Accessible design

Building a Barrier-Free Web: Essential Tips for ADA Accessible Design

In the digital realm, websites have become the primary means of accessing information, conducting business, and connecting with others. However, not all websites are designed with accessibility in mind, excluding individuals with disabilities from fully engaging with online content.

Therefore, accessibility has become a crucial aspect of web design. Ensuring that your website is accessible to all individuals, including those with disabilities, is a legal requirement and a moral responsibility. ADA accessible design aims to remove barriers and provide equal opportunities for everyone to navigate and interact with websites.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) sets standards for accessibility, and web designers and developers need to understand and implement these guidelines. Fortunately, tools like Accessibility Spark make it easy to make your website ADA-compliant.  This article provides essential tips for creating a barrier-free web through ADA accessible design.

What is the Americans with Disabilities Act?

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a civil rights law prohibiting discrimination against individuals with disabilities in various areas, including employment, transportation, public accommodations, and telecommunications. Title III of the ADA specifically addresses accessibility requirements for businesses and organizations, including those operating websites.

The Importance of ADA Accessibility in Web Design

Web design is critical in ensuring equal access to information and services for individuals with disabilities. ADA accessible design focuses on creating websites that people with various disabilities, such as visual impairments, hearing impairments, mobility limitations, and cognitive disabilities can use. By making websites ADA accessible, businesses and organizations can cater to a wider audience and demonstrate their commitment to inclusivity.

Key Principles of ADA Accessible Design

To create an ADA accessible website, designers and developers should adhere to four key principles:

1.   Perceivable

The first principle of ADA accessible design is “Perceivable.” It emphasizes making digital content perceivable to all users. It involves providing alternatives for non-text content and ensuring compatibility with assistive technologies.

Text Alternatives

Providing text alternatives for non-text elements such as images, videos, and audio is important to make content accessible. These alternatives, such as alt text for images and video transcripts, allow individuals to use assistive technologies to understand the content.

Time-based Media

Time-based media, including audio and video content, should have captions, audio descriptions, or transcripts. These additions enable individuals with hearing impairments to access the information conveyed in the media.

2.   Operable

The second principle of ADA accessible design is “Operable.” It focuses on ensuring that digital content is operable by all users, including those with mobility limitations or who rely on keyboard navigation.

Keyboard Accessibility

Keyboard accessibility is crucial for individuals who cannot use a mouse or other pointing devices. Websites and applications should be operable using only the keyboard, with clear focus indicators and logical tab navigation.


Proper website navigation is essential for users to easily find and access the desired information. ADA accessible design ensures that navigation menus, links, and buttons are clearly labeled and organized, enabling efficient navigation.

3.   Understandable

The third principle of ADA accessible design is “Understandable.” It aims to create clear, intuitive, and easy-to-understand content for all users, including those with cognitive disabilities.

Clear and Consistent Navigation

Consistency in website navigation contributes to a better user experience. ADA accessible design promotes clear and consistent labeling of navigation elements, ensuring users can navigate the website effortlessly.

Readability and Comprehension

Writing content simply and concisely is essential to enhance readability and comprehension. Using plain language, organizing information into sections, and providing headings and subheadings facilitate understanding for individuals with cognitive disabilities.

4.   Robust

The fourth principle of ADA accessible design is “Robust.” It focuses on creating content that can withstand technological advancements and is compatible with various assistive technologies.

Compatibility with Assistive Technologies

Assistive technologies such as screen readers, magnifiers, and voice recognition software enable individuals with disabilities to access digital content. ADA accessible design ensures compatibility with these assistive technologies.

Future Compatibility

Constant technological advancements drive the need for designing digital platforms with future compatibility in mind. Considering evolving standards and practices ensures the content remains accessible as new technologies emerge.

Creating an ADA Accessible Website

To build a barrier-free website that complies with ADA accessibility standards, consider the following tips:

1.   Designing an Accessible Website

Creating an accessible website starts with thoughtful design choices. Consider the following aspects to ensure an inclusive user experience:

Using Clear and Consistent Layouts

Maintain a clean and organized layout throughout your website. Use consistent placement of navigation elements, headers, and content sections. It helps users with disabilities understand the structure of your website more easily.

