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Posted: December 03, 2013

Building an accessible future online

A few tips for complying with new rules

Candice Alder

The U.S. Department of Justice will soon be updating the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) with broader guidelines on website accessibility. Once enforced, these new rules will expand the degree to which the ADA applies to public websites, including state and local government and online shopping websites.

In preparation for these changes, there are several ways small businesses can make their websites more accessible for customers with disabilities. The following are a few tips that you or your website developer can implement now to make your website more accessible:

  1. Provide alternative text for non-text elements when the non-text elements are meaningful to the content of the page. Non-text elements include images, graphical representations of text (including symbols), images used as list bullets, spacers, graphical buttons, sounds (played with or without user interaction), stand-alone audio files, audio tracks of video and video.

If an image or other non-text element adds meaning to the page, then use the alt attribute to provide alternative text. If it does not add meaning, then alternative text is unnecessary to a screen-reader user.

  1. Use heading elements, <H1> to <H6>. Since some visually impaired web users skim through a document by navigating its headings, it is important to use them appropriately to convey document structure. This can be accomplished by:
  • Ordering the header elements properly. For example, in HTML, H2 elements should follow the H1 element, and H3 elements should follow H2 elements, and so on. Content developers should not “skip” levels (e.g., H1 directly to H3).
  • Using Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) instead of heading elements to change font sizes or styles.
  1. Include a well-positioned label for each field on a form (the “what-am-I-supposed-to-fill-in-here?” guideline). It is important that websites properly place and label text fields in online forms. For blind or low-vision web users, it can be challenging to know what information is required in a text field on a form. In the case of checkboxes and radio buttons, it is also challenging not to know if the box that is checked or button that is chosen is actually the one associated with the correct label.

For more information on website accessibility, an overview of the key principles of the new guidelines and access to webinars on this topic, visit AccessibleTech.org. Business owners, operators and web developers who are interested in learning more about these new website requirements under the ADA can expect to hear of the Department of Justice’s proposed rule changes by the end of the year. For information and updates on these rule changes, visit www.adainformation.org.

The Rocky Mountain ADA Center is a valuable resource for information, materials and training for individuals and organizations with rights and responsibilities under the ADA. Operated by Meeting the Challenge, Inc., the ADA Center is one of 10 regional centers, it serves a six state region including Colorado, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Utah and Wyoming. For more information, visit www.adainformation.org.

Candice Alder is the director of technical assistance and training for the Rocky Mountain ADA Center which is operated by Meeting the Challenge, Inc. (MTC), an information services consulting firm that serves individuals and organizations with rights and responsibilities for compliance under federal disability laws. The ADA Center provides information, informal guidance and training on the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Alder has been with MTC and the ADA Center since 2002. In her current role, she offers guidance on ADA-related issues and helps people with disabilities understand their rights under the ADA and how to advocate for themselves.

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