Is Your Website ADA Compliant (and Does it Matter?) – Craig Kazda

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Is Your Website ADA Compliant (and Does it Matter?) – Craig Kazda

When you hear the term “ADA compliant”, you might immediately think of buildings and how they’re supposed to be handicapped accessible for people in wheelchairs. But you need to think broader in this digital age. There’s more for consumers than just visiting brick and mortar shops. These days, a great deal of shopping and research is done online. So Craig Kazda would ask you, “Is your website ADA compliant?”

What are you doing to ensure that people with visual, auditory, or intellectual disabilities can access and understand the same information as everyone else who visits your site? If you haven’t started to consider this and make adjustments to your website, you’re not only losing customers and pushing away business, but you may find you’re being penalized in the Google search rankings, or even worse, being sued.

 

 

Rich: My guest today is the Vice President of Quantum Dynamix, a holistic and digital marketing agency located in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Since it’s origination in 2008, Quantum Dynamix has used a scientific approach to marketing to develop digital strategies that integrate with multiple platforms to produce a measurable ROI for their clients.

In his role as Vice President, our guest facilitates the execution of each project from start to finish, helping clients convey their marketing vision. Focusing specifically in the financial, banking, and credit union verticals, he brings years of experience to help clients better connect with prospective and existing customers. This includes a comprehensive understanding of how to ensure that their marketing is compliant with stringent industry and federal guidelines, including ADA/WCAG standards.

Ok, here’s where things get interesting. Outside of Quantum Dynamix he serves as President for the Keystone Indoor Drill Association (KIDA), a comprehensive marching arts organization that provides competitive opportunities for over 100 indoor color guards and percussion ensembles in the Mid-Atlantic region, impacting the lives of nearly 2,000 student performers each year. I am very excited to dive into things with Craig Kazda. Craig, welcome to the show.

Craig: Why thank you for having me, I really do appreciate you having me on and carving out a little time for me.

Rich: So Craig let’s start with the obvious question, how did you get involved with competitive marching arts?

Craig: Well I’m actually a bank geek at heart. I always have been. I am a percussionist by trade, from a musical standpoint. I marched all through high school, all through college. And while I was in college I had the opportunity to go back and start teaching at my high school alma mater. So while teaching there I kind of found an affinity for music education, teaching kids, and whatnot.

And as I kind of spent more and more time in the activity it’s one of those things where – and anytime a nonprofit organization wants someone to get involved – so I was at a meeting with a handful of people and they asked who wants to volunteer to do a thing, and I was the last person to say, “Not it”, so I ended up being on a Board of Directors, and it’s been over 10 years now. So it’s just been a progression of being a performer, being an educator, and now kind of being in the administrative side of the marching arts form an association standpoint.

Rich: Alright. Well now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s talk about ADA compliance. What led you to make that part of your focus at Quantum Dynamix? And kind of just explain to the people at home what exactly is ADA compliance?

Craig: Sure, absolutely. So ADA compliance, from an understanding standpoint, I think a lot of people will think of it from the building codes standpoint. Because ADA back in the 80s and into the 90s, American Disability Act was passed making sure that building new construction across America – as well as anything that’s getting renovated – had the ability to be accessible to those with disabilities. Particular those in wheelchairs or who have limited mobility when walking.

So this is when buildings were forced by code to have ramps and elevators so that the general public could access the services of businesses and structures. So from there, that’s where everyone kind of understands ADA. But as an extension of the guidelines and kind of the extension of the education of law, it has now kind of started to move and spill over into the digital realm. Because in this day and age a lot of business occurs exclusively online.

Amazon, outside of Whole Foods, has no brick and mortar. Those businesses still have to be accessible for those individuals that have disabilities, whether they be visual, auditory, or intellectual. There has to be an extension for those businesses to still be able to serve those types of customers.

And so from our standpoint at Quantum Dynamix, we actually ended up partnering with a local non-profit, VisionCore, that focuses solely on providing services for those with visual impairments, low sight or no sight. At all. And it’s from that partnership with that nonprofit that we started to discover and see how much of a problem website compliance was for those who could not really use the web the way you and I do.

