjoyed to see that the DOJ guidance focuses on usability priorities, not on particular technologies, code, or technical standards.
In fact, they give a list of examples that include the top six problems in terms of impact and frequency. These are the most common show-stoppers by far for people trying to use your site:
- Poor color contrast (Very common, easy to check, affects a lot of people, usually not hard to fix)
- Use of color alone to convey information (This can be surprisingly subtle but aggravating.)
- Lack of ALT text for images (Extremely common. Very, very easy to prevent and fix.)
- No captions on video (Often overlooked, very easy to fix in almost all video editors and platforms.)
- Inaccessible forms (Lots of potential issues here. Fixes can get complex.)
- Mouse-only navigation (Unable to navigate with a keyboard. The fix is usually not that easy.)
Fortunately, these issues are relatively easy to check and test. Some are easy to fix, but some are more difficult.
This isn’t a complete list of Accessibility issues, but it’s an excellent place to start, and will cover the vast majority of issues keeping people from using or understanding your site.
WCAG or Section 508 standards are called “helpful”, not “requirements”
This is REALLY important, and I was very happy to see this wording.
A small rant, if I may: the WCAG standards for website accessibility are a great idea, and a noble, even heroic global effort, and they’re incredibly useful as a source of principles and advice for making these decisions. But once you dig deep into the nitty-gritty, the WCAG standards are too deeply flawed to be used as requirements.
There are several examples of WCAG standards that contradict each other, or set out priorities that are at odds with other priorities, or even violate code standards. Many are badly outdated; for example, type sizes are specified in an ancient print-based measure, “points”.
And many, perhaps most, WCAG standards are highly subjective. Evaluating and applying the standards requires human judgement, balance, and decision-making; some things (like scanning for some type contrast issues, or missing ALT text) can be automated, but many cannot.
Building a complex modern website to actually meet all WCAG standards is only practical if the site is simple enough to skip large parts of the standards, and if you forego a lot of widely used features.
Section 508 standards, used for government websites, are somewhat simpler but also create serious limitations. Section 508 is much of the reason government websites tend to be rather austere.
Again, neither of these standards are requirements; they are very helpful examples of standards that might be useful for making more websites work better for more people. That’s a very important distinction, and it opens up a lot more flexibility.
The flexibility principle
It’s quite clear in the DOJ guidance and in the NAFCU Compliance Blog article that credit union websites have a lot of flexibility in how they meet the ADA’s general requirements of “nondiscrimination and effective communications”.
That’s pretty important; no two websites are alike, and web technology moves fast. Overly prescriptive rules would be far too limiting, and evolving technologies could leave too many gaps.
Most regulations, including most of the ADA regs for physical spaces, allow a great deal of leeway in exactly how you achieve a specific goal. The result is what’s important, not the HTML code used to achieve it.
Fortunately, this doesn’t change much
The good news is that the basic truths of building Accessible websites haven’t changed at all.
- Accessibility is a huge win/win. Building websites with excellent Accessibility always was and still is the right thing to do, and has benefits for everyone, far beyond people with various disabilities.
- There are many, many ways to build Accessible websites.
- Websites must be built from the beginning with Accessibility as a top priority
- As a website and its content evolves, Accessibility has to remain a top priority
- Accessibility is a continuous process of maintenance, evaluation, and evolution.
- The available Accessibility standards are very useful, but they are complex, imperfect, incomplete, and often subjective.
- Human judgement is always required to evaluate Accessibility, and to make the tough decisions required to maintain and improve Accessibility.
- Accessibility cannot be automated; despite various claims, you can’t make a website Accessible by adding a plugin, script, or overlay, and you can’t fully evaluate Accessibility automatically.
- The regulations give you flexibility to find the best solutions and make the best decisions for your members.
- Always strive to go above and beyond the basics of Accessibility, and make your site more usable, useful, interesting, effective, understandable, and beautiful for everyone.
- Accessibility is important for your website, but it’s REALLY important for your online banking and online applications.
- Hey, website Accessibility is not that scary!
Need a hand with credit union website Accessibility?
We build beautiful, effective, Accessible, ADA compliant websites for credit unions. We also perform regular Accessibility audits for many of our clients, and we’re happy to help with finding and fixing Accessibility issues. Get in touch if you’d like to learn more!