Providing Alternative Text for Images

Include alternative descriptive text (alt text) for images on your website. Alt text conveys the meaning and context of images to users who cannot see them. Be descriptive but concise, and avoid using generic phrases like “image” or “photo.”

Choosing Accessible Colors and Fonts

Select color combinations that provide sufficient contrast for individuals with visual impairments. Use color contrast checkers to ensure your text is easily readable against the background. Similarly, choose fonts that are legible and resizable without losing clarity.

Implementing Keyboard Navigation

Ensure that your website allows navigation using a keyboard alone. Some individuals with disabilities rely on keyboard navigation instead of a mouse. Test the tab order and ensure that all interactive elements, such as buttons and links, are accessible via the keyboard.

2.   Ensuring Navigation Accessibility

Efficient navigation is crucial for users to find and interact with your website’s content. Follow these guidelines to improve navigation accessibility:

Organizing Content with Proper Headings

Structure your content using appropriate headings (H1, H2, H3, etc.). Headings provide a hierarchical outline of your content and help screen readers navigate the information. Use headings consistently and avoid skipping heading levels.

Utilizing Descriptive Link Texts

Write clear and descriptive link texts that convey the purpose of the linked page or document. Avoid using generic terms like “click here” or “read more.” Instead, use descriptive phrases that provide meaningful context.

Creating Accessible Dropdown Menus

If your website includes dropdown menus, ensure they are accessible. Use ARIA (Accessible Rich Internet Applications) attributes to associate the dropdown menu with its triggering element and provide keyboard accessibility. Avoid hover-only menus, as they may not be accessible to users who rely on a keyboard.

3.   Optimizing Multimedia Content

Multimedia elements like videos and images are significant in web content. Make them accessible using the following techniques:

Adding Captions and Transcripts to Videos

Include closed captions or subtitles for videos to assist individuals with hearing impairments. Additionally, provide transcripts of the video content so that users can access the information even if they cannot watch the video.

Incorporating Audio Descriptions

For videos with visual content, consider providing audio descriptions. Audio descriptions are verbal narrations that describe the visual elements, allowing individuals with visual impairments to understand the context of the video.

Making Slideshows and Carousels Accessible

If your website includes slideshows or carousels, ensure that users can pause, navigate, and control them. Add navigation buttons or controls, and provide alternative methods for accessing the slideshow content, such as a list of images with descriptions.

4.   Writing Accessible Content

Content accessibility is crucial for users with disabilities who rely on screen readers or other assistive technologies. Follow these practices to create accessible content:

Structuring Content with Proper Headings

Organize your content using hierarchical headings. Use H1 for the main title, followed by H2, H3, and so on, for subheadings. It helps users navigate through the content and understand its structure.

Using Descriptive Link Texts

Similar to navigation links, ensure that link texts within your content are descriptive and meaningful. Avoid using vague phrases like “click here” or “more info.” Instead, incorporate relevant keywords or phrases that provide clarity.

Writing Clear and Concise Alt Texts

When adding images to your content, write alt text that describes the image accurately. Alt text helps individuals with visual impairments understand the visual content. Be concise but provide enough information to convey the essential details.

5.   Testing and Evaluating Accessibility

Regularly test your website’s accessibility to identify and fix any potential issues. Consider the following methods:

Conducting Automated Accessibility Tests

Use automated accessibility testing tools to scan your website for common accessibility issues. These tools can help you identify problems related to color contrast, missing alt text, improper heading structure, and more. However, remember that manual checks are also necessary for comprehensive evaluation.

Performing Manual Accessibility Checks

Review your website’s accessibility by navigating through the pages using a keyboard and screen reader. Pay attention to the reading order, proper labeling of interactive elements, and overall user experience for individuals with disabilities.

Engaging Users with Disabilities for Feedback

Include users with disabilities in your testing process to gather valuable feedback. Their firsthand experience can provide insights into potential barriers and areas for improvement. Encourage them to share their thoughts on navigation, content comprehension, and overall accessibility.

