It may seem strange, but the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) still doesn’t mention websites specifically, creating a gray area when it comes to ADA website compliance. This omission has led to confusion about whether websites must comply with ADA regulations for years. However, this doesn’t negate the importance of having an ADA-compliant website to ensure accessibility for all users.

If your company falls under Title II or Title III of the ADA, it’s advisable to comply with ADA requirements for websites. Titles I and II apply to firms with a minimum of 15 staff members, statewide and community governments, staffing companies, and employment institutions.

An intimate understanding of ADA compliance concerning websites is essential for every organization, from start-ups to growing companies. The more you know ADA compliance guidelines, the more likely you are to avoid expensive lawsuits due to ADA violations. What’s more, an ADA friendly approach increases your digital accessibility and overall exposure,  which can ultimately boost your eCommerce sales. 

History of ADA and Digital Accessibility

The ADA was signed into law in 1990 as a civil rights law, prohibiting discrimination based on disability. However, in an uphill battle fought by disability advocates, improving accessibility in the Information Technology sector became even more difficult. When the Internet was still in its infancy, the ADA applied almost exclusively to the physical world. 

Since then, Congress hasn’t made changes to the law to clarify where it stands on web accessibility compliance. However, the US Department of Justice (DOJ) and United States federal courts have stepped in with a broader interpretation. In addition, the DOJ has made numerous statements that enforce its position that websites must be accessible to people with disabilities.

The ADA isn’t the only piece of legislation that relates to online accessibility needs. For example, updates to Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act in 1998 include information and communication technology. As a result, U.S Federal government agencies must consider accessibility in all aspects of communication, including digital. This legislative update was a significant milestone and is why all government agencies are now required to provide accessible PDF documents upon request.

While Section 508 doesn’t apply to commercial businesses, it did affect interactions between federal contractors and governmental agencies. With that said, Section 508 sent a beacon to the commercial world that accessibility is a standard worth adopting.

Finally, in 2010, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) passed the Americans with Disabilities Act Standards for Accessible Design, which identified “electronic and information technology.” But, to the surprise of many, it still failed to mention websites directly.

However, its Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) stated that regardless of whether the ADA alludes to the Internet, it mandates that Title II covers internet website access.”

Advocates continue to work towards a more clear directive on digital accessibility. Regardless of legal clarity, the digital world has become just as important in people’s lives as much of the physical world. If you’re building a website, it’s essential to follow guidelines for an accessible standard. Failing to do so could spell legal trouble.

How Does WCAG Relate to ADA Compliance?

Federal agencies and their contractors must follow Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 due to the  Section 508 update to the Rehabilitation Act of 2017. It dictates to comply with WCAG 2.0 A/AA explicitly. Unfortunately, commercial businesses, while still needing to be accessible, won’t find any guidelines in the ADA. 

Without a clear and legally binding list of requirements, web admins have used WCAG as a de facto set of guidelines. However, meeting these requirements is advisable since past DOJ cases related to web accessibility show that WCAG is the dominant factor in rulings, with WCAG 2.0 AA being the minimum standard.

Yet, to futureproof your website, it’s recommended to go beyond and attempt to reach WCAG 2.1 AA or even WCAG 2.2 compliance. The significant difference between version 2.1 and its predecessor is the focus on mobile devices. Internet use on mobile devices is increasingly widespread, so there’s a good chance it will be mandated as law soon. 

So, what should you know about WCAG 2.2? It aims to enhance previous versions like all its new iterations but doesn’t significantly change WCAG 2.1. WCAG 2.2 covers all WCAG 2.1 word-for-word, so any website that conforms with WCAG 2.2 also complies with WCAG 2.1. Importantly, WCAG 2.2 will accommodate a broader range of disabilities, including vision, hearing, speech, and mobility-related disabilities on desktops, laptops, tablets, and mobile devices.

So why haven’t these guidelines been enshrined in law if they’re so widely adopted? The DOJ was allegedly close to adopting WCAG as the official standard. And many predicted President Biden’s administration would take a more aggressive approach to enforcing the ADA. Still, it has not done so as of mid-2021.

What remains clear is that the internet is an important place that requires public accommodation to create a fair playing field for all individuals, regardless of ability. Until Congress clarifies the ADA, the WCAG will remain the international benchmark for ADA compliance. Those who don’t abide by the standard may face repercussions.

Is my website at risk of being sued for not being ADA compatible?

The amount of federal lawsuits filed against businesses and governmental organizations is rapidly increasing. According to law firm Seyfarth Shaw, in 2017 alone, there were more than 800 lawsuits alleging websites violated the ADA by being inaccessible. A variety of industries have been targeted, including banks, credit unions, restaurants, and major corporations. The number of lawsuits has increased every year since and shows no signs of slowing down.

The most recognized ADA lawsuits prove that no company is immune to lawsuits resulting from a violation of disability rights. For example, a suit was filed against Beyoncé’s Parkwood Entertainment because its website didn’t offer image alt text. 

Additionally, Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) faced lawsuits because their sites didn’t provide captions for deaf people and other people with hearing disabilities.  While these are the organizations that make headlines, thousands of small businesses are undergoing similar lawsuits with no media coverage.

If faced with a lawsuit, businesses typically have to pay the disabled individual’s attorneys’ fees (or at least some portion thereof), their own legal fees, and will have to agree to certain modifications to the website.

The costs of doing nothing are immense. Outlined by the National Center on Disability and Access to Education (NCDAE), in one case, it was found that if an educational institution had made accommodations prior to being sued, it could have saved close to $600,000.

