ADA Compliance in Marketing

Woman using a screen reader with headphones on a laptop

Optimizing your keywords, beating spam filters, and targeting your social media ads will get your message in front of more people, but you could still be missing a large portion of your target audience. As many as 25% of the population have a disability and could be left out if your content isn’t formatted to be accessible. 

Besides reaching a larger audience, your content also needs to be accessible to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Inaccessible content led to more than 4,000 lawsuits under the ADA and related state laws in 2023 alone. 

What is ADA compliance in marketing, anyway?

While the ADA does not offer a clear checklist of how private companies should evaluate digital accessibility under Title III, the Department of Justice (DOJ) has issued guidance suggesting that organizations refer to Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) and Section 508 to identify how to ensure their content is accessible.

Recently, the DOJ updated Title II of the ADA, requiring state and local government agencies to comply with WCAG 2.1 Level AA specifically.

In general, the ADA requires that digital content be compatible with assistive technology, which many people with disabilities use to access digital content.

Assistive technology can access just about any content as long as it’s formatted correctly. Any content you’re sharing virtually- whether it’s on your website, app, or email- needs to be formatted correctly so assistive technology can access it. Accessibility covers everything on your website- menu structure, background images, font style, file format, pop-up boxes, links, eCommerce features, and everything in between. When you make your content accessible, you’re achieving ADA compliance, which requires that your publicly available products, services, and information be accessible to people with disabilities. Here are a few ways you can make your content more accessible.

Alt text in social media

Assistive technology can generally access posts and comments posted on social media when they’re text-based. But non-text attachments like images, graphics, or tables are often inaccessible without using alternative text (alt text) to describe them. Without this alt text, any image you post isn’t readable for people using assistive technology. All their technology tells them is that it’s an “image” or “graphic” but not what that image or graphic shows. This means the assistive technology user is left out. Any time you post an image, graphic, table, or another non-text element on social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn, use the advanced settings to describe what you’re posting. Alt text should clearly but succinctly describe the image and how it relates to the rest of the post. 

Headings in blog posts

Assistive technology can usually read through the text provided in blog posts. But unless headings are properly set, users can’t quickly skim through the content to find the information they need without scrolling through every word. When headings are clear, descriptive, and properly tagged, assistive technology users can skip from one heading to another (much like sighted people skim through headlines in a newspaper) to find the information they need.

Describe where your links are leading

Links make navigation within a website and connecting to outside websites easy… if you know where they’re going. Link URLs to a word or phrase that describes where they go instead of listing out a long URL. For example, it’s faster and easier for a visitor to understand where they’re going by linking to a blog about SEO than to listen to a screen reader read out PS, sighted readers prefer this too!

Captions this!

Video and audio files are great ways for potential customers to experience your products and services in action. But that doesn’t work if your customer can’t see or hear what’s going on. Video files should offer audio descriptions of what’s going on, as well as subtitles for those who cannot hear what’s being said. Offer a transcript for audio files to make them visually available. Offering alternative viewing or listening options isn’t just helpful to those who have visual or auditory disabilities. They’re also useful for those watching in bright sun or wanting to watch a muted video in a crowded or noisy environment.

Make your PDFs more “visible”

Assistive technology views PDFs as full-page images and it can’t “see” what those images are depicting. Without a text description no useful information is provided to the user. PDF elements, like paragraphs, lists, tables, graphs, images, links, and headings, all need to be tagged so the assistive technology can relay that information to the user. Valuable information like menus of products and services, user guides, catalogs, course offerings, and more are often stored as PDFs so it’s important not to forget them when you make your website accessible.

Assistive technology and search engines think alike

Making PDFs and other non-text elements on your website accessible doesn’t just help users access information. It also helps search engines find your website and the information on it. Search engines identify information in much the same way as assistive technology, recognizing elements by “reading” digital tags assigned to them. 

Neither search engines nor assistive technology can identify images, tables, infographics, lists, video or audio content, or other visual and audio elements unless they’re “tagged” with additional information labeling what those elements are. When you include text alternatives of video and audio files and of PDFs, that text becomes searchable by search engines. 

