Great news! Small businesses can get a tax credit of up to $5000 every year for ensuring their businesses (including their websites) are ADA compliant.
Finally! The little guy is getting a break from the IRS that the big guys can’t get!
It’s called the Disabled Access Tax Credit. It’s a benefit to small businesses who make changes to comply with accessibility laws.
What’s more? The law says that there are NO EXCUSES! Let me clarify.
ADA Compliance For Websites And Everything Else
Chances are good that you have heard of the Americans with Disabilities Act, or ADA. This law has been around for a while. It ensures that everyone can reasonably access businesses and opportunities regardless of any disability (s)he may have.
Wheelchair ramps, elevators, braille signage, assistive listening devices…these are all accommodations for people with disabilities of one sort or another.
And while not explicitly stated in the law, courts interpret the law to include websites and apps. That seems reasonable since so much business is conducted online, right?
*Pay attention to this: ADA is a strict liability law. This means that there is no excuse for noncompliance. Claims of “ignorance” or “the developer is working on it”…none of those explanations will fly for even a microsecond in a court of law. And attorneys know it.
No doubt, you would like to keep your business out of court, right?! You just want to focus on helping your customers. Us too.
BEWARE! There are a few “serial plaintiffs” out there who try to make a living by threatening businesses with lawsuits for ADA violations. Yeah, we agree that such endeavors are pretty underhanded. Thank goodness these folks are the exception…not the rule.
Nevertheless, ensuring your website is ADA compliant is the right thing to do. The bonus is that by having a compliant website, you open yourself up to more customers! That’s definitely a good thing.
The ADA Disabled Access Tax Credit
So let’s talk about this $5K tax credit, shall we? Here’s what you need to know.
The Disabled Access Tax Credit applies to specific circumstances.
Eligibility is limited to businesses that:
- Have less than $1 million in gross receipts in the previous tax year, or
- Have no more than 30 full-time employees during the previous tax year.
The tax credit amount is 50% of “eligible access expenditures” of between $250 – $10,250 for a taxable year. So, if you spend $10K on ADA compliance, you can receive the $5K tax credit.
What are those eligible expenses?
It covers quite a variety of things so it is probably best if you read the official list for yourself.
To summarize, the eligible expenses must be necessary for the business to comply with ADA law. So it may be removing barriers, adding necessary equipment or components, or updating fine details on your website that enable everyone to access the business.
How do you claim the Disabled Access Tax Credit?
You will use IRS Form 8826 (Disabled Access Credit). Of course, your tax accountant can confirm your eligibility and the relevant expenses that qualify for this tax credit.
Your Website’s Accessibility
Now that we know that courts consider websites and apps to be public access spaces, you’re going to want to be sure your own website is ADA compliant.
But where does one get started with a daunting task like this one?
When you understand WHY you are doing something, you are better able to accomplish your task.
It is hard to imagine what life can be like for someone with a disability if you have never been in their shoes. Navigating the world and web can be dragons they courageously face each day.
So we recommend becoming familiar with how people with disabilities access the web. Assistive technologies definitely help. But it may still be tougher than you might imagine, especially on websites that aren’t yet ADA compliant.
Or watch Joseph DeNiro demonstrate how visually impaired people use a screen reader to navigate a website in this video. (Perhaps even blindfold yourself so you can get the full effect of someone who is blind.)
Legal liability and tax credits are great incentives to do the right thing here. But a genuine desire to help people will be what makes you most successful.
Start with the Standards
Before you can begin to examine your own website, you need to understand what to look for.
Since ADA law does not provide specific guidance for websites, the industry standard to follow is the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG; version 2.1 AA) put together by the World Wide Web Corsortium (W3C).
View the How to Meet MCAG Quick Reference guide.
View the MCAG 2.1 At-a-Glance resource.
