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Inside Out – A Practitioner’s perspective on ADA Compliance


According to Internet Live Stats[1], there are currently over 1.2 billion Internet websites in operation around the world. Primarily, websites can be classified under the following categories, based on their primary purpose:

  • Business
  • Personal including social networking
  • Informative
  • Search-based

ADA Compliance - A Practitioner's perspective.jpg

Each website presents information in multiple formats including text, images, video, and rich graphics. Additionally, websites are designed and developed using a variety of scripting languages, including HTML, JavaScript, Perl, PHP to name a few.

The Internet society after coining the “Internet is for Everyone[2]” principle strives to make the Internet accessible to every global citizen, which also include people with disabilities. Though the number of disabled people accessing the Internet has increased, most disabled people still struggle to use a computer and the Internet. According to this 2013 survey conducted by the Oxford Internet Surveys, only 51% of the disabled people in Britain use the Internet, compared to over 84% of the non-disabled people.

Disability Categories

According to these 2012 statistics released by the United States Census Bureau, 1 in 5 people in the U.S. suffer from some form of disability, which equals around 56.7 million people. Disability can be categorized as follows:

  • Visually-challenged: Beside complete blindness, visually-challenged people can suffer from disabilities including partial vision, old age vision, and severe color blindness. According to the U.S. Census bureau, over 8 million people in the United States have severe vision problems, including 2 million blind people. Visually-challenged people face computer-related problems including identifying the screen color, text size, written text, and font type.
  • Hearing-impaired: According to the U.S. Census bureau, around 7.6 million people in the United States experience difficulty in hearing, including 1.1 million people with severe hearing impairment.
  • Physically-challenged: This basically refers to people with upper limb disabilities. According to industry statistics, about 4 out of 10000 babies born in the U.S. have some kind of deformity in the upper limb. This leads to difficulties in motor skill movements as well as difficulty in lifting or grasping things. The U.S. Census bureau estimates around 19.9 U.S. residents fall in the category of physically-challenged.
  • Cognitive disabilities: Cognitive disabilities are caused due to a variety of health conditions including Dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. There are an estimated 2.4 million people in the U.S., who belong to this category. People with cognitive disabilities are susceptible to photo epileptic seizures caused by strobing, flickering, and flashing effects of certain type of light flashes[3].

About the American with Disabilities Act (ADA)

The American with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a 1990 civil rights law aimed at preventing discrimination based on disabilities. This law is applicable to U.S. disabled people in the areas of employment, public transportation, public accommodations, and in telecommunication. The enactment of this law ensures that people with disabilities enjoy the same public rights as much as non-disabled people in the U.S.

To comply with the ADA guidelines, the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) released the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG)[4] 2.0, which includes general recommendations to make the Internet content easily accessible to a wider range of people, including disabled people.This is also known as ADA compliance guidelines.

Accessibility Issues discussed in WCAG 2.0

The Internet is a valuable source of information for many citizens and impacts various aspects of life including education, employment, health care, and recreation. Hence, it is important that the Internet must be able to provide equal access and opportunities for people with disabilities, thus ensuring that they can enjoy a more active participation in modern society.

According to this directive from EUROPA[5] issued in the year 2010, all new EUROPA-compliant websites have to be compliant with the guidelines specified in the WCAG 2.0.

WCAG 2.0 documents the common accessibility issues under the following 4 main principles:

  • Perceivable, which addresses the visual and graphic layout of the content, including:
    • Non-text controls, which accept user input, must have a label describing its purpose.
    • The use of CAPTCHA as a non-text content to provide security, can be challenging for the visually-impaired and must have alternate forms to suit these people.
    • The use of multiple input controls in an online form, which may not have a relevant label, can be an accessibility issue. Example, a Search functionality that uses the “magnifying glass” image.
  • Operable, which addresses the mode of access using keyboard.
    • To enable all webpage functionality through the keyboard, in addition to the menus and links.
    • Avoid presentation of video or multimedia content in a way that can lead to seizures.
    • Sufficient time must be provided for users to read any webpage content and take appropriate action, if any.
  • Understandable, which addresses the content and structure of text.
    • Except for the use of proper names and technical terms, all other words and phrases must be easy to read and understand.
    • The use of unusual words, including jargon and idioms, must have a mechanism by which any user can decipher the meaning of each word.
    • Mechanism to detect and correct any input errors must be provided to the user.
  • Robust, which addresses the tools that are capable of providing support to the disabled.
    • Attributes used in markup languages like HTML, must have proper start and end tags, and must be structured according to coding specifications.

