Accessibility: Legal Cases and Website Building Tips

Photo by Glenn Carston- Peters

Imagine going to a website for your favorite brand and being completely lost as to what the website is asking you, or even trying to show you. This situation would obviously drive you away from this website and could sour your opinion of this theoretical brand. This is a very real concern for website creators, ensuring that every aspect of their website is accessible. There are some basic guidelines and regulations that ensure that the web is accessible to everyone. In many instances, accessibility for websites has been the topic of court cases. Although rulings are mixed, expectations for websites and compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act has made searching websites easier for people of every ability.

This post will give some background on the legal cases surrounding web accessibility, and some tips on how to ensure that your website is accessible to all users.

Legally Accessible

Throughout its relatively short history, United States legislation surrounding website usability and how it relates to the Americans with Disabilities Act has been unclear.

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Since 1990, according to United States law, businesses serving as “places of public accommodation” are required to remove any barriers to access for people with disabilities. Also, during the early 90’s the internet was a growing concept, rarely at the forefront of legislation. As the internet grew, the Americans with Disabilities Act unfortunately did not grow with it and left many unanswered questions as to what guidelines online media should follow to allow all people access. In recent years, court cases addressing this issue have increased sharply, with major websites including Netflix, eBay, and Target being brought to court surrounding their online services.

Since these cases, the United States Department of Justice has wrestled with the concept of creating a set of specific regulations for website accessibility. According to the DOJ, from the beginning ensuring website accessibility is consistent with upholding the ADA, as they should be considered places of public accommodation. However, there have been no further plans for creating a set of regulations for accessibility, as in its absence, it allows websites flexibility in how a website’s creators comply with the ADA’s expectations. Regardless of official regulation, many companies have begun to follow Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, or WCAG, with the latest edition hitting the web in 2018.

Unlike the private organizations and businesses the government has placed regulations on how its own websites should meet accessibility guidelines. The 21st century Integrated Digital Experiences Act which was also introduced in 2018 ensures that all federal government websites have been modernized, and made more accessible to Americans with disabilities.

WCAG 2.1 Guidelines

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The WCAG, or Web Content Accessibility Guidelines are agreed upon expectations of compliance which a website or company can strive to achieve. The main focus of WCAG is to enable easy internet use to people of varying levels of ability. The WCAG was created by the World Wide Web Consortium, which is responsible for organizing a number of other international internet standards. The W3C is constantly updating the WCAG with new guidelines and recommendations which further increase the range of accessibility for different users.

How are these guidelines categorized?

  • Level A
    • This is the easiest level of compliance to achieve, it requires the minimum number of features which would allow greater accessibility on a website.
  • Level AA
    • This level is the mid-range of compliance for website accessibility. Level AA is the most common and the minimum recommended level for website accessibility compliance.
  • Level AAA
    • This level is the hardest to obtain, it is not recommended for companies to strive for this level of compliance because it is very difficult to satisfy all of the requirements.

Who Benefits from these Guidelines?

  • Low vision users
    • WCAG 2.1 extends existing contrast ratio requirements for graphics and introduces new guidelines for text and layout customization. These changes from existing guidelines will allow for more control to support “better visual perception”.
  • Users with cognitive, language, or learning disabilities
    • WCAG 2.1 includes expanded requirements to provide information about the specific purpose of input controls, and additional requirements to support timeouts due to inactivity.
  • Everyone
    • WCAG 2.1 guidelines benefit everyone, many of the practices outlined benefit anyone using the web, by streamlining and enhancing the user experience of any person.

Guidelines Organization

The WCAG has four types of guidelines which I would like to briefly explain before moving on. Firstly, perceivable, this category asks, “Are all users able to perceive my content?” For example, if a website contains audio, visual elements, or specific colors, the WCAG 2.1 recommends that websites include accessibility tools which would allow someone who is deaf, visually impaired, or color blind to better access all content.

Secondly, Operable, specifically this category asks, “Are all users able to operate / navigate my website?” Including keyboard shortcuts, and forgiving information inputs will allow users with disabilities to more easily interact with a website.

Third, Understandable, while perceiving and operating a website are two pieces of the puzzle, understanding the content of a website is a whole different beast. Each portion of content on a website should include enough information to prevent users from becoming confused or lost. Menus, icons, and links are all things which users should be able to understand where and why before selecting them.