It is financially wise to invest in web accessibility to avoid these types of lawsuits. Until a clear set of guidelines is proposed by the DOJ, the best form of protection is risk mitigation.

5 Tips to Achieve ADA Website Compliance

1. Accessibility Audit: 

Helps determine a plan for achieving the standards outlined in WCAG 2.0 AA, WCAG 2.1 AA, and WCAG 2.2.  Conducting an audit with guidelines to increase your ADA web compliance is advisable.

2. Outside Consultant: 

This is a costly, often time-consuming method. Consultants perform many duties including providing an evaluation and reviewing digital assets to confirm they are in compliance, or even looking for patterns in your web behavior to identify poor webmaster practices and making recommendations to improve your standards. 

3. Usability Testing: 

It’s best to test straight from the source. Consider those from the blind or low vision community, those who are deaf or hard of hearing, and individuals whose physical disabilities hinder their manual dexterity. Testers with lived experience will always provide a better, more honest opinion than just following a checklist.

4. Accessibility Scans: 

If your website is frequently updated, it’s only natural that some things may fall through the cracks. Accessibility tests should be a regular occurrence. Using a checklist when updating your site, as well as studying guidelines, is a good method of maintaining a high accessibility standard, but this shouldn’t replace frequent accessibility scans.

5. Automated Audits: 

A widget that can flag occurrences for you is a good method for making sure high standards are maintained. You can adopt professional help to do this for you, or conduct your own audit.

Now that you’re familiar with the ADA, you’re equipped with the information you need to maintain a compliant website that can be accessed by all. It’s never too early or too late to start considering digital accessibility. Ultimately, the goal is to enable all people, including those with disabilities, to use your website without barriers. Most importantly, you want to provide equitability for all users and following ADA guidelines is the best way to accomplish that. See the helpful checklist below to get on the right path. 

ADA Compliance Checklist for Websites

1. Color Contrast

Provide a strong color disparity between foreground content and background colors to accommodate people with eye-related disabilities.

2. Legal Requirements

It’s crucial to stay abreast of ADA and WCAG compliance requirements to ensure accessibility and protect your company legally.  

3. Accessible Buttons

Integrate accessible naming conventions and ARIA labels for all website buttons—both are essential for people with vision or hearing-related disabilities. 

4. Alt Text

Integrate easy-to-understand, detailed descriptions of all graphical website elements (e.g., images and buttons).

5. Accessible PDF Files

You must provide accessible PDF web files for people who utilize assistive technology—this is also crucial to meeting compliance guidelines. 

6. Video Captions

Provide a synchronized text corresponding to all video content on your site (narrated and non-narrated).

7. Audio Captions

Include simultaneous text equivalents for all audio website files.

8. Online Form Filling

Your online forms must be clearly labeled,  simple to follow, and offer access via keyboards to maximize accessibility.

9. Accessible Fonts

Use website fonts that are easier to read for people with dyslexia. Fonts designed specifically for this user group are the best option. 

10. Avoid Flashing Imagery

 Flashing images can cause adverse reactions in some users, including seizures.

11. Zooming Functionality

Provide browser functionality that enables end users to zoom to enlarge text and all site content. 

12. Skip Navigation

Provide skip navigation links, which are essential for website visitors who use screen readers and keyboard navigation. It helps them get to the primary content fast and easily.  

13. Content Order of Importance

Use bold headlines and subheads to delineate page content and convey its order of importance to end users.

14. Descriptive Anchor Text

Ensure all outbound links in your web content are easily clicked and readable for site visitors and search engines.

15. Keyboard Functionality

Ensure all site elements can be navigated with a keyboard to accommodate people with various disabilities.

16. Error Reporting

Include a way for users to inform you of accessibility barriers so that you can rectify them ASAP.

17. High Visible Contact Info

Make contacting your company as easy as possible for accessibility-related solutions and answers.


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UserWay Makes Websites ADA Compliance Affordable

Small businesses may be overwhelmed by the idea of conducting the work that an audit may reveal. Fortunately, UserWay makes it relatively easy. UserWay’s technology has helped innumerable website pages comply with WCAG 2.1 AA and WCAG 2.2. It is the most complete automatic solution for digital accessibility available today.   

UserWay’s AI-Powered Accessibility Widget automatically makes code WCAG compliant while offering more accessibility functions for end users. Available for all leading CMS platforms and plain HTML/CSS/JS sites, it ensures ADA web compliance by instantly remediating accessibility violations to make your site meet the strictest governmental regulations.

Answers to Common FAQs

What Does an ADA Audit Entail?

This is a proven way to avoid a violation of disability rights. A qualified third party assesses your content to see where it stands in relation to WCAG requirements. Next, they generate a written analysis that pinpoints what violations need remediating. 

How Can I Confirm an Outside Consultant is Worth the Cost?

After conducting a site scan to find violations and then working to remediate them, hiring testers with disabilities to review your site is the most reliable method. These testers can easily find problem areas, alert companies to obstacles, and give insights on what is most critical to correct next.

What is a Reliable Checklist for ADA Website Compliance?

  1. Read up on ADA legal requirements
  2. Provide alt tags for media files and maps 
  3. Provide detailed HTML tags for online forms 
  4. Include anchor text for hyperlinks 
  5. Provide skip navigation links for every page on your site

Is it Possible for a Site to Reach Full ADA Compliance?

It’s not technically possible for a website to achieve full accessible compliance. Most websites require constant upkeep to maintain accessibility, as content gets updated regularly. So a website’s level of compliance is dictated by how much of its content adheres to WCAG requirements.