ADA Compliance and Your GeniusSite
By Harley Orion, CEO
The pace of change in digital marketing can be incredibly fast. And this isn’t just in the realm of technology. Sometimes, change comes as we better understand what all users of the Internet need. So we're always looking to improve our platform and services to support our clients – and the pet owners they help. One trend we’re following is an increase in concerns about “ADA Compliance” on websites.
First and foremost, we believe that all people deserve equal access to the internet. Our platform is already designed with the needs of disabled users in mind, and we are continually working to provide the best possible experience for all users.
This article will address what we already have in place, and what we’re doing to address these new developments.
While our clients’ websites generate more traffic than any other independent practice websites in the nation, to date, we have yet to receive a single complaint from an actual user who could not navigate a GeniusSite due to a disability. As the CEO of GeniusVets, this is what matters the most to me personally.
What is the ADA?
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a federal civil rights law enacted in 1990, which prohibits discrimination based on disability. A section called “Title III” requires businesses to provide equal access to their facilities for individuals with disabilities. This is the rule that, for example, requires wheelchair ramps to be provided alongside staircases.
The ADA is well-intentioned and has clearly helped improve access for the disabled. But it has also been exploited by some attorneys to serve nuisance lawsuits on small businesses that seem more focused on extracting damages and generating legal fees than on actually improving access for the disabled.
What is an “ADA compliant website”?
The ADA (full text here) is from 1990 and does not address websites at all. However, some cases have claimed that the website of any business can be considered a “public accommodation” and thus must provide accommodations for disabled users. This is a legal gray area; but it’s clear that there is a trend toward requiring this type of accessibility, so we will be continuing to move in this direction as well. There are some guidelines that have been issued for government websites, so this is the standard we are focusing on as we continue to increase accessibility on our platform.
How GeniusVets promotes accessibility
GeniusVets has always followed best practices for accessibility while also allowing our clients to manage their own sites with greater flexibility.
Just a few examples:
- We’ve created an official website accessibility policy for your GeniusSite to discourage legal “trolls” – you can see an example on our site here
- Content provided by GeniusVets, such as our blog library, contains the appropriate “alt tags” (code that provides a description of an image to visually impaired users) and “title tags” (code that provides a link with a description to assist visually impaired users)
- We utilize "semantic markup” – our system provides the structural information used by programs that assist visually impaired users to find the header, the navigation, the content, etc.
- Font sizes and colors provide sufficient contrast for readability
- All vital information is accessible using screen reading software
- We implemented the "UserWay widget," to provide "Web Accessibility for the Visually Impaired":
"UserWay assists users that have varying degrees of visual impairment by enhancing their browsing experience to best meet their needs and physical limitations. We do this by improving your site's support for keyboard-only navigation, as well as enabling users to independently increase the contrast of contents on your site, increasing the font size, switching to a more readable font face, using a larger cursor, highlighting links, desaturating content (removing color from text and images), and more, based on their personal disability and preference."
- For pages you can create and edit on your own, we provide tools for to add required “alternate text” to images for the visually impaired, and to apply proper "semantic markup" through our toolbar (please ask your GeniusVets Client Success Manager if you’d like to learn more about how to use these tools)
Many of these strategies are also instrumental to SEO (search engine optimization) – and, since we're obsessed with building your search engine traffic, you can be assured that the GeniusVets website platform has been built from the ground up to utilize these features.
What we have in the works
We’re making some immediate updates to ensure GeniusVets clients present the most formidable position on this issue:
- We’re reviewing all link text and forms platform-wide to add more clarifying information for accessibility
- We’re also conducting an audit of client-created content – your Client Success Manager will let you know if any of your content needs updating, and will assist you with any modifications needed, and provide training on how to make your future content accessible
Larger-scale efforts include:
- Increased implementation of keyboard-based navigation
- Training tools to help your staff ensure the content they create is accessible
Can someone really sue you for website accessibility?
In short, yes – but anyone can sue anyone for essentially anything. So neither GeniusVets nor any other website provider can guarantee you won’t get hit with a nuisance lawsuit; but working with GeniusVets keeps you current on the features that truly impact usability for real people, and we are also working to give you the best possible strategies to discourage legal “trolling.”
What about accessibility testing tools and consultants?
There are many automated tools that claim to test accessibility. These should not be confused with a legal opinion. For example, the website of the Department of Labor, who administers the ADA, fails with over 80 alerts and errors in a commonly used testing tool. There are also attorneys and consultants who provide compliance services for a fee, and while their input may be useful, it should be taken with a grain of salt as they have a financial interest in the matter.
As always, we will continue to innovate toward the best possible functionality for all users. Meanwhile, if someone in your community contacts you with a request to change your site so that they can more easily access it, please don’t hesitate to contact us and we will do our best to help.
Please note that the above is our opinion and recommendation based on decades of experience in web development, but is not intended to serve as legal advice. Feel free to contact your GeniusVets Client Success Manager with any questions you may have.
This article was originally published in August 2018. Updated September 2019.