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Tips for Making Websites Accessible to People with Disabilities

blind person typing on keyboard

For employees and customers with disabilities, an accessible website can foster positive interactions with the company. Employers and business owners should make sure their website design hits the mark.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires businesses and public accommodations to ensure that their websites don’t discriminate against users with visual, hearing or other disabilities.

“Accessibility is essential for people with disabilities and useful for all,” said Marsha Schwanke, a web specialist for the Southeast ADA Center in Lexington, Ky. “But various barriers often prevent equal access and limit equal opportunity for people with disabilities in digital content and online interactions.”

The Southeast ADA Center and the Delmar, N.Y.-based Northeast ADA Center provided these tips to make websites more accessible to users with disabilities:

  • Make sure images have descriptive alt tags. These tags appear on a website in place of an image for people who are using screen readers.
  • Provide enough contrast between text color and background color.
  • Make sure the website allows users to enlarge the text font up to 200 percent.
  • Provide captions and/or transcripts for videos and audio recordings.
  • Give clear labels and specific instructions on web forms.
  • Make sure the entire website is navigable using only a keyboard without a mouse.
  • In hashtags, use uppercase letters for each word (e.g., #LungCancerAwareness).
  • Label links with precise, descriptive text.

For people who have difficulty using a computer mouse, “the interactive elements of the website should be accessible by pressing buttons such as the tab key, the arrow keys, the enter key and the space bar,” said Amy Scherer, a senior staff attorney with the National Disability Rights Network in Washington, D.C.

For links, “instead of creating a button labeled ‘click here,’ label it with something more specific. This approach helps individuals using screen readers to quickly understand the purpose of a given link.”

Many businesses have forms on their website for requesting a price quote or providing payment information, but these forms can be difficult to use.

“Individuals with visual impairments or cognitive impairments may have difficulty completing website forms if they cannot see the fields or understand what type of information is being requested. Providing clear labels and specific instructions will help individuals to more easily complete them,” Scherer said. “Check boxes and/or text boxes are generally more accessible than pop-up menus.”

Practical Steps

A good first step is to develop a web accessibility policy, said Joe Zesski, program manager for the Northeast ADA Center. “At the same time, a business should create and publish an accessibility statement. This statement details what the web accessibility goals are for themselves and provides a way for individuals to contact the business, if they are experiencing an accessibility problem.”

Next, Zesski recommended doing user testing for accessibility and usability.

“Create a culture of accessibility where it is not just IT staff involved with accessibility, but other staff with different roles within a business who can contribute and are aware of the effort,” he said. “Staff training on the accessible web policy, accessible electronic communications and accessible social media practices is also important.”

Updates may be necessary as technology and site contents change, Schwanke said. “Digital access is not a one-time checkbox, given the diversity of technology and users together with the continual, often critical, changing nature of digital content. It is vital to have accessibility contacts and policies in place.”

Try to accommodate customer accessibility requests when possible. “Being flexible and welcoming is basic good customer service, but it also improves accessibility and helps to meet ADA obligations for businesses,” Zesski said.

The ADA applies to state and local governments and private businesses that are open to the public, such as retail stores, banks, hotels and theaters.

In March 2022, the U.S. Department of Justice released guidance for companies to ensure their websites comply with the ADA. It did not prescribe precise standards to follow, but it noted that businesses must comply with the ADA’s general requirements of nondiscrimination and effective communication.

Supreme Court Case

The U.S. Supreme Court recently heard a case centered on whether a person could have standing to sue a hotel over a lack of accessibility information on their websites, even if the person never planned to stay at the hotel. The plaintiff, a Florida resident who uses a wheelchair, is a “tester” who scoured the internet to find hotels that didn’t offer adequate information about accessible rooms on their websites. If the information was lacking, she sued the hotels and frequently offered to settle immediately for $10,000, according to court documents.

In this case, she sued a company that owns a bed and breakfast in Maine for failing to provide sufficient accessibility information. She admitted she never intended to visit Maine.

The Supreme Court’s ruling on Dec. 5 did not address the issue of whether testers have legal standing to sue. It concluded the case was moot, mainly because the plaintiff voluntarily dismissed her pending claims after lower courts sanctioned her lawyer.

According to Sarah Bell, an attorney with Pryor Cashman in New York City, despite the court’s ruling, “Any business, public accommodations, stores or websites should be proactive and make their business or their website accessible to the maximum extent that they can.”


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