Lastly, Robust, regardless of guidelines, a robust website is always best practice. Clean code, compatibility with a variety of browsers and devices, and general good design practice benefits everyone surfing the web.

Tips for Creating Accessible Forms

User input forms are an important part of website design, encouraging users to input their information at your business or website is crucial for engagement long term. However, users may find that navigating and filling out a poorly designed form is frustrating and discouraging. There are some tips however that can ensure that a form is accessible to all people regardless of their ability.

  • All Inputs should have associated labels.
    • Inputs without labels will confuse users and prevent screen readers from helping visually impaired users from understanding what is being asked.
  • Placeholder text should be used for examples.
    • Including some text which gives the users a further hint as to what is being asked can make a huge difference, “John Doe” as a default first and last name works great.
  • Formatting expectations should be displayed.
    • In cases where syntax is important, clarifying the expected order is important, which should come first second or third, month, date, or year?
  • Required fields should be identified.
    • Placing an asterisk next to a required field can be useful in determining what is both necessary, and unnecessary when completing a form.
  • color should not be the only indicator for feedback.
    • When differentiating between success and failure, a check or an X can help color blind users rather than just green or red.
  • Error messages should be helpful and close to the input.
    • Don’t leave your users guessing, if a field on the form is invalid it should inform them directly under that field.
  • Every element should be reachable by the keyboard.
    • Without using a mouse, can a user access any part of your form? This is important for users with disabilities who may not be navigating your page using a mouse.
  • Inputs and buttons should have focus indicators.
    • Show your user what element they are focused on; outlines or underlines are helpful rather than just color or hue value.
  • Tab order should make sense.
    • Very straightforward, apply to western language conventions (reading left to right top to bottom) if you are writing for a western audience.
  • Field sets and legends should be used to group inputs.
    • Group input fields together, for example contact information and about the user sections can be separated using different techniques.

These are just ten tips which can make any form accessible, and leave users satisfied and excited to continue a relationship with your brand or website. Thank you for reading and good luck on your next project!

Visit these blogs for more information on website accessibility!

https://medium.com/c2-group/wcag-2-1-guidelines-explained-with-examples-5c7c5d8b69eb

https://uxdesign.cc/10-tips-for-designing-accessible-forms-a016dae8e9aa

https://www.abajournal.com/magazine/article/ada-web-accessibility-doj-regulations

This Post Has 7 Comments

  1. Hi Brian! I found this blog post to be very informative and eye-catching. The visual details you used, like bolded words and bulleted lists, help readers find the important words and information easiest. The layout is very easy to read and I did not feel like I was overloaded with information. I honestly did not know much about the legality and history of accessibility, so I found this especially interesting. Although it can be very difficult, I feel that accessibility is one of, if not the most important aspect of website creation. As I was doing some more research, I found an article that hones in on small business website creation and how it can be more accessible. Small businesses have become increasingly popular in recent years and I feel that this article really opened my eyes to how difficult accessibility of a niche website can be. Here is the link to the article!
    https://digital.com/how-to-create-a-website/make-website-more-accessible/

  2. Hey Brian, you did a great job explaining the concept of accessibility, especially regarding some of the legal cases that have helped develop the ADA and WCAG. It’s interesting to think of websites as places of “public accommodation” in the same way a grocery store, library, or airport would be, but I don’t think some people (and, consequently, website designers) view websites like this. I wonder what level of accommodation our websites for our class project will take, but I assume we will want to strive for at least AA! I found an article from Concord Law School that discusses some finer details of what courts have used to find certain websites “public places”; in one case, “Domino’s website and mobile app did not work with [the plaintiff’s] screen-reading software, leaving him unable to take advantage of services that were only available online.” When thinking about accessibility different devices, I think I’ve considered readability as the foremost reason to make adaptive formats, but I haven’t considered the fact that failing to do so might literally exclude some users from accessing certain content, which carries a much heavier burden than simply having to zoom in and out to read information.

