Whether engaging in a specific project, such as working with IT to incorporate text-to-speech readers or other assistive technology in your online environment, or carrying out the seemingly simple task of adjusting your hiring and recruiting page, you must be up to date on Web access for disabled employees and applicants.
Are you aware of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) accommodations and accessibility standards for the vision- and hearing-impaired under the new ADA regulations?
Employment law attorney Jonathan R. Mook of DiMuroGinsberg and Jon Mires of the Center for Accessible Technology recently outlined some basic ADA requirements, described common barriers to accessibility, and provided helpful tips for making your website meet the requirements of the latest ADA regulations.
Website ADA requirements
Mook noted that the ADA nondiscrimination requirement “means that employers need to make accommodations to individuals with disabilities in order to enable them to participate in the workplace.”
The accommodation process starts before employment even begins by making the application process accessible for applicants. Mook explained, “You have to make sure that if you do online applications . . . the application process is accessible to individuals with disabilities. That can certainly include individuals who are blind, who have hearing impairments, [and] individuals who have low vision, and [who] therefore maybe need some type of accommodation to make applications online.”
- Enabling employees to perform their essential job functions — for example, by providing accessible computer or other electronic equipment.
- Facilitating communication among employees — for example, by ensuring that meetings, including those held electronically such as via webinar, are accessible to individuals with disabilities.
- Additionally, state and local governments must make goods, services, facilities, programs, or activities offered to the public accessible, including via the Internet.
HR Guide to Employment Law, including a chapter on the Americans with Disabilities Act
6 typical barriers to web accessibility
Barriers to Web accessibility for individuals with disabilities are numerous. Here are some examples:
- Speech-recognition software used by individuals who do not have use of their hands could be incompatible with some websites’ technology.
- Screen readers used by individuals who are blind or have low vision could be incompatible with some websites’ technology.
- Individuals who are hearing-impaired are often unable to access information in Web videos because no captions are provided.
- Individuals with low vision are often unable to read websites without modification of font size or color contrast.
- Individuals with intellectual disabilities or low vision may be unable to use portions of websites that require timed responses.
- Images or photographs that have no corresponding text cannot be interpreted.
Tips to ensure your website meets ADA requirements
ADA requirements prompt you to provide equal access to your website to prevent the issues described above. Therefore, your Web presence may require some modifications. You should allow some flexibility in how material is presented to accommodate different groups. Also, follow accepted standards and guidelines for Web accessibility, and understand the users’ needs so you can apply new technologies to meet them.
Here are some additional user situations and barriers you may need to overcome:
- Keyboard-only users primarily navigate using “Tab” and “Enter” keys. Primary accessibility barriers include controls that require mouse interaction or excessive amounts of time required to navigate pages.
- Blind users usually use screen-reader software. (Blind users are keyboard-only users, too!) Primary accessibility barriers include images and other non-text content (e.g., multimedia, Flash, etc.) without explanations and descriptive text, inaccessible forms or documents, poor page structure that is unable to be read by screen-reader software, nondescriptive links, and audio or video that starts automatically. Blind users often navigate by “link lists.” Link text should make sense out of context — for example, avoid the use of “click here” or “read more” links. To be most useful, the most specific part of the link text should appear first.
- Hearing-impaired users cannot access audio-only content. Their primary barriers are videos or audio — such as interviews or instructions — without captioning (preferred) or transcripts.
- Low-vision users encounter many different barriers. Usually these individuals aren’t using screen-reader software; rather, they’re often using other assistive technology such as screen magnification software. Primary barriers include low-contrast text, small text, instructions or information conveyed solely through color, and content that disappears off the visible area when enlarged.
These examples of barriers to eliminate are just a start. There are many other users who may have other special needs on the Web, including those with cognitive or learning disabilities or mobility impairments and speech-to-text users.
“It’s very important to make sure that the information that you are wishing to convey — particularly through a website — is accessible to individuals with disabilities,” Mook continued. “You need to go through your website and make sure that you’re not running afoul of some of these barriers that certainly may arise and are very apparent to persons who have disabling conditions.” If accessibility isn’t possible, provide the goods, services, information, etc., in alternative, accessible formats.
Jonathan R. Mook is a founding partner in the firm of DiMuroGinsberg in Arlington, Virginia, and a nationally recognized authority on the ADA. He has authored two published treatises: “Americans with Disabilities Act: Employee Rights and Employer Obligations” and “Americans with Disabilities Act: Public Accommodations and Commercial Facilities.” He is an editor of the Virginia Employment Law Letter.
Jon Mires is a Web developer focusing on usability and accessibility at the Center for Accessible Technology in Berkeley, California. He has helped a wide range of organizations understand and implement Web accessibility principles, focusing on how to comply with standards and guidelines while maintaining focus on core users and technological capabilities.