Here are a few of the standards to give you an idea of what to expect:
- Alternative text for non-text elements (yep, that’s your images and such, but decorative ones are treated differently)
- Captions and other alternatives for multimedia (you may not want to rely on auto-captioning)
- Color contrast ratios of text and other elements
- Inputs that can be done with devices other than a keyboard
- Compatibility with screen readers and assistive devices
- Purpose of elements is programmatically determined
- And sooooooooo much more…
We know, there is an awful lot of information there. And if you are like most people, you might feel a bit overwhelmed by it all. It’s okay. Deep breath. You don’t have to become an expert overnight.
The point is that you need to become familiar with the standards so you can determine whether your website is ADA compliant yourself, or at least speak intelligently to the agency you work with.
Evaluate/Audit Your Website
Once you are familiar with the standards, you will want to conduct an audit of your website for ADA accessibility. So how do you do that?
There are a few different ways you can accomplish an audit like this.
- Automated testing – using a digital tool to review website
- Manual testing – human review of a website
- User testing – live users
Like everything, there are pros and cons to each. We’ll give you those so you can decide what is best for you.
Automated testing works a lot like a spell checker. With automated testing, computers zoom through your website’s code seeking out problems that can be readily identified by a machine.
This type of audit is super fast and is a great place to start, but it is incomplete. Automated testers can find some of the errors, but do not have the human judgement or perception skills needed for a large portion of errors. (Kind of like a spell checker.)
Plus, once it does find errors, you still need a human to adjudicate the error and determine the appropriate fix.
For example, automated testing can scan for alt text and identify whether data is present, but cannot evaluate the quality of the alt text.
If you’d like to try automated testing, here are some tools you may want to look into:
Incidentally, of those listed, tenon.io was a top performer in web accessibility studies…but still caught only about 38% of the errors in the test page. Most others will catch only about 25%-33% of the errors.
- Can review 100s of pages easily
- Great starting point
- Incomplete; only finds about 30% errors
- Cannot judge quality of entries like alt text and forms
- Cannot analyze colors
- Cannot evaluate scripting, dynamic elements, screen reader compatibility, etc.
Manual testing is when a person goes through each page of your site and checks for accessibility problems. Like automated testing they can look at the code and see things from the inside out.
Because manual testing includes human perception and judgement, it can be way more thorough than automated tools.
Manual testing will absolutely take more time and will give you much better results as compared to automated testing.
With manual testing, the knowledge and experience of your human tester will make a big difference. There are a lot of standards to follow. An expert in the WCAG standards will be able to work more efficiently than a novice, as you’d expected.
Manual testers also use a variety of tools in their audits too. Here are a few:
- Keyboards: navigating with only key strokes, like the Tab key
- Color Contrast Checkers: such as WebAim
- Accessibility Visualization Tool Kit: such as tota11ly
- Text and image sizing adjustments: such as Zoom Page WE
- Code inspection toolbars
- Screen readers: see NVDA (Windows), VoiceOver (Mac)
Depending on your particular business, you may have a web accessibility expert on staff already who could competently perform a manual web accessibility test.
If not, you may want to hire an experienced agency to do the job.
“If you can’t really do the job, hire someone who can. It will always be worth it.”
This adage is true, and especially when it comes to ADA accessibility for your company.
But won’t it cost more for a manual test?
Well, yes. You can expect it to. But here is why you don’t need to worry so much about the cost.
- The Disabled Access Tax Credit will help you with half of your cost.
- The investment will help you avoid lawsuits and settlements.
What is that worth to you? If you have seen the amounts awarded in these cases, you will know it is quite a bit.
- Human judgement
- More thorough
- Tester experience matters
User testing is a type of manual testing where, ideally, users with a variety of disabilities and assistive devices test accessibility by using your site.
Sounds powerful, right? That’s because it is.
User testing absolutely requires the unique skills and perspectives of people with disabilities. We love that.
But the very best part of it is that user testing will catch more than manual testing and automated testing.
These skilled users find the little things that get missed with the other forms of testing. That’s powerful!
With that kind of hands-on scrutiny, everyone should be able to do business with you online. Plus you’ll have the documentation to prove you’ve complied with ADA law.
Yes, this will be a costly, slower process. But again: the tax credit and the liability protection are substantial.
What incredible value you get with user testing!