Rich: You know it’s interesting, because I had a very similar experience where there’s an organization in town called – perhaps ironically – Iris, which is another organization for visually impaired people. And I had the opportunity of going in there years ago when we first started looking into this and watching the Executive Director show me how difficult it was to buy airline tickets online using AT/assistive technology. So it’s just interesting we had such similar experiences and how important this is.

Craig: Yeah, it’s incredible how when you watch an individual using their keyboard and screen zoom to try and navigate sites, how many things and obstacles are built in – not maliciously but without conscious thought – that are really impeding that experience.

Rich: Yeah, and we both talked about visual impairments, but I want to talk about some of the other ones. And maybe as part of this question, what does it mean for a website to be ADA compliant? I understand that there’s three different levels as well, can you kind of speak to those?

Craig: Sure, absolutely. So ADA is kind of the legal framework that these compliances live in. But the guidelines that have been accepted for them are the web content accessibility guidelines, otherwise known as WCAG.

So basically what these guidelines kind of create is 4 principals to make sure that your websites are compliant to all visitors. A lion’s share of this is considerations to those with low sight or no sight visual impairments. But there is also consideration to those who have auditory impairments, including deafness or limited hearing, as well as a set of guidelines for those with intellectual disabilities, epilepsy, things along those lines.

So this covers a lot of ground that I think people aren’t fully aware of. We think of ADA on the building side of things as just ramps and elevators, but even that covers a lot more.

To your question regarding the levels of compliance, there are three levels built inside the WCAG guidelines, Level A, Level AA, and Level AAA. And those are kind of tiers of compliance acceptance. So Level A is kind of the most easily manageable tier of compliance. Level AA starts to get a little more complex.

And then there’s A, kind of future version of the AAA guidelines that are things that are either really diving deep into the future of technology, or items that we as average everyday marketers and website developers don’t come in contact a lot unless you’re a large organization like CNN, NBC, those large content providers that need to have some consideration to more advanced technologies. From a legal standpoint in this day and age, most people are asking for A and AA compliance.

Rich: Ok so what’s in there, in this A and AA and AAA if you want to throw some examples, but what’s in there, can you give us some examples of what we should be aware of as website owners what we need to do to stay compliant with the law?

Craig: Sure, absolutely. There’s a couple things to make sure you’re keeping in mind as you look at just kind of a generic overview of what compliance would be. A couple of examples that are really easy and tangible from the A level, are making sure that your images have alternate text options. Imagine someone who can’t see. Imagine putting a blindfold on and looking at a website, you can’t see anything. So using that alternate text gives screen readers such as JAWS, the ability to audiate what’s on the website. So making sure that your images have that alt text is the easiest way to make sure that your images are matching compliance.

The other part from an actual operability standpoint is making sure that your website has the ability to navigate the keyboard. So imagine using your arrow keys, your tab keys, to kind of move around the website in a quick efficient way. A lot of that starts using what we call “ARIA code”, which is kind of a global practice that the industry is starting to use to make sure we’re properly standardizing our coding practices and identifying and labeling what the parts of our site are. Including breaking out what your website navigation is, what your website content is, and allowing you to kind of not only navigate but also skip sections.

The use of header tags is considered part of the A compliance. Moving into the upper levels of compliance, if you have any type of audio content, it’s making sure that you provide an alternate textural transcript that someone could read if they can’t hear. If you have video content, making sure there’s closed captioning available for those that would need to read it in some type of way. So those type of considerations are at the AA level.

When you start to get at the AAA level, that’s when things start getting much more complicated with the idea that we are kind of building average websites. When you think of an average website manager – something we don’t necessarily get into – but one of the AAA compliant requirements is that you have to use sign language for anything that might have audio over video. To think about just the process it would be to use sign language for all of your content is really a herculean effort. That’s probably one of the biggest ones that I always gravitate towards because it’s the most extreme example of something that would be very complicated for an average website user to be able to be compliant on. But again, AAA is not mandated the way that AA and A are.

