ADA compliance is critical to keeping your website accessible to all users, especially people with disabilities.
Failing to adhere to the ADA can lead to potential legal issues, costing you your company’s reputation and thousands of dollars in legal fees.
The first step to becoming ADA compliant is to understand what it is, what it requires, and what you can do to make your website accessible to achieve compliance.
While all this can be a lot, this guide introduces you to the essential things you need to know about ADA compliance and how it can help protect your business from web accessibility-related lawsuits.
Overview of ADA compliance and what it covers
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a civil rights law passed in 1990. It aims to protect the rights of individuals with disabilities by prohibiting discrimination from businesses, local and state governments, non-profit organizations, and all areas of public life.
Title III of the ADA requires that all places and private places considered public accommodation be accessible to people with disabilities.
The law covers brick-and-mortar facilities and establishments, including movie theatres, retail stores, restaurants, gyms, and the digital space, such as mobile applications and websites.
While there is no explicit statement that the ADA covers websites, the U.S. courts apply ADA accessibility requirements to the online space, which means websites fall under ADA rules.
One of the biggest challenges of achieving compliance is that the ADA’s Title III does not provide specific technical standards for accessibility.
This is where the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) come in.
The US Department of Justice (DOJ) consistently cites the WCAG versions 2.0 and 2.1 for upholding web accessibility and ADA compliance in court rulings.
The WCAG is developed by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) to provide a roadmap for organizations and businesses to make web content more accessible.
It is designed to help ensure that persons with visual, speech, auditory, physical, language, cognitive, neurological, and learning impairments and disabilities can navigate websites effectively.
While the DOJ has not released specific regulations to ensure ADA compliance (yet), business and website owners need to implement accessibility features and functionalities to provide equal and convenient access to all users.
Due to the complexities, development skills, and resources required to make websites accessible, many business and site owners turn to robust, cost-effective web accessibility solutions.
ADA compliance requirements
The DOJ considers the WCAG as the best standard to follow to achieve ADA compliance.
The WCAG (versions 2.0, 2.1, upcoming 2.2) is built on four foundational principles describing functional accessibility:
- Perceivable. User Interface (UI) and information components should be designed and presented to allow all users to process them easily.
- Operable. People must be able to operate the website’s navigation and UI components effectively. The website must be accessible to keyboard-only users who can only browse the web with a keyboard and blind people using screen reader software.
- Understandable. Users must be able to perceive, use, and understand the website. For example, websites must provide intuitive navigation and comprehensible content to be accessible.
- Robust. The website’s content must be robust enough for various platforms, devices, browsers, and assistive technologies to interpret its components and content effectively. For example, using alternative text for images and the Accessible Rich Internet Applications or ARIA set of attributes can help make web content accessible for screen readers.
The WCAG sets specific success criteria for testing your content’s accessibility based on three levels of conformance: Level A, Level AA, and Level AAA.
Each level incorporates the standards from the prior levels, but with an increased effort to maintain and remediate web accessibility.
Generally, your best bet is to meet the WCAG Level AA requirements, since these are the most widely adopted standards by U.S. law.
Practical tips to achieve ADA website compliance
While reaching ADA compliance can be a long and tedious undertaking, you can jumpstart your efforts to make your website accessible and free from web accessibility-related lawsuits with these tips.
- Ensure you code your web and mobile systems in ways that conform to the ADA requirements and WCAG.
- Test your website’s accessibility and ensure it works well for people with disabilities. Have individuals with disabilities complete user testing’s of your website, apps, and systems. It’s also crucial to learn how assistive technology works to determine what users need to use and understand your website effectively.
- Work with qualified third-party web accessibility experts to conduct accessibility audits. It can help you validate your system and spot and remediate accessibility issues on your website accordingly.
- Accessibility issues can easily sneak into your code, making it crucial to track the accessibility of your systems in development and production.
- Develop a culture of web accessibility within your team. Train your content and development teams on the ADA and WCAG requirements.
- Equip your web content and development teams with the right tools. Doing so allows them to assess and validate accessibility across the code development and content creation process. You can leverage a platform for accessibility management and tools that let you integrate accessibility tests throughout your development operations.
- Implement a formal, structured policy to ensure your teams consistently apply your set web accessibility standards and practices. Develop your policy based on the ADA requirements and WCAG guidelines.
- Continuously improve your website’s accessibility by gathering user feedback. Provide accessible methods to collect feedback from people with disabilities on accessibility issues on your website.
- Create a dedicated email address or feedback collecting system you can track daily.
Kick-start your efforts to reach ADA compliