Written by Caroline Cox on Apr 26 , 2022

Want to make sure your site is accessible to all? Keep reading.

Here, you’ll find:

  • What ADA compliance is
  • How ADA compliance relates to SEO
  • Ways to make your site as accessible as possible
  • Which disabilities to consider when looking at your site

Everyone deserves to move freely in the world, both physically and online. 

But the reality is, many spaces in both of these realms simply aren’t accessible to everyone.

Business owners and digital marketers should want every customer and target audience member to feel seen and included. One way to do that is by making your website compliant with guidelines and  accessible by everyone, regardless of ability.

Want to make sure your site meets those standards? We’ll tell you how, with help from HawkSEM SEO Manager Julie Kalita.

woman using wheelchair on a sidewalk

Websites are considered places of public accommodation, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. (Image: Unsplash)

What is the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)?

The Americans with Disabilities Act is a civil rights law that was passed in 1990. Essentially, it prohibits discrimination based on a person’s disability.

There are five sections related to different areas of public life. But “Title III: Public Accommodations and Services Operated by Private Entities” states that businesses must make “reasonable modifications” in order to better serve people with disabilities.

Places of public accommodation, as defined by the ADA national network, include:

  • Retail stores
  • Restaurants
  • Hotels
  • medical facilities
  • Libraries
  • Public parks
  • Any other place outside of home, school, or work intended for public use

How does the ADA affect websites?

You might be wondering how websites factor in here. After all, each of places above is a physical location. 

Websites are considered places of public accommodation, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

This has been the interpretation of the ADA for more than two decades. And it’s become a topic of interest as of late. That’s because ADA lawsuits against websites have gained notoriety in recent years.

For example, the 2019 case of Robles v. Domino’s Pizza Inc. called out the failure of the Domino’s website to be fully accessible to blind and visually-impaired people.

That same year, Connor v. Parkwood Entertainment brought to light beyonce.com’s noncompliance with certain ADA guidelines. These included lack of image alt text, inaccessible menus and navigation, and denial of keyboard access.

The Web Accessibility Initiative organization has laid out a standard for making web content accessible. They’ve dubbed this the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, or WCAG.

What disabilities should I consider when it comes to my website?

Creative director for Havas Germany’s creative director Michael Schoepf created the app called Staybl. It adjusts browsers for people with tremors due to conditions like Parkinson’s. (Shortly after, his mother was diagnosed with the disease.)

And in late 2021, Mastercard debuted a new design “meant to make life easier for visually impaired users,” according to NPR.

Of course, there are myriad disabilities that affect people in different ways. This includes how they navigate online spaces.

Some of the main disabilities to keep in mind when you’re ensuring your site is ADA compliant are:

  • Visual impairment – including total blindness, tunnel vision, central loss vision, low vision, and color blindness
  • Hearing impairment – including deafness and hard of hearing
  • Physical impairments – differently-abled people may need to use different devices to type
  • Cognitive impairments – people who have seizures and other forms of cognitive disabilities 
woman wearing glasses and using laptop

Google’s algorithm update history shows the search engine is prioritizing access and the user experience more and more. (Image: Unsplash)

Why do ADA-compliant websites matter for SEO?

The answer here should be obvious. Brands should want their websites to be fully accessible to all users.

Not only that, but ensuring your site is accessible helps you avoid legal issues related to lack of compliance, such as the cases mentioned above. Fortunately, following the latest SEO best practices will help you cover most bases in terms of compliance. This includes:

  • Title tags
  • Image alt text and captions
  • headings
  • Linked anchor text
  • Schema markup
  • Responsive design
  • Video captions and transcriptions
  • Intuitive navigation
  • Easy readability 

Lastly, Google’s algorithm update history shows the search engine is prioritizing access and the user experience more and more. This implies that these two factors will continue to grow in importance as new updates continue to be released.

Pro tip: Making sites available on all devices, more stable and accessible, and faster loading is the way to win with Google. While ADA compliance isn’t technically a current ranking factor, it stands to reason that Google will continue favoring compliant websites. 

ADA-compliant website best practices

It’s always a good time to ensure your website is as accessible as possible. But it’s natural for the prospect to feel overwhelming. It can also be hard to know where to begin.

Luckily, the WCAG principles are organized into four main guidelines. These are: perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust, or POUR. 

  • Perceivable – all information on a website should be presented in a way that all users can perceive by at least one of their senses 
  • Operable – all users must be able to interact with and navigate each component of a site successfully
  • Understandable – all of the information and interfaces on a website should be understandable for any user
  • Robust – websites should able to be accessed and interpreted by a variety of technologies and platforms

While the full guidelines are extensive, they can basically be broken out into two groups. One is adding a website accessibility interface. Two is tagging images and elements for assistive devices, such as screen readers and keyword navigation compatibility.

Features that will make a site more accessible include:

  • ADHD-friendly functions that reduce distractions and allow individuals with neurodevelopmental disorders to ingest website content more easily
  • Visually impaired functions that allow for larger text, contrast, and careful use of colors
  • Cognitive disability functions that help users with cognitive disabilities like autism and dyslexia focus and understand important website elements

You can use a free tool like Accessibility Checker to see where your site currently stands.

Prop tip: There are three different levels of compliance: Level A (some users can access), Level AA (almost all users can access), and Level AAA (all users can access). It’s recommended that most organizations meet at least Level AA for compliance.

The takeaway

Having company values around diversity, inclusivity, and accessibility is one thing. Acting on them is another.

By taking the time to prioritize ADA compliance and accessibility when it comes to your website, you’re ensuring your company is inclusive, while also making those with various abilities feel seen and heard. 

Caroline Cox

Caroline Cox

Caroline is HawkSEM's content marketing manager. She uses her more than 10 years of professional writing and editing experience to create SEO-friendly articles, educational thought leadership pieces, and savvy social media content to help market leaders create successful digital marketing strategies. She's a fan of seltzer water, print magazines, and huskies.

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