Digital Inclusion: Inside Tips From ADA-Compliant Companies

Many companies are still out of compliance with digital ADA guidelines. Here’s what’s at stake in getting it right -- and how to get started.

Jessie Mele, Senior Development Team Lead, DMi Partners

May 21, 2024

5 Min Read
illustration of an inclusive workplace
Jess Rodríguez via Alamy Stock

Do a little research, and you’ll see that the vast majority of company websites -- over 90%, which boggles the mind -- are out of compliance with ADA (American Disability Act) guidelines. 

The stakes of getting in compliance are high and getting higher every day. For companies that haven't prioritized a more accessible web experience, it’s time to start project planning. 

In this article, I’ll explain why ADA compliance matters more than ever, I’ll lay out a realistic perspective on how companies should approach the undertaking, and I’ll explain why keeping the accessibility conversation open can have a big impact on company and brand loyalty. 

Why Accessible Digital Experiences Matter 

Whether your company is more motivated by fear or opportunity, there are easy arguments to make to get traction in ADA compliance. 

The fear angle is straightforward: The longer you stay out of compliance, the higher your risk for lawsuits. They’re still relatively uncommon, but all it will take is a few splashy headlines of award settlements for ADA-related lawsuit volume to increase. 

As for opportunity, which I prefer to lead with, building a website using an approach that truly emphasizes with users of different abilities can open up engagement with a massive audience (global estimates of people with disabilities are well over a billion). Consider, too, that many disabilities are temporary, which means the net pool of users you stand to reach over time is even bigger. 

Related:Quick Study: Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

The harder-to-quantify element here is the dynamic of user expectations. What might have been acceptable in the web era 20 years ago could face a lot of blowback in 2024, especially with 82% of Gen Z users citing social equality as something that positively influences their brand purchasing decisions. 

How to Approach ADA Compliance 

One thing I’m not going to try to do is convince you that building and maintaining accessible web experiences is fast or easy. It’s a big commitment that will take integration and alignment across teams and buy-in from the executive suite. But with a clear plan of action and the right parties on board, it’s achievable. 

Once you have your advocates lined up, I recommend finding an accessibility expert to conduct an audit of your website to see where you stand. From there, check with your current designer and development team to gauge their ADA knowledge. (Cast a critical eye here; often, people think they’re more up to speed than they are, which I know because I was in that boat before I really took an in-depth and serious look at accessibility compliance that taught me otherwise.) If necessary, help them find training and research tools that will level up their knowledge -- or find an outside resource who won’t need ramp-up time. 

Related:AI, the Metaverse, and DEI in the Workplace

Once you have your head around the scope of the project and a team empowered to take it on, you can buy yourself some time by starting with the most business-critical activities on your website. The other thing I recommend doing immediately is adding a prominent accessibility statement giving users alternative ways to contact you (perhaps telephone) if they’re having difficulty doing so on the site. 

When you’re in the development phase, I strongly recommend building a process that uses an accessibility testing tool (there are many free options) to ensure that every step is in compliance. This is not a one-and-done scenario; make sure this process is instituted for all subsequent updates, not just a new website build or a website overhaul, since website updates are extremely common, and the designers and developers involved may change over time as well. This is also probably a good time to mention that third-party tools (e.g. WordPress plugins, Shopify apps) must also be part of your testing scope -- never assume that those tools are up to ADA standards. 

Related:Neurodiversity in Cybersecurity: Broadening Perspectives, Offering Inclusivity

Lastly, even when you’re confident you’ve gotten in compliance (or nearly in compliance -- given all the nuances and gray areas, it’s almost impossible to achieve 100%), make sure you regularly reference WCAG (website content accessibility guidelines) to stay current as guidelines evolve. 

Why to Talk about Accessibility 

In my client work, I’ve experienced the full range of awareness and perspectives on ADA compliance. Some clients are as invested as I am; some haven’t even considered what ADA compliance means, let alone whether their site is following guidelines. 

It’s good practice to build the accessibility conversation into every project. If someone wants you to take on a project, gauge their awareness of accessibility, explain what it is if need be, and demonstrate that you care about it and aim to help them follow best practices. Whether you’re talking to a client or to a teammate and fellow website stakeholder, you’re providing educational value, proving you care about an inclusive website experience, and showing a commitment to your users (or your client’s users).  

It’s hard to calculate the direct impact of improved website accessibility on KPIs like revenue or employee retention (remember, your base of employees almost certainly includes folks with disabilities), but rest assured it’s a valuable initiative with long-term benefits. If you need help getting your stakeholders on board, there are all sorts of resources available online to reference in building your talking points. And when in doubt, there’s always this: from a business perspective and an inclusivity perspective, building more accessible web experiences is simply the right thing to do. 

About the Author(s)

Jessie Mele

Senior Development Team Lead, DMi Partners

Jessie Mele brings a blend of art, technical acumen, a passion for learning, and user empathy to her work bringing client sites to life at DMi Partners. She recently earned her CPACC certification through coursework from the International Association of Accessibility Professionals and applies her knowledge and insights of ADA compliance to her work with clients every day. 

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