Rich: So that brings up an interesting thing. So when people say – and I run a digital agency, you run a digital agency that focuses on ADA compliance – people say to me, “I want my website to be ADA compliant”. Especially in a bidding process, can I get away with A? When people say that they need an ADA compliant website, is A enough, at least to protect them in the kind of cover your arse sort of way in case the government comes after us? Or more likely, in case a lawyer comes after us.

Craig: Right. And we can talk about the lawyer standpoint here in a moment. But from an actual meeting the federal compliance guidelines, single A would not be enough. You would need both A and AA adherence to the guidelines to be considered compliant.

Rich: Then why do they even have a single A?

Craig: That’s a great question When you look at the stages that the guidelines got developed in, you can kind of see that the single A was the first step at providing a basic baseline of compliance. If you actually put it into a graph, it’s actually the shortest level of requirement. That AA is kind of new technology requiring the next step of compliance.

So it covers a lot of things about closed captioning and navigational adjustments, but it’s kind of a next step up which requires a higher level of sophistication from a developmental standpoint or content management standpoint.

Rich: Ok, so there’s almost like, the way you’ve described it it’s more of a chronological approach. It’s single A was right off the bat first thing, AA requires some newer technologies, AAA is some technologies that might not have even come into existence for the most part.

Craig: Yeah, absolutely. And the way I kind of look at it from those tiers, I see it in some ways as levels of effort. Singe A are items that are the easiest level of effort. AA tends to be more time, more complexity. And then the AAA requirement is where you’re talking about a significant lift to make sure you’re adhering to the guidelines.

Rich: Right. You mentioned some examples that were for visual and auditory, but you also mentioned intellectual issues as well. So what do we need to do to come into compliance with some of the intellectual concerns that the ADA considers?

Craig: Yeah, sure. So there’s a couple interesting guidelines, the easiest one is to talk to anyone that might be having issues with epilepsy, where anything that has moving video, flashing text, flashing imagery, those things that can cause a seizure to occur, are covered under the guidelines.

So they want to make sure that you’re minimizing your blinking, controlling your moving. They have a three flash or less requirement, so you can’t have something flash more than 3 times because that might be something that triggers a seizure. So when you look at those kind of neurological disorders, things for epilepsy are covered within the guidelines.

What’s interesting is if you get deep into the guidelines in terms of the understandability of information inside of WCAG, what they really want you to do is make sure that you’re using clear plain language that consumers can grasp at a lower level. So they want you to avoid using technical jargon unless it’s very necessary.

They don’t want you to use language that would be hard for a consumer or a user to understand, and that’s really covering those with those intellectual disabilities or lower capacities for reading, so that they can still access the level of service the company might offer without needing to have the mental faculties to understand complex text when it’s not necessary. Again, if you’re in an industry where it requires that type of text and that type of detail, that is excluded from the guidelines.

Rich: Wow, that sounds like a minefield. It also sounds like it’s very open to interpretation. So how much of these guidelines are black and white, and what percentage of them may be open to interpretation?

Craig: Yeah, that’s a great question. Because even in the guidelines, there are guidelines in single A and I use the color contrast criteria as kind of a prime example. Where the single A requirement for color contrast is different from when you get to the AAA requirement.

So at the A level you need to make sure that your site has appropriate levels of color contrast. And this is kind of a misconception or an oversight that people think of that when we think about visual disabilities, everything about low sight and no sight.

You also need to think about those who have various types of low sight vision, we need to also consider those who are color blind, and those types of considerations go out to the color contrast consideration of the guidelines. At the A level the color contrast needs to be a ratio I believe of 1:4.5, unless you have larger text then it’s 1:3. At the AAA level that contrast requirement increases I believe to 1:5.

So there’s a difference between levels, but then in terms of the idea of is the content interpretable, that really is in the eye of the beholder. So there’s a lot of truth to you have to use best faith efforts to make sure that you’re in compliance and making sure you’re providing those pathways that if someone has an issue they can communicate to you and you can help them resolve those disability issues quickly and promptly.

