ADA Compliance and Your Distributor Website
As a business owner, you must be aware of The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which requires that places of business (including websites) are accessible to people with disabilities.
Unfortunately, unscrupulous lawyers are using the ADA's well-intended regulations to profit with a money-making scheme. They hire disabled people to go check websites that don’t meet the standards and file lawsuits to hundreds of businesses at the time that get settled out of court. You might remember how when the law first came out in the '90s, small brick and mortar businesses were getting sued left and right for not having made the required modifications, and literally being put out of business.
This is a very important issue we’ve been watching for quite some time, and based on our observations and experience, we have put together some guidelines to get you started.
What is ADA Accessibility?
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires certain businesses to make accommodations for people with disabilities. If you operate your business out of public space, you have likely already provided reasonable accommodations for your customers who need it, such as handicapped parking, ramps and rails, as required to obtain occupancy permits and business licenses.
As for websites, web content should be accessible to the blind, deaf, and those who must navigate by voice, screen readers or other assistive technologies.
In the end, it’s about making your website easy to use for your customers and potential customers who need accommodation to do so.
Failure to create an ADA-compliant website could open a business to lawsuits, financial liabilities and damage to your brand reputation.
How Do I Know If My Website is ADA Compliant?
There are no clear ADA regulations that spell out exactly what compliant web content is. However, there are guidelines and recommendations to develop a website that offers "reasonable accessibility" to people with disabilities.
Following these will make our websites more accessible and welcoming to a wider range of people with disabilities as well as to users in general.
Distributor Website Accessibility Best Practices
When people build an online store, they tend to focus on the look and feel of their site or store design. They want vibrant colors, attractive fonts, and beautiful visual elements. While that’s important, you also need to make sure that your website and online storefront are accessible to everyone, including those with disabilities, just as brick-and-mortar stores design their stores with this in mind.
Below are some of the best practices we are recommending for creating accessible online stores.
1. Test Your Website
The first step is to run your website through the free Accessibility Test Tool. This will give you a list of issues that need to be addressed on your website.
One word of caution: Don’t fall for quick fix offers that will basically add a notice on your website, you actually need to correct the accessibility issues.
2. Add Alt Text To Images
Alt text text is the written copy that appears in place of an image on a webpage if the image fails to show. It is also read out loud by screen readers, helping visually impaired users navigate your website. Make sure you use descriptive words and add context to your images.
3. Layout Clarity
Make sure the layout of your website and product pages is clear and follows a logical path your visitors would be following.
Make sure there is enough white space separating the elements on all the pages, including your product pages.
Make sure the focused elements on the pages are clear and easy to find.
4. Prioritize Text Clarity
Text clarity is all about ensuring the legibility and readability of your website text. As a best practice rule, you want to use larger fonts with sufficient contrast between the text and the background. You can take it a step further by allowing users to resize your text. Use the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines to determine the appropriate size and color contrast ratio.
5. Use Contrasting Colors
Color can help find the various elements on the website. Some considerations:
- Don't use light colors for text on light backgrounds
- Avoid busy backgrounds that compete with the text and images overlays
- Make your buttons larger and use contrasting colors
6. Use Explanatory Link Text
Avoid writing link text that is generic such as “click here,” “learn more,” “read more” and such. Make sure that your text description can help visitors to your website who use screen readers to distinguish links from one another when they navigate a page by link text alone.
This enables them to decide whether they will click on the link or not, which typically increases click through rates.
7. Use Your Clients’ feedback
While there are plenty of suggestions and recommendations about creating an accessible e-commerce website, the best way to know what challenges or difficulties your customers are experiencing with your website is to ask them.
Even though not everyone has disabilities, they are more common than you may think. Survey your clients and have them indicate if they have a disability. For example, do people with color blindness have difficulty seeing buttons that they can click to request a quote or make a purchase?
Website accessibility is not something you can afford to ignore. It is important that you determine where you stand and that you address the basic issues that will make your website easier to access and use. In addition to avoiding potential liabilities, improving the user experience also helps your SEO and conversions.
This is also very important to your business from both the legality standpoint as well as the service to your customers.
There is a lot to cover on this topic, so be on the lookout for part two of our Accessibility Series.
For more marketing articles, free webinars and guides specific to the promo business, visit the Resources section of ActionMarketingCo.com.
Gloria Lafont is a mother, grandmother and business owner. Throughout her business career she has started, bought and sold a dozen businesses in the branding and marketing field, including a distributor company. She’s currently president of Action Marketing Co., founded in 2007. Her company focuses on helping distributors increase visibility, generate awareness and drive traffic so they can connect with more of their ideal clients and generate more leads and sales.
Gloria is a big fan and supporter of education and the cultural arts, volunteering her time and donating marketing support over the years to help various organizations grow in membership and revenue. She also enjoys the South Florida lifestyle mix of business, beaches and arts.