Benefits of ADA Accessible Design

Implementing ADA accessible design principles in your website offers several benefits:

1.   Enhanced User Experience

One of the key advantages of ADA accessible design is an enhanced user experience. By incorporating accessibility features, such as clear navigation, alternative text for images, and video captions, businesses can ensure that individuals with disabilities can access and navigate their websites or digital platforms seamlessly. It improves user satisfaction and encourages individuals to engage more with the content and services offered.

2.   Expanded Target Audience

Implementing ADA accessible design expands the potential target audience for businesses and organizations. When websites and physical spaces are accessible, individuals with disabilities are likelier to engage with the products or services provided. It increases the customer base, fosters inclusivity, and promotes equal opportunities.

3.   Compliance with Legal Requirements

ADA accessible design is a beneficial choice and a legal requirement for many businesses. The Americans with Disabilities Act mandates that certain businesses and organizations provide equal access to individuals with disabilities. By ensuring ADA compliance, businesses can avoid legal issues and demonstrate their commitment to inclusivity and similar rights.

4.   Improved Brand Reputation

Prioritizing ADA accessible design demonstrates a commitment to diversity, inclusivity, and social responsibility. When businesses accommodate individuals with disabilities, they are perceived as ethical and compassionate entities. This can enhance their brand reputation and attract customers who value inclusivity and support socially responsible organizations.

5.   Increased Conversion Rates

Accessible websites and products have the potential to generate higher conversion rates. When individuals with disabilities can easily navigate a website or use a product or service, they are more likely to make a purchase or complete a desired action. By designing with accessibility in mind, businesses can increase their conversion rates and ultimately boost their revenue.

6.   Better Search Engine Visibility

Search engines prioritize accessible websites in their rankings. ADA accessible design often aligns with search engine optimization (SEO) best practices, such as providing clear and descriptive headings, optimizing page load times, and using structured data. By implementing ADA accessible design, businesses can improve their search engine visibility and attract organic website traffic.

7.   Cost Savings in the Long Run

Investing in ADA accessible design from the outset can lead to significant cost savings in the long run. By incorporating accessibility features during the initial design phase, businesses can avoid costly retrofits or redesigns later. Additionally, accessible design principles often align with usability best practices, benefiting all users and reducing the need for extensive modifications in the future.

8.   Facilitating Social Responsibility

ADA accessible design contributes to building a more inclusive society. By prioritizing accessibility, businesses and organizations are vital in promoting social responsibility and equal opportunities for individuals with disabilities. It fosters a more compassionate and inclusive community where everyone can participate fully.

9.   Boosting Innovation and Creativity

ADA accessible design encourages innovation and creativity in product and service development. When businesses consider the diverse needs and perspectives of individuals with disabilities, they often develop innovative solutions that benefit all users. This inclusive approach fosters a culture of creativity and pushes boundaries in design and technology.

Challenges in Creating an ADA Accessible Website

While the benefits of ADA accessibility are clear, there are challenges involved in creating and maintaining an ADA accessible website.

1.   Balancing Aesthetics and Accessibility

Designing an aesthetically pleasing website while maintaining ADA accessibility can be challenging. It requires finding the right balance between visual appeal and inclusive design principles.

2.   The Complexity of Technical Implementations

Ensuring ADA accessibility often involves technical implementations such as coding, testing, and compatibility with assistive technologies. This complexity may require specialized expertise or resources.

3.   Ongoing Maintenance and Updates

Maintaining ADA accessibility requires regular monitoring, testing, and updating of the website as technologies and accessibility standards evolve. It is an ongoing process that demands attention and resources.

Final Thoughts

Creating a barrier-free web through ADA-accessible design ensures equal access to information and services for individuals with disabilities. Following the key principles outlined in this article and implementing the tips provided, web designers and developers can contribute to a more inclusive digital landscape. Remember, accessibility benefits everyone, and designing with inclusivity in mind is not only a legal requirement but also a moral imperative.