Website Hospitality for People with Disabilities

We know how the Biblical Christmas story goes, right? A key component of the narrative is “no room at the inn” for the very pregnant lady. So, in the spirit of the season, we thought we’d torture a metaphor and ask if your website is welcoming of people with special needs  … or does it turn them away?
What prompted our inquiry was a recent blog about letters threatening business owners with legal action because their websites allegedly don’t comply with the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act). As the official government website explains, “The ADA broadly protects the rights of individuals with disabilities in employment, access to State and local government services, places of public accommodation, transportation, and other important areas of American life.” To comply with the ADA, businesses are expected to make “reasonable accommodations” for people with disabilities. To some extent, this requirement includes website access.
What’s reasonable as far as websites go is still up in the air, and in many cases, it must be decided in court. The bottom line of the blog is that if you get a letter accusing your company’s website of non-compliance, you should consult an attorney. However, we’re going to skip the legal considerations and look at this issue from a “thoughtfulness” standpoint.
A prominent international group called the  World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) has published guidelines to make websites more accessible to people with disabilities. Here are a few of the W3C’s ideas as they concern:
Text alternatives/equivalents (e.g. audio, enlarged size, displayed on braille devices) for non-text content:
  • Presenting short text descriptions of images, including icons, buttons, and graphics.
  • Having descriptions of data represented on charts, diagrams, and illustrations.
  • Including brief descriptions of non-text content such as audio and video files.
  • Labeling form controls, input, and other user interface components.
Captions and other alternatives for multimedia for people who cannot hear audio or see video:
  • Utilizing text transcripts and captions of audio content, such as recordings of people speaking.
  • Embedding audio descriptions, which are narrations to describe important visual details in a video.
  • Providing sign language interpretation of audio content, including relevant auditory experiences.
Making content easier to see and hear:
  • Relying on measures other than different colors to distinguish content or convey information.
  • Making sure foreground and background colors provide sufficient contrast.
  • With a standard browser, enable resizing of text up to 200% without losing information.
  • Allowing users to pause, stop or adjust audio volume.
Some of these ideas would be appreciated by almost everyone, not just people with disabilities. (Who hasn’t wanted to turn down the audio on a noisy website or zoom in on a tiny font?) Check out the complete W3C Accessibility Principles for this (and more) information in greater detail. Keep in mind, these suggestions are not the law, but if you can make visiting your website a more inclusive experience without too much trouble or expense, why not do so?