In addition, there are other accessibility issues under ADA compliance guidelines that must be noted when developing any webpage content, as listed below:

  • Appropriate information for users to download technologies including Flash player and PDF readers must be provided.
  • For users with color blindness, the recommended contrast ratio between the background and the content color should be ideally 3.5, in order to provide clear visibility.
  • Data tables, providing information, must not contain too many columns and rows, which can be a challenge for screen reader tools. Tables must be designed to provide data in an easier way.
  • Selecting a particular value on form controls such as drop-down lists, can trigger value changes in other related controls. The form must have a mechanism to inform this change to disabled users, particularly the visually-impaired.

Best Practices for Designers and Testers

Website designers and testers can use a variety of best and easy practices to make their website more disable-friendly. Here are a few recommendations[6]:

  • Use of Alt tags

The use of Alt tags on images are very useful for visually challenged users, as most screen readers can capture the Alt tag text, thus allowing the user to understand the image or graphic.

  • Use of subtitles and transcripts

Use of subtitles particularly for video content, along with providing transcripts can be a very good practice, especially if your website contains a lot of videos.

  • Abbreviations with periods

The practice of writing abbreviations with periods (example, U.S.A) is ideal for correct recognition by screen readers.

  • Avoid the use of “Click here” or “Click this” terms.

While including an external link to your webpage content, avoid the use of the above terms, which can sound vague. Instead, specify the relevant title of the referenced page.

  • Use of color on your page.

Avoid the use of multiple color choices on your webpage, as this can be challenge for color-blind people. A general recommendation is the use of black text on a white background. An additional good practice is the use of contrast ratio of 4.5:1, particularly in the case of product images. This problem is particularly critical when users with disabilities visit an online retail or e-commerce provider.

  • Use of large clickable items

The use the clickable images or items in a small area can be a problem for the visually-challenged. Ensure a larger area for clickable items to make it comfortable for most users.

  • Use of smaller paragraphs

Users with learning disabilities may find it difficult to read and understand long sentences or paragraphs. It would be a good practice to break down long sentences and paragraphs, along with using simple and direct language for easier comprehension.

  • Reduce dependence on the mouse.

Physically-challenged people find it difficult to use the computer mouse. Ensure to provide alternative for user actions that can be completed without the use of the mouse.

Additionally, webpage developers can fulfil the following considerations, when working on any project:

  1. Minimize the use of in-line frames and include appropriate title information for every web page.
  2. Avoid the use of deprecated HTML tags.
  3. Use of appropriate article headers when presenting text content Is recommended. Ensure that the heading tags, <H1>, H2> and <H3> are added with clear and consistent structure. Avoid the usage of <p> tag as a replacement to the <H3> or <H2>.

As a rational, use the <p> tag only if the number of words exceeds 10.

  1. As recommended by WCAG, avoid the use of quotes in your text. Replace quotes with the BLOCKQUOTE tag, which are easier for screen readers to understand.
  2. Some users with disabilities prefer to view the pages with a higher “Zoom ratio.” Ensure that you consider the appropriate design measures to take care of this accessibility issue.


According to this 2011 estimate by the U.K. Office of National Statistics, around 4.25 million disabled people have never used the Internet. This is simply due to frustrations experienced by these users or due to lack of trying.

With the fast evolution of the Internet, modern Internet users are able to access more sophisticated forms of information and resources, on a variety of Internet-enabled devices including tablets and smartphones. To enable the complete accessibility of Internet, it must be made easily accessible to people with disabilities. Website designers can only enable this by considering the design perspective discussed in ADA compliance guidelines, for the disabled when constructing their webpage content.


[1] http://www.internetlivestats.com/total-number-of-websites/

[2] https://www.internetsociety.org/internet-everyone

[3] http://webaim.org/articles/seizure/

[4] https://www.w3.org/TR/WCAG20/

[5] http://ec.europa.eu/ipg/standards/accessibility/index_en.htm

[6] http://mashable.com/2014/04/22/website-disability-friendly/#BVEam2gH6Pq9

Dr. Kiran Marri, Ph.D

Chief Scientist, CSS Corp

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