Beyond ADA Website Compliance: Creating an Equitable Social Media Strategy
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The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was established in 1990 to open doors for individuals with disabilities as consumers. Initially, the act required businesses serving as places of public accommodation to remove barriers of access. But over the next few decades, ADA standards expanded to a business’s digital assets, including websites. Today, having an ADA-compliant website is non-negotiable – but ADA standards can (and should) go beyond website accessibility. They must also be applied to a business’s social media presence.
From a marketing standpoint, it makes significant business sense to open up your brand to new prospects. And with over 50% of the population active on social media platforms, it makes even more sense to expand this strategy across its social media profiles. There’s no question that a business should strive for an ADA-compliant social media presence. But how can ADA best practices be effectively incorporated into your social media strategy?
Before we answer this question and provide you with a set of guidelines for social media ADA compliance, let’s take a more detailed look at the ADA.
What Is the ADA?
As we’ve mentioned, the ADA was established just over three decades ago. However, it wasn’t until 2010 that enough cases and complaints were brought before the Supreme Court for the Justice Department to apply ADA standards to digital assets. Only seven years later, in 2017, the Justice Department abandoned this stance and left it to the courts to interpret if there is a distinction between a business’s physical premises and its digital real estate.
This remained extremely ambiguous in the years to come, until the landmark case Robles v. Domino’s case changed the playing field for the digital marketing landscape. In June of 2021, the California Central District Court ruled that after five years of legal uncertainty, businesses were required by Title III of the ADA to provide fully compliant and accessible websites for business use.
Let’s start, though, with an overview of what ADA compliance requires for brick-and-mortar locations, how it translates to a business’s digital landscape, and the guidelines established for web content accessibility by the World Wide Web Consortium’s Web Accessibility Initiative. We’ll then expand these strategies to your social media and show how it can help more customers find your brand and expand your business.
What Is ADA Compliance?
Prior to the ADA, businesses had no obligation to make any physical accommodations to assist individuals with impairments in accessing their business premises. The ADA passed into law in 1990. Soon after, it began to evolve to improve the access of disabled individuals, expanding the accommodations businesses had to make to improve accessibility to their business premises.
Conceptually, compliance and accessibility revolve around entryways, paths throughout retail or office space, restrooms, and other architectural elements. Today, the law includes design elements of vehicles and other public-access spaces.
ADA Accessibility and Your Website
With the recent ruling stating that Title III of the ADA covers a business’s website, web developers for small businesses of 15 or more employees must build sites that comply with ADA standards and ensure equal access to all users. There are three main components to website ADA compliance that foster inclusivity.
Support and Documentation
Support documents and information posted on a website intended to be informational or instructional or support other service-related tasks must be made accessible in multiple ways. This helps to mitigate the impact of different disabilities on the user experience.
Disabled users must be able to access and carry out the various functional operations on a website in order for it to be compliant. For example, the impetus behind the landmark Domino’s case was that the plaintiff bringing suit wasn’t able to order a pizza on the site, despite the use of accessibility tools built for navigating and interfacing with websites like screen readers.
In coding a website, web developers have to ensure that their technology is able to integrate with software and operating system features built to enhance the accessibility of systems interfacing with them and other assistive tools and technology solutions used by disabled individuals.
Web Content Accessibility Guidelines
Website accessibility is a universal issue, and as such, has been extensively addressed by the international community that makes up the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). The W3C has worked with other organizations from around the world to create a centralized standard for accessibility that ensures compliance on an international level. The latest accessibility standards, the Web Content Accessibility Guideline, or WCAG 2.2, is anticipated to be released later in 2021 and provides guidelines for perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust solutions for accessibility.
Creating an Equitable Social Media Plan to Encompass ADA
It’s only natural that your efforts to ensure ADA compliance on your website should extend beyond your website and throughout your digital real estate. With individuals who require accommodation in some form totaling roughly 15% of the world population, it follows that your marketing strategy should ultimately be built to ensure that your initiatives reach all individuals that match your target personas, not just those who can see your messaging without accommodations.
While a number of platforms have a long way to go before truly being ADA compliant, there are many things you can do to properly format your content that revolve around inclusive design elements. These content adjustments recognize, solve for, and ultimately adapt based on the results and evolve into better solutions down the line.