Rich: So Craig you and I talked offline before this, and both being in the web development business and having gone through this before, I’m sure there are a lot of people right now listening saying, A) What does this have to do with marketing?,B) Why should I even care about these sort of things. But what is driving some of the client’s issues right now in the industry?

Craig: So we do a lot of work with credit unions, banks, financial institutions, wealth managers, along those lines. The biggest thing I will tell my clients as to why they should care about ADA is because it is federally mandated and you can be sued. That is plain and simple the biggest reason why a company should stop and care about ADA.

On the side of that, if you’re looking for the not legal response to that, I think it’s an understanding that 18.7% of Americans are inside of what would be considered WCAG guidelines regarding their form of disability, whether that be auditory, visual, or intellectual. 18.7% of Americans are assisted by WCAG guidelines in some way, shape, or form.

Rich: So just to reiterate, part of it is nearly 1 out of 5 Americans are basically if you’re not doing the ADA compliance, you might be pushing people away from your business. One out of five people might have trouble with your website if you’re not really trying to be compliant. That’s one aspect of it, and of course as business people we want as many customers as we can and we want to be good corporate citizens as well. And in this day and age almost every business needs a website, certainly everyone that listens to this podcast needs a website.

And then the other side is companies are getting sued. We’ve had a couple of clients who they didn’t get sued but people in their industry got sued so they had to come back. You’ve been dealing with this in the credit union arena so this is something that is really important. If a website is important to your business and to your marketing, then this is important to you as well.

So maybe we just snapped somebody out of their stupor when they’re listening to this podcast like, “Holy cow, what do I do now?” How does somebody know if they’re in compliance or not? 

Craig: That’s a great question. If you’re not sure and you’re not comfortable, I will always step in and say make sure you consult an expert, make sure you’re talking to someone who really does understand guidelines.

If you want the quick immediacy of knowing whether you should feel good or not, there is a tool out there called Wave. If you just go into Google and type in “wave accessibility tool” it will come up and provide you a site that you can put in your website URL and it will run a scan of your website and start giving you a sense of where you are in compliance and where you are deficient against the WCAG guidelines. And what’s nice about that is it will basically put little pinpoints on an image of your site and show you where the issues are, and will start helping you dive into understanding the complexities and understanding how you can remediate the situation. And if nothing else, if you’re not a web developer or a marketing company it gives you a place to start a conversation with an expert.

Rich: Now you also at one point we talked about Google Lighthouse. What is Google Lighthouse and what role does it play in this ADA compliance issue?

Craig: That’s a great question. For those of you out there who are not familiar with Google Lighthouse, I’m going to slide into a SEO conversation for a second and say that you should be using Google Lighthouse probably on at least a monthly or weekly basis on your website, just to make sure that you’re adhering to the best search engine optimization practices. Google Lighthouse is a tool that you can add to your Chrome browser, it basically gives you the ability to scan your website, see how you’re stacking up from Google standards in terms of site performance, SEO, and a bunch of different criteria. And it will give you a whole report of where you’re running into issues, the things you can do to remediate your site, and it will give you a score of 1 out of 100 saying how your site is doing for various sets of criteria.

Now what’s interesting is that inside of Lighthouse they have now included an accessibility support, which is basically a quick scan of your site and says where your website is standing up against accessibility guidelines.

Now Google never says anything that they do. They never make public announcements about how they’re changing the Google algorithm or SEO rankings. But what’s peculiar is if you look at the tea leaves there is a reason that Google is adding these accessibility items to Lighthouse, to some of their mobile questions they’re asking through Google Maps and Google Places. There’s a reason they’re asking these questions, Google doesn’t do anything by mistake.

So the same way that a couple years ago they started making a bigger push for mobile first and mobile accessible websites, and then finally revealed that’s now part of search criteria. I have no doubt in my mind that at some point these accessibility guidelines are going to be baked into the Google search algorithms the same way everything else is.

Rich: So just like site speed from a couple years ago as well.