To be clear, SEO and accessibility are not interchangeable, but many features do overlap. For example, the alt text used to describe images for assistive technology users is also detectable by search engines. If the image is relevant and the alt text contains keywords, it will contribute to the page’s SEO. Using several clear, descriptive headings throughout your text helps assistive technology users navigate. It also helps search engines identify what the sections of your text are about. Captioning and creating a transcript for video and audio files provide more places for keywords to enhance SEO. They also offer alternative formats for people to be able to access those files.

Accessible PDFs are great for SEO

Untagged PDFs show up as images to both assistive technology and search engines. Without tagged elements, there’s no way to determine what’s on the page. Neither assistive technology nor search engines can “see” the content. Even if assistive technology or search engines can identify the text in a PDF, it might not make any sense. Formatting elements like columns, tables, or lists are often only visually identifiable, so search engines and assistive technology can’t tell how the text relates. Tables or columns that read straight across, from left to right, without regard for formatting could take on a completely different meaning and be incorrectly identified by assistive technology and search engines. Correctly tagging your PDF elements boosts your SEO, makes the information more widely usable, and helps you achieve digital ADA compliance.

ADA compliance has commercial benefits

Expanding your company’s marketing reach doesn’t have to mean creating all new content. Just making sure your existing content is tagged and accessible to everyone can expand your audience by as much as 25% while making your company easier for search engines to find. ADA compliance in marketing can also prevent lawsuits and unhappy customers. Both can cost you or your client money.

 In the United States alone the annual discretionary income of people with disabilities is over $200 billion, and globally that increases to nearly $7 trillion. Including them by making your content accessible can significantly expand your market share.

Barclays uses ADA compliance and marketing to stand out

Barclays realized that they could differentiate themselves commercially by offering accessibility to meet their clients’ needs. They realized that creating accessible banking options often translated into better service for every client, not just those with disabilities. Paul Smyth, Head of Digital Accessibility at Barclays knows how valuable accessibility is. “A great example for us of this approach is our Mobile Banking App, the first to be accredited by accessibility consultants AbilityNet, but also designed to be a single app used by everyone regardless of their situation which embodies a number of the Inclusive Design Principles e.g. Offering a choice of ways to contact us and to bank, adding value by removing repeating security steps when you call through the app or adding value by providing biometric login using TouchID.” 

Accessibility and ADA compliance benefits them significantly. Customers with disabilities who can access their information quickly and easily become loyal customers. They know it’s difficult to find other financial institutions that will meet their needs. “What this leads to is not only a loyal customer base, but one which is more likely to recommend, share their experiences and be vocal. In effect – a ready-made group of advocates for your brands, whose only ask is you continue to deliver accessible experiences.”

NPR uses accessibility to drive website traffic

National Public Radio (NPR) also found marketing success by using ADA compliance in marketing. They began adding a transcript of their weekly broadcast called This American Life to their website. The transcript made it more accessible to those who cannot listen to it and searchable by search engines. Just a few months after they began adding transcripts, their Google Analytics reflected a 6.86% increase in search traffic. After a year, their unique visitors increased by 4.18% and more than 7% of visitors viewed at least one transcript.

Expanding your audience and preventing lawsuits

ADA compliance and marketing both work to increase business for your company. Every piece of marketing material created- from social media posts to web pages- needs to be accessible to everyone. Accessibility helps prevent ADA lawsuits, protect your company’s reputation, and ensure everyone can access your message while expanding your market. 

Need help making your PDFs more accessible and searchable to every potential client and search engine? Contact us to find out how quickly and easily Equidox makes PDF remediation!



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Nina Overdorff

Nina comes to Equidox with years of sales and marketing experience from a variety of industries and holds a BS in Language Arts Education. Nina has a passion for words, storytelling, and information, which she believes everyone should have access to regardless of ability. After spending time as a teacher with a blind student, she became much more aware of the limitations and abilities of web accessibility, and how essential it is to those experiencing disabilities. “Being able to access information equally ensures that everyone has an equal opportunity for education, employment, and success in life.”

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