Disclaimer: Real Estate Webmasters is sharing these opinions based on our interpretation of website compliance for the American Disabilities Act. This does not constitute legal advice of any manner. Companies or individuals who have questions or concerns about ADA compliance should contact a lawyer directly.
ADA's Role in Website Compliance
The American Disabilities Act (ADA) has been around since the 1990's, but it's been revised a few times throughout history and proposals for change are frequently submitted to the House of Representatives. As the world moves online and people rely on technology for information and connection, it makes sense that many of these new proposals focus on websites and technology.
The spirit of the ADA is simple: everyone deserves equal access to information and resources. In the past, the ADA helped ensure that Americans could access brick and mortar stores, utilize basic services, and enjoy a life free of discrimination. Today, many of those same principals apply, but ADA is shifting it's attention to the online world.
On January 18, 2018, it became legally required for all U.S. government websites to be fully WCAG 2.0 compliant. While non-government websites don't have to meet these same standards yet, it's very possible they will in the future.
But regardless of the law, there's several reasons Realtors should care about havinh an accessible website, including:
More potential clients can use the site
Brand protection against social media & other complaints
Equality & fairness
Opportunity to be at the forefront of technological advancement
Better user experience for everyone
You can learn more about the web accessibility guidelines in the video below.
For Real Estate Webmasters clients, it's a good time to start thinking about web accessibility and WCAG 2.0 standards.
WCAG 2.0 Standards
WCAG is the short form of Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, and 2.0 refers to the second iteration of these standards. WCAG 2.0 is currently considered the basic standard for accessibility programming and design.
The WCAG is created by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), a global community that is responsible for developing open standards for the web and is recognized by government organizations and businesses across the world.
The WCAG 2.0 guidelines are broken down into four guiding principles: Perceivable, Operable, Understandable, and Robust. Let's take a quick look at each of these principles and talk about what changes real estate agents on a REW platform may need to make.
"Information and user interface components must be presentable to users in ways they can perceive." -w3.org
In other words, users need to be able to see the content on your page, even if they have disabilities or extraordinary circumstances. These guidelines are mostly focused on vision impairments but do apply to other disabilities as well.
Here are some examples of how Real Estate Webmasters clients can employ the "perceivable" principal on their websites:
If your non-text content, such as images, videos, and audio files, are there to provide more info to your users, then you need to have a text alternative. In most cases, this will be as simple as providing alt text in the HTML.
For example, a banner image that says "Meso Homes For Sale" would simply need to be coded like this:
<img title="Meso homes for sale" src="/banner.jpg" alt="Meso homes for sale" />
Note that this doesn't apply to visuals that are there just for decoration, but it does apply to symbols and emoticons that provide user context.
Videos & Audio
If you're using videos or audio on your site, you'll need to provide captions for speech and audio-descriptions that describe the characters, actions, scene changes, and so forth that are occurring in the video.
The exception is if your video is the media alternative to a text explanation. In this case, you'll need to clearly label your video as an alternate version of the text being provided. For many REW clients, this will be the fastest and easiest way to become WCAG compliant but will require you writing out the full-text equivalent of the provided video.
In addition, any audio that automatically plays has to have a pause or stop feature, or volume controls. WCAG 2.0 guidelines aside, users don't tend to enjoy auto-played audio, so we recommend not using it at all. Mute those cover videos and don't code auto-play into your video embeds.
It's important that color isn't the only visual way of conveying information. For example, links should also be underlined, while urgent messages could be shared using red text and bold font. Otherwise, users who can't see color may not realize there's a link, urgent message, and so forth.
Realtors also need to consider the visibility of color. One of the most common challenges we've run into with WCAG 2.0 compliance is with logos and brand color schemes that don't have enough contrast. W3C recommends a contrast ratio of at least 4.5:1 between text and background colors, which is easy enough to achieve with a bit of design compromise.
The second principle in the ADA guidelines declares that:
"User interface components and navigation must be operable." - W3.org
The Operable principle helps users navigate through the website and operate the site with ease. Real estate websites can become more operable by following these guidelines:
If you only use the primary and side navigation bars that are included with your REW site, look no further. But if you've created on-page navigation, it's important to ensure your navigation is logical and easy to use.
Each page should have a title that describes the page, entered into the Title section of that page. Use simple yet descriptive keywords to explain the page's content. For example, "Austin Real Estate For Sale" and "Home Buyer's Guide to Austin Real Estate" should do the trick.
Throughout your pages, use headings and their appropriate labels to introduce the topic or purpose. For example, the main heading on each page should be an H1. From there, subsequent headings will be H2, H3 or H4. The great news is that the heading principles also follow basic SEO guidelines, so you're hitting two birds with one stone.
When linking text, ensure your text accurately reflects the page that's being linked to. For example, instead of a link that says "Click here", you would write, "View all San Clemente real estate listings".
The third principle of WCAG is that websites should be predictable.
"Information and the operation of user interface must be understandable." - w3.org
One of the most straightforward principles, real estate websites should behave in a predictable way. In the real estate context, this means writing in a language that's recognizable to humans, developing pages that do what users expect and using consistent navigation throughout the site. When real estate websites are predictable in their structure and behavior, everyone has a better experience.
User input instructions
If you're requesting information from your users, like on a contact form, provide instructions on what the user is expected to do. This can be as simple as "Fill out the form below to hear from one of your team members."
The fourth and final principle of WCAG 2.0 is that sites need to be robust. W3C defines this as:
"Content must be robust enough that it can be interpreted reliably by a wide variety of user agents, including assistive technologies." - w3.org
Within a real estate website, this typically refers to the markup languages, scripts, and elements that web developers take care of behind the scenes. Programmers and designers take care of most of these details on your behalf, but here are a few examples:
Programmatically served images in inks
When images link directly to another page, it's important that the alt tag is filled out with a description of that image. For example, MLS listing photos are automatically displayed and utilize the proper alt tags. However, REW clients who are customizing their site with images that are pulled programmatically will need to be mindful of this WCAG 2.0 guideline.
Form & field labels
Forms and fields need to be properly labeled within the code, allowing interpretative devices to accurately understand the information being displayed. REW clients are most likely to encounter the need for this guideline when submitting custom requests for their site.
Creating An Accessible Real Estate Website
At the end of the day, the WCAG 2.0 standards are helping create a better web for everyone. In fact, many of the guidelines in the WCAG 2.0 are best practices that web developers just do anyway, because they simply make sense.
By following the guidelines and implementing simple changes on their site, real estate agents are able to create superior web experiences that will provide a better user experience for everybody.