Craig: A tinfoil hat theory, so take that for what it is. And if I’m right, then you can say you heard it here first. But that’s my theory.

Rich: So just to reiterate for everybody listening here, Craig believes – and I’m 100% behind him – that Google is ultimately going to be weighing your ADA compliance into the Google algorithm. So if there were two sites that have equally good content and answer a question in the same sort of way equally good, and they load up quickly and have the same number of links, but one of them is ADA compliant and the other one isn’t. Chances are Google one day will start ranking the ADA compliant site higher. So that’s another compelling reason to make sure your site gets into compliance.

One of the things, Craig, that I experienced over the years is we used to pay a lot more attention to this and then we started using platforms like WordPress. And WordPress did so many things for us that we kind of took our eye off of the ball. Are there WordPress plugins that people can use to make sure that their website is as compliant as it can be?

Craig: There are a couple plugins out there that allow you to add some ADA accessible tools to them. There’s one plugin, the name is now passing me, but there’s a plugin that allows you to add a couple ADA tools on the sites including a high contrast mode, the ability to zoom into the sites more efficiently, and kind of a high contrast mode. Those tools will kind of sit on the side rail of your site, for those who would like to use them they can access those tools to provide a stepping stone towards compliance.

Because I think that’s the most important thing to remember about compliance, is that your site functionality does not innately need to be able to be compliant per se, but you need to make sure that you provide the ability for all your content and all of your services to be rendered to those who do need those accessible services. So if you want to do a fancy design thing ,or a fancy javascript, or fancy animation, you can still do those things but make sure that there is a compliant alternative sitting beside it that those individuals can use if they need to.

Rich: Is there something similar to a privacy policy that’s like the ADA compliance policy?

Craig: Yes. I’m going to take a second and sidestep for a minute because I think the best example of what you’d want to do for ADA is what Europe and now California has started to do as it relates to privacy policies.

So when the new privacy regulations went into effect, the GDRP guidelines, you started seeing a lot of people up their approach in exposure and transparency for privacy policies in making sure that you were approving the use of cookies and stuff like that.

There are accessibility policies that every website should be using as well. In a nutshell, the policies basically say that we have done our best faith efforts to make this website compliant for all users, this is the guidelines that we adhere to, this is when we last checked our compliance against those guidelines.

And then the most important part of it is saying that if you have an issue with some component of accessibility on our website, you are giving those users a direct line to communicate to you to express any issues they may be facing so that you can work with them through that problem and you can help them overcome a problem and then you can later on resolve that.

That provides effort, that provides proof that you’ve done everything you can in your power to make your business and your company and your website accessible to all users.

Rich: That’s awesome. Craig, if somebody wants you to look over their site, or they just want to reach out to you, where can we send them?

Craig: To me, personally?

Rich: To you personally, to your company, how can they get in touch with you?

Craig: Sure. I’m online at quantumdynamix.net, or you can email me, my email is on my website Or you can give us a call, 717-431-6681.

And typically what we do when someone reaches out to us for an accessibility question, is we talk to them about doing an ADA audit. Which is basically where our team of experts will go through the website and run all your pages through accessibility tools. We’ll provide a report back to you on where your website is accessible, where it is not accessible, and then provide you a detailed remediation plan on how we’d go about fixing that.

So if that’s a concern, those are the type of things that we can do to help a person and help a business.

Rich: Awesome. Fantastic. Craig, this has been great, I really appreciate you stopping by and sharing your knowledge. Thanks again for your time.

Craig: Absolutely. It has been my pleasure. Thanks so much.

Show Notes:

Craig Kazda is passionate about making sure the internet is accessible to all, and he works hard to help businesses create websites that do just that. To learn more about how to put your website to the test and see where you pass and fail, check out his website. 

Rich Brooks is the President of flyte new media, a web design & digital marketing agency in Portland, Maine, and founder of the Agents of Change. He’s passionate about helping small businesses grow online and has put his 20+ years of experience into the book, The Lead Machine: The Small Business Guide to Digital Marketing