If you have an insurance agency website, you've probably heard the terms website accessibility and ADA compliance. We'd like to help you understand your responsibilities as a business owner with a website, and how we can help.
First, let's cover some relevant terms:
Accessibility is a measure of how accessible—or usable, or reachable—something is, especially (in this context) as it pertains to people with one or more disabilities. If a store can only be entered through a door at the top of a flight of steps, then that store is inaccessible to a person who requires a wheelchair.
Website accessibility is a measure of how accessible a website is. Just like a store with stairs but no wheelchair ramp or elevator, websites can have barriers making them difficult or impossible for people with disabilities to use.
ADA compliance addresses whether "public accommodations" (like stores and websites) are fully accessible to people with disabilities, as required by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
The ADA was passed into law in 1990, predating the World Wide Web, and as such it does not explicitly address websites, but rather public accommodations. That term, originally understood to mean physical places, has evolved. U.S. courts have since ruled in some cases that public websites constitute public accommodations and thus are required to provide full and equal access to everyone, including people with disabilities.
We believe that all people should have full and equal opportunity to participate in every aspect of society and commerce, regardless of ability, and we're doing our part by aiming to have the websites we build to be accessible to all. We're constantly learning more about website accessibility, keeping an eye on evolving accessibility-related technology and policy changes, and applying our knowledge and understanding to improve our offerings.
At present, the web accessibility landscape is unfortunately shadowed by legal uncertainty, as there is no official standard for ADA compliance as it relates to websites. Federal courts have referenced the World Wide Web Consortium's (W3C) Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) as a means of measuring compliance, and as a result we work off of these guidelines.
Types of disabilities affecting website users
It's important to be aware that there are different types of disabilities that may affect a person's ability to consume information from and interact with your website, including but certainly not limited to:
- visual impairments like blindness, colorblindness, or blurred vision
- hearing impairments like deafness or difficulty hearing
- motor impairments like difficulty using input devices (a mouse or trackpad)
Some disabilities—and how they affect the use of a website—may be easier to understand than others, but it's important to take into account disabilities you may not be familiar with.
For instance, a colorblind person, especially one with a red/green deficiency, may be unable to distinguish between a green "success" indicator and a red "error" indicator. A person with a motor impairment may have difficulty clicking a small button.
Accounting for a wide range of disabilities is where the accessibility guidelines come in.
How accessibility guidelines help
The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines are written not just for website creators, but also for assistive technology makers. (Assistive technologies in this case are hardware and software components that make it easier for people with disabilities to interact with websites. A common one you may have heard of is a screen reader, which reads the content of a website aloud for people with visual impairments.)
The idea behind the guidelines is to get websites, web browsers, and assistive technologies to all use a common interface to define and consume content. If a website adheres to the guidelines, then web browsers and screen readers alike can extract the content more easily and present it to their users. For example, a web browser will typically display an
<em> (emphasis) tag using italic text, like this, while a screen reader will place verbal emphasis on those words, the way you would when speaking.
Your responsibilities as a business owner
Just as you need to make public physical spaces (like your office) accessible to people who use wheelchairs, you should also ensure your insurance agency website is accessible to people with disabilities. This means avoiding and preventing a wide range of potential accessibility problems from being present on your website by ensuring it meets the necessary guidelines described by the WCAG document.
Here are a few high-impact improvements to consider making to your website now:
- add "alternative text" to all images1 so they can be audibly described to people who cannot see them,
- ensure all videos on your website have closed captioning,
- ensure the website is fully usable with a keyboard only (no mouse or other pointer device),
- make click & tap targets are big enough and not too close together,
- use text colors with enough contrast compared to their background colors,
- underline textual links, or make them stand out from the surrounding text.
Your website should meet or exceed the guidelines in the W3C's Web Content Accessibility Guidelines document. The WCAG's Quick Reference document is a great resource to learn more about accessibility.
Website accessibility evaluation tools
Here are some tools we use to help design accessible insurance agency websites:
Google Lighthouse, which is built into Google Chrome and has two distinct advantages. Besides being backed by a tech giant like Google, it (1) is open source, meaning anyone can contribute improvements to it, and (2) is not produced by a company that is trying to sell you something accessibility-related, removing a common bias.
WebAIM Contrast Checker, which we use for ensuring text colors have a sufficient contrast ratio when compared to the background color behind the text.
WebAIM WAVE, which we use for a more technical evaluation of the WCAG rules. It is much more aggressive than Lighthouse in identifying potential concerns, even when they are not actual accessibility issues, and it's up to the user to understand the implications.2
Here is a screenshot of the accessibility score from a Lighthouse audit run on one of our demo websites showing a perfect 100 out of 100 score. This is what we aim for on every website we build. If you have a Banyan Theory website and would like to see your score, let us know and we'll run a report. And if we find any accessibility issues, we'll resolve them.
A word of caution: automated testing tools are great at finding low-hanging fruit and sometimes even identify more complex accessibility problems. However, you should not rely on them exclusively, because they have known limitations. It's a good idea to perform manual accessibility testing as well, such as attempting to use your website with only your keyboard, without touching your mouse or trackpad.
Are Banyan Theory websites accessible?
We create our insurance agency website designs from the ground up to be fully accessible, and we do extensive accessibility evaluations and testing during the development process. We also evaluate each new website we build using the tools above, because even though they're implemented using our accessible designs, it's common for customizations to have accessibility implications. For instance, we often add custom images and videos and customize the color scheme.
If there are ever any questions about whether your website with Banyan Theory is accessible, or if any concerns are brought to your attention, let us know and we'll be happy to do a detailed evaluation as it relates to those concerns.
The most important thing
Setting aside websites and technology and accessibility laws, the most important thing you can do, on a basic human level, is to make yourself available to the people who want to communicate with you, with the understanding that some people may need different accommodations.
How we can help
<img>tags should have an
altattribute, but it's valid for the attribute's value to be empty if the image is purely decorative — that is, it does not convey meaning relevant to the content. An empty
altattribute tells assistive technologies to skip over the image, making it "invisible." ↩︎
This is not to say you should ignore issues you don't understand, but rather to be aware that there may be issues the tool identifies on your website that have already been evaluated and accounted for. One example is the
<noscript>tag, which will always cause an "Alert" even when the tag is appropriate. ↩︎