Social Media Images and Alt Text
The algorithms on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter that handle the posting of images either automate the Alt-Text function, which provides a description of images that can be read by screen readers, or allow the user to set these values manually. You should never assume the assigned alt text will be accurate, so it’s important to manually change the alt text to an actual description of what the image depicts either before or after posting on Facebook or Instagram. Twitter only allows this value to be manually set prior to posting an image.
Video Subtitles, Closed Captioning, and Descriptions
YouTube has an automated method for adding subtitles to a video, providing a better experience for viewers. For those posting content, it is easy to edit and correct these subtitles manually when needed. Facebook and Instagram have a similar tool, and Twitter is working to improve upon a previous solution that didn’t provide the functionality users were seeking. Another consideration for videos is to include a descriptive audio track or transcript, providing an alternate means to present the video material.
Optimize Your Business Profile Wherever It Appears Online
Before individuals using accommodation tools reach your social media pages or your website, they’ll be using tools and platforms like directory listings that are known for their ADA compliance to locate businesses like yours. Platforms with a focus on accessibility should be filled out completely and consistently across channels. This will ensure your content is read the same by all accessibility tools and that all users have a consistent experience with your website.
Improve the Clarity of Hashtags and URLs
The key to accessibility lies in making the information on the screen easier for accessibility tools to present to the user. This is especially true for screen readers that help users navigate a page by reading the content aloud. Content covered by these screen reader tools includes metadata, alt text, and in-text items such as hashtags and hyperlinks.
In order to improve this process, ADA guidance suggests using tools that create shortened URLs composed of natural language components that make them easier to be recognized and read for what they are. Users should keep in mind that the tools for accessibility will also attempt to read hashtags, so using simple, well-defined words or phrases is paramount.
Consider adopting what is called “camel case” as a capitalization standard – that is, capitalizing the first letter of every word. This formatting makes it visually and technically more obvious to the screen reader how the phrase in the hashtag should be parsed.
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Limit Design Gimmicks to Increase Content Readability
While we might think that we are enhancing our posts by using special color schemes, fonts, or showing the user where to click, we’re actually creating posts that are extremely difficult for certain disabilities to navigate, even with accommodations.
If you’re looking to make ADA compliance a priority for your social media posts, spend time with a screen reader to learn how it handles formatting when reading aloud. You will quickly understand just how powerful the axiom “less is more” can be when it comes to ADA social media post structuring. Marketers concerned with search engine optimization (SEO) should incorporate ADA-compliant approaches into their marketing strategy to improve search engine results.
- If you must use hashtags, move them to the end of your post. The same approach is necessary if you have to tag someone.
- Don’t over-style the text with caps, special fonts, or special symbols. Keep statements short and meaningful.
- You can stay on-brand without using highly technical or industry-specific, jargon-heavy language.
- Be mindful of using inclusive language and avoiding limited viewpoints.
- Calls-to-action (CTAs) should be specific and offer text-based directions to the user, guiding them to a desired outcome, such as subscribing to a service or signing up for a newsletter. A user who is using assistive technology and is told to “click here” won’t know why they should.
- Never rely on color as a sole way of conveying meaning in a post.
- If a post has elements that incorporate colors, it’s recommended that to accommodate grayscale viewing, the text and background colors have a color contrast of at least 4.5:1 for standard text sizes (this scales up for smaller text and down for larger text).
Educate Yourself and Your Audience on ADA Compliance
We’ve only scratched the surface of some of the standard practices you can adopt in social media strategy to expand your ADA compliance and mitigate accessibility issues before they impact your brand. It’s a process that must evolve over time, but users with disabilities will notice your efforts, especially if you make a point in your postings to actively include them as you make accommodations.
Showing that your brand is willing and capable of making reasonable accommodations beyond what is required by ADA standards will result in your brand name gradually capturing market share with new demographics you once weren’t able to reach.
ADA compliance provides an opportunity to improve the customer experience for your audience and prospects overall, and especially those who might have special needs but were making do without any accommodations previously. Finally, you’ll show your brand is willing to meet the needs of a more diverse client base, and over time, deliver on your promise to provide a world-class service experience for all customers.
The key to success is not viewing ADA compliance as a burden but rather seeing it as an opportunity to share the joy your brand can deliver to a wider audience.
About the author
Megan has 10 years of experience creating high-quality content for a variety of different platforms and mediums. With a start in magazines, Megan enjoys the process of editing, writing, and curating content across various platforms. Hailing from Cape Town, South Africa, Megan mostly spends her downtime at the beach with her family.