4 Minute Read

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) has presented a major disruption to the world of eCommerce. The biggest problem? Most merchants don’t even realize that website accessibility is a federally protected right for people with disabilities. Nine times out of ten, there is nothing sinister or intentional happening: people use a popular eCommerce site builder, throw their products on it, and set up shop. 

While we love the go-getter attitude, this is problematic and, increasingly, a pretty big legal risk. In 2020 alone, 3,500 ADA website litigation cases went to court, and the number is rising. 

Remember, first and foremost, the goal of ADA guidelines is to ensure people with disabilities have fair access to public spaces. While there is huge dispute over whether this includes digital spaces, luck favors the prepared. 

This article is going to give you a crash course in ADA guidelines for eCommerce sites, and how merchants can get in line to ensure maximum reach and security.

Want to know one surefire way to keep your business out of court for ADA site violations? Enlist the help of an eCommerce agency. Smart Solutions is a trusted eCommerce agency that provides website design, development, and ongoing maintenance support that ensures you meet all of the relevant criteria. 

Bonus: Capture lost revenue. Users with disabilities can and will buy from you, if they can access your website. Only good things result from getting your website up to snuff, and we can help. Contact us to learn more.

ADA Guidelines for eCommerce Websites

Now, the title there is a bit of a misnomer: it’s not like the ADA has a list of thorough guidelines for website compliance. In fact, there are really only two parts of the ADA that people interpret to apply to websites at all: 

  • Title II talks about access in “public spaces”
  • Title III is used to defend or dispute “nexus,” which just means that access to a website should be the same as access to a physical store

There is another source that merchants should tap to gain full insight into how to build a compliant website, and it’s the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C & not a Star Trek thing) Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI).

On-Demand Webinar: Learn How to Create an Accessible eCommerce Website

Accessibility Fundamentals

The essential components of website accessibility are outlined in the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines. Those standards are worth reading through in full, but you can also check out our comprehensive guide on the topic.

Here are some of the elements of your website that must meet accessibility standards:

Perceivable Factors 

  • Users with low vision or who are visually impaired should be offered text alternatives such as braille, speech, symbols, or large print.
  • The media on your site should have alternative options, either for users with disabilities of sight or sound, or people with low cognition.
  • The media on your site should have captions and audio descriptions.

Adaptable Factors

  • A website should be presented in a way that is easy to understand, both in information, structure, and relationships.
  • There should be an easy-to-understand sequence to the content on your site.
  • Users shouldn’t have to rely on sensory characteristics — like shape, size, visual location, color, orientation, or sound — to navigate your site.

Distinguishable Factors

  • The use of color shouldn’t be the only way someone can use a feature of your site.
  • Audio controls should be available to let users stop audio or control volume.
  • Visual presentation and contrast should make it easy for users with disabilities to understand elements of your site.
  • Text style properties shouldn’t result in content loss or functionality loss.
  • Hover, pointer, and keyboard focus interactions should be easy for screen readers and other auxiliary supplemental tools to translate and use.

Operable Factors

  • All user interface elements should be operable through a keyboard (without timing or keystroke requirements).
  • Users should be able to adjust the timing of interactive elements.
  • Users should be able to pause, stop, or hide content.
  • Interruptions should be able to be postponed or suppressed based on the user’s needs.
  • Session expirations, re-entering information, and re-authentication shouldn’t limit someone with any kind of disabilities.
  • A site should be easily navigable, clearly marked by headings and labels, ordered in sequence by page, and there should be more than one way to find pages or places on the site.

The lists go on, and get into specifics both of how a website functions, how a website looks, and how users of different abilities or disabilities can interact with each and every element. It may feel labor-intensive (and if you didn’t build a website with accessibility in mind, it may be). The good news is, there are resources to both educate and empower you and your team to improve your website.

Website Accessibility Resources

We’re fans of source material on this topic because frankly there is a lot of misleading information on the internet about website accessibility. The sheer fact that so many people term it “ADA website standards” or similar is a red flag. 

Remember, it really is the WAI that writes WCAG, and even these regularly change. To that end, here are some of the recommended resources straight from the source, that can help inform your team:

That info alone is going to take you some time to work through. Before you hit the panic button, know this: WCAG guidelines build on each other. So, the WCAG 2.2 guidelines include all of WCAG 2.1, plus some extra. This means that the real workload is getting your website into compliance. Keeping it there will require ongoing monitoring, but shouldn’t usually mean full-scale development or design changes.

Hire an Agency for ADA Website Compliance

Smart Solutions is a team on deck, with a huge passion for website accessibility. We specialize in supporting eCommerce website owners, and we know what’s at stake if you are operating a website out of compliance. In partnership with accessibility industry leaders at Accessible 360, we can provide website audits and implement the changes your website needs to pass muster. Don’t wait to make this happen: Contact us to get started.

Sign up for our FREE webinar to learn more about website compliance:

On-Demand Webinar: Learn How to Create an Accessible eCommerce Website