The issue of whether a website is a place of public accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act is not yet clear, but providing an accessible website may be a smart move in light of the recent legal and regulatory activity related to this issue.
Courts around the country have held that websites are subject to the ADA’s accessibility obligations, and the Department of Justice is in the process of considering new regulations related to ADA website accessibility. While further direction on this issue is pending, broker should consider taking proactive measures now to create an accessible website.
Below are six tactics you can implement today to create an accessible website. This is not a comprehensive list, but rather a source to help you get started changing common features:
1. Clean font types.
Crisp and clean fonts are important for screen readers — software programs that use a voice synthesizer or braille display to help blind or visually impaired users read text on the web. This is the foundation of creating an ADA-accessible platform for your consumers to access. Here is a great summary of what clean and clear text formatting should resemble. When the text is in a font that a screen reader can clearly scroll through, your site will be off to a good start for ADA requirements.
2. High-contrast themes.
Removing the grayscale on your site also assists those who are visually impaired. Offering high contrast helps visually impaired people navigate through the design. You can see the tools on the right hand side of my Boulder real estate website that adjust the contrast according to the viewer's needs.
3. “Skip to main content” link.
For web users who cannot use a mouse, there’s a function called “skip navigation” or “skip to main content” that can be added to a site. Essentially, it lets a person navigating a website with a keyboard skip over all the links in a site’s navigation menu. It’s as simple as adding a link to this feature at the top of your navigation. You may need to talk to your web manager about implementing it.
4. Alt text and HTML headings.
Alt text (alternative text) is an image description that can be read by screen readers to describe an image to the visually impaired. HTML headings use text instead of images or CSS so that screen readers can pick them up.
5. Video closed captioning.
If video content is an important component of your marketing, you’ll want to assist deaf and hard-of-hearing web users by including closed captioning with your video content. Here is an example of the value of captions, while making it fun and practical.
6. Audio descriptions.
Videos with audio descriptions help blind and visually impaired users visualize videos and images to get a more complete picture. Below is an example of video using audio descriptions.
If you’re operating a WordPress site, there are many accessibility plugins available. Here are several I’ve found helpful to boost page usability for everyone.
- GSpeech plugin adds a text-to-speech feature to any text on your site. You can even create an audio greeting for your visitors.
- SEO Friendly Images plugin adds the right title and alt attributes to all of your images for greater accessibility.
- WP User Stylesheet Switcher allows the user to select a high-contrast style sheet.
- EsAudioPlayer adds an accessible audio player to your site so you can embed audio content while also letting those using text browsers download audio files.
- Zoom plugin makes it simple for users to resize defined areas of your site.
- Accessible Dropdown Menus allows site visitors to access your menus via the keyboard alone.
- Accessibility Access Keys creates sitewide access keys to make for easier user navigation.
- Google XML Sitemaps generates a site map that will help search engines better index the site.
There’s one plugin WordPress users might want to consider that helps with many of the items listed above. It is called WP Accessibility. This plugin runs in the background of your WordPress site to help solve many of the accessibility problems inherent in the platform. For example, it adds post titles to “read more” links and removes the target attribute from links. This plugin also allows you to set up skip links, add descriptions to images, and use high-contrast formatting with large print and grayscale themes.
Once you are up and running with your accessibility features, how do you know everything is working? There’s another WordPress plugin for that. Access Monitor will provide reports and list actionable items that need to be updated in order to make your site more ADA functional.
Here’s one last tip: Prominently display your business phone number on your site so that anyone can call you. You could add an invitation for people with disabilities to give you a call in the footer widget of your site. For example, ours says, “If you have difficulty accessing our website, please give us a call so that we can assist.”