If you've been in the business of creating or managing websites for even a short time, chances are you've heard of web accessibility. It's the practice of creating your site markup and content in a manner that allows users to receive the content regardless of the device used to browse. Current U.S. laws only regulate accessibility as it pertains to Federal and some State government websites. However the Justice Department is considering formally updating the Americans with Disabilities Act to include web information for regulating non-government sites as well.
On January 24th the Justice Department's time period for initial public commenting came to a close. During this time the public was asked for feedback on many aspects of the potential expansion such as standards to adopt, limitations on inclusion, technology limitations, compliance time frame, etc. These comments will help guide the Justice Departments decisions during the anticipated formal expansion.
Details regarding the expansions (and even whether the Justice Department will expand the ADA) are still up in the air, but one thing is definite: inclusion of web information in the ADA will have a large impact across the industry due to the lack of currently accessibly sites. Most likely the ADA will adopt the existing WCAG 2.0's Level AA Success Criteria as its standard as Level AA compliance fulfills the criteria contained in Section 508 federal regulations. While the majority of public entities will be required to conform, it is plausible that personal sites and those of small (perhaps based on employee and/or revenue size) entities will be exempt. Content that is beyond a certain age and/or uses out dated technology will likely be granted safe harbor rather than facing removal. Also probable is a conformance grace period where conformance will be required either during a site's next major update or a number of years after the expansion is passed.
Don't wait, act now!
Despite the ADA expansion being in its initial phases, now is the time to act. Few websites have their structure and content engineered with deliberate consideration of accessibility, leaving web surfers who are reliant on assistive technologies with a generally frustrating experience. Incorporating accessibility into your next build or your current site now will help your site stand out before the rest of the industry has to follow suit. The following steps should get you started:
- Become familiar with current U.S. standards,Section 508 and WCAG 2.0. WebAIM offers a Section 508 reference checklist and WCAG 2.0 reference checklist both with excerpts from their standards.
- Visit your site using technology available to people with different disabilities. Navigate the site using only a keyboard, use content containing audio with the sound muted, turn of the monitor and use a screen reader such as JAWS, NVDA, WindowEyes or VoiceOver instead of the monitor.
- Learn where you stand. If your team does not have an accessibility expert among the members, advocacy groups such as WebAIM and the National Federation of the Blind offer certification and evaluation services.