    Link: https://www.concordlawschool.edu/blog/news/website-app-public-accommodation-ada/

  3. Hello, Brian! I really enjoyed your blog post. I do not know much about the legal cases of website building so I found your article to be informative. Your breakdown of the different subjects made everything very easy to understand. Also, your overall tone and use of headings and bolded words, allowed me to navigate the post, and interpret the content easily. I liked your usage of bullet points when discussing the different levels of compliance. I think they helped visualize the different levels and what each of them includes. I found it interesting that it is recommended to not strive for level AAA because of its difficulty. Lastly, I really liked your explanations for perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust. Your explanations were laid out nicely, and splitting each into their own paragraphs was a good format. A related article I found in my research, from the University of Washington, talks about 30 web accessibility tips. Some of them are similar to yours, but there are also some additional ideas I feel would be beneficial to know. Website accessibility is very important to me because as an advertising major, we do a lot of digital work, and this can include website building! Therefore, I found this article and your blog very beneficial.
    Article link: https://www.washington.edu/accesscomputing/30-web-accessibility-tips

  4. Hey Brian, this was a very intriguing blog post! I feel that you did a great job conveying the topic of accessibility and introduced new concepts for me. The way you explain the foundations of WCAG guidelines is nicely written and easy to understand through the plain language you use. I think the lists within this section provide proper clarity on the different levels of WCAG categorization and effectively break it down into the structural purposes of each one. I really like how you bold particular words for emphasis on their importance. This is great for drawing user attention to more specific terms and ideas. Another aspect that helped support these concepts was the visuals. I like the way they are inviting while being formally appropriate as well. Something that made me think was the amount of businesses using accessibility tools we are unaware of. After doing some research, I found an article from https://business.scope.org.uk/ surrounding various organizations that are boosted by business accessibility. The article discusses the impacts of broad accessibility in the modern world and answered a lot of questions I still had. Great job on this post as it was very detailed and well-written.
    Link: https://business.scope.org.uk/article/business-case-accessibility-6-companies-who-boosted-business-with-accessibility

  5. Hi Brian! I really enjoyed your blog post this week. I liked how you included information about the legal side of accessibility and the WCAG guidelines. I was not familiar with that beforehand, so that is good information to know. I also really appreciated how you organized your accessibility tips in a list format. It made it very easy to read, and kept the content organized. I think those tips are very important when designing a user input form, because I think most people can think of a time they had to fill out a form that was confusing and frustrating. I found a post that talked more about designing a user input form, specifically for a mobile format. I think it is important to keep mobile users in mind during website design, so I thought this was worth a read. Once again, great job on your post!
    Link: https://www.smashingmagazine.com/2018/08/best-practices-for-mobile-form-design/

  6. Brian, your post was a very engaging read! I thought your headers made it easy to navigate the page, and you defined and then used acronyms without it being overwhelming. I also appreciated your use of bulleted lists to break the content into smaller pieces. I hadn’t considered that online accessibility (or a lack thereof) would invoke a lot of lawsuits, but after reading your post, it makes sense that it should. Specifically, you pointed out that websites are public spaces, and I had never thought of them that way. It’s not fair that somebody should be unable to access a public space due to disability or other circumstances beyond their control, and it should be no different on the internet. I found an interesting article by Level Access that talked about how the number of these lawsuits is growing year by year, with a 12% increase in cases between 2021 and 2022. It goes on to highlight the company Winn-Dixie, who was involved in a six-year-long court case against a blind individual that was incapable of using the website. The original verdict was that they were in violation of the ADA, but this was later overturned by the Eleventh Circuit, ultimately proving that there needs to be more clear regulation of accessibility in web spaces.
    Article Link: https://www.levelaccess.com/blog/web-accessibility-lawsuits-2022-recap-and-what-to-expect-in-2023/#:~:text=The%20number%20of%20web%20accessibility,12%20percent%20increase%20from%202021.

  7. Brian,
    Your blog does a great job at covering the overarching idea of website accessibility, and I especially enjoy the discussion of impact on user experiences for individuals with a variety of disabilities. I also think your blog post does a good job at catching the audience’s attention by the way you start off by emphasizing the consequences of not taking accessibility seriously in web design. The way you broke down WCAG’s levels and how the guidelines are categorized made understanding how to approach inclusivity really easy to understand overall. To further expand on your post, I decided to look into the intersection of technology and accessibility in education. Here’s a link to an article I found: https://www.edsurge.com/news/2023-05-03-digital-accessibility-is-a-bigger-education-issue-than-we-think-here-s-what-we-can-do-about-it

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