Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Web

The United States Department of Justice has announced that it plans to create rules that apply the ADA to the web.

I’d like to begin by pointing you specifically to the section titled “Barriers to Web Accessibility“. It is a very good read with clear and specific examples of how web content can be inaccessible to users with disabilities.

I think this is a Very Good Thing. Not for any humanitarian reason, but for the very selfish reason that it will force developers to create better web sites. It will force developers to think “how will this affect users with disabilities” before they implement a web site design.

For example, there are quite a lot of stylesheets out there that make heavy use of !important rules. These rules override anything else that exists to style a given element, including user-defined stylesheets applied to web pages by users who have difficulty with low-contrast web pages (think gray text on a white background). !important rules are almost always a product of lazy developers who don’t take the time to learn the cascading order of CSS and resort to !important when they can’t figure out why their style won’t apply like it should.

However the are stickier areas that we’ll all have to deal with. For example the use of CAPTCHAs; those little scrambled words that you have to type into some box before you can submit a form. CAPTCHAs typically rely on images which are inaccessible to blind users. reCAPTCHA employs an aleternative, audio-based CAPTCHA along side it’s image CAPTCHA for such users. I’m a big fan of reCAPTCHA and suggest it to all web developers.

Another problem will be video content. Blind and deaf users won’t be able to access the full content of the video, however providing video captions or (more correct) a transcript of the video will solve the issue. It’s not a technological hurdle, just a tedious one. This web site specifically talks about YouTube and captioning as one way to solve this problem.

Mouse-driven events are yet one more problem area we’ll need to deal with. I myself make heavy use of drop-down menus with the CSS :hover pseudoclass. However, try tabbing through a web page yourself and you’ll see those drop-down menus don’t trigger. My approach to this issue has always been that the top-level items (those accessible to users who can only tab through the page) should link to pages from which the items in the drop-down are accessible. The drop-down provides a shortcut, but you are not limiting access to information for disabled users.

There are other areas to cover, but I’m not here to cover them all. In fact  I’m going to assume new areas will be created as technology progresses. The trick is to develop the mindset that as you develop a web site, or some web-based resource, to constantly ask yourself “is this accessible?”. If the answer is ever “no”, you need to find a way to make that answer “yes”. And, most importantly, follow through to make it a “yes” with vigor rather than apathy as I tend to believe developer apathy is the cause for the majority of inaccessible web sites out there right now.

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2 thoughts on “Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Web

  1. Wow! I commend you for coming up with a great article. There are so many people with disabilities that truly deserves to feel the “cyberworld” and many of them can actually be more creative than those normal if only given a fair chance to experience that most of us are experiencing. I am a philanthropist and a person with lots of ideas, perhaps when you have time, you can visit me too:
    http://www.facebook.com/donaldbrownliefleming

  2. recaptcha is as bad for everyone… i’m dyslexic and i say those are the worst things ever. i can’t read most of them. i end up guessing on almost all of them. then curse out the web devs for not using a stupid question instead. its easy ask a question that is obvious and most people would know but also vague enough that a computer can’t interpret it. i mean its simple really.

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