If you are doing manual testing, you can ask your vendor if they can also provide user testing.
And if your vendor can’t do it, here are a few user testing agencies that can.
And if you are one of those lucky few who have a web accessibility expert already on your team, you can DIY it by following the advice in this Invisionapp article: Getting Started with User Testing.
- Live users
- Discover items other testers miss
After reviewing the different types of web accessibility testing, doing all 3 might seem to provide the most thorough coverage.
What about the AI Overlays?
There are these pretty neat looking ADA accessibility solutions out there claiming that they can “add one line of code” to your site for easy ADA compliance.
They boast artificial intelligence technology, and a user-friendly overlay toolbar that enables people with disabilities to enjoy your site.
The demos are impressive and these tools seem to be a painless way to meet the WCAG requirements. And who doesn’t like easy, right?!
But you want to be aware that these easy solutions may come with a little unexpected trouble.
Some expert attorneys out there have delved into these overlays and now offer cautionary tales about them.
Haben Girma, a deafblind human rights attorney and Harvard Law grad, shares her experience with such a vendor in this video.
Likewise, attorney Kris Rivenburgh describes why these overlays can be problematic. He states that they do not correct the websites themselves, they do not provide access for many disabilities, and they leave the unwitting clients open to lawsuits.
According to Rivenburgh, the witch hunt for companies using these overlays has already begun.
In short, there does not seem to be a shortcut for ADA website accessibility. The most effective method for ensuring compliance is to put in the human work and effort.
Audit Done. Now What?
Once you know where the problem spots are in your website, it is time to go about fixing them.
This is the part where we refer you to an excellent article on this very blog: Learn How to Make a Website ADA Compliant
It’s actually a pretty quick read with some great tips. Though not exhaustive by any means, it will help you anticipate what resources and decisions you may need to make as you get started.
Here are a few highlights:
- Create a roadmap: ADA compliance will require a variety of team members to decide how to remedy the errors. Decide who needs to be involved, develop guidelines, define deliverables and timelines. This is where your project management skills shine.
- Plan to accommodate a wide variety of devices. Be sure to consider how your changes will perform on a variety of mobile devices and with keyboard-only users. Compact devices have made great strides, and there are more assistive devices out there than ever. People with disabilities use devices as much as everybody else.
- Don’t overlook these important elements:
- Audio transcripts – Automated captioning is often inaccurate, hindering the comprehension of the hearing impaired. Transcripts ensure accuracy and access.
- Error messages – Concise error messages that are compatible with assistive technologies will help everyone who visits your site.
- Descriptive alt tags – Your images have a purpose. Crafting descriptive alt tags ensures that purpose reaches everyone. Compare “woman at computer” to “A well-dressed woman happily orders online while enjoying her favorite cup of coffee.” For someone who doesn’t get to see the image, the description makes a big difference.
- Consider working with an agency: Experienced agencies are well worth the investment when it comes to getting the job done right. Ask specific questions about what the agency will do to get your site compliant and if they have experience in your programming languages.
- Keep Compliance an ongoing effort: Most companies update their web assets regularly. We also know that assistive technologies continue evolving too. Keep your website compliant with regular accessibility checks.
Now You Know Better. Let’s Do Better.
If you are still with me, then you know by now that ensuring ADA accessibility on your website is good for your business and good for your liability exposure.
Fortunately, Uncle Sam is offering the Disabled Access Tax Credit to help you out. What’s more, there may be small business grants and funding available to help you pay for needed changes.
So what it really comes down to is when you are going to invest in your web “public space” to ensure everyone can do business with you.
If you are one of the lucky few who has in-house accessibility experts on staff, that’s fantastic! They will already have the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.1 AA) and a checklist so they can comb through your site.
If you need to hire out, we hope you’ll consider Lemonader Stand’s web development services, which include ADA accessibility compliance.
We offer unprecedented transparency, so you will always know what we are doing to meet your goals. And we will help you get that coveted tax credit.
Contact us today at 877-395-2351 to tell us what you need. We’ll be happy to show you how we can help you build it, so you can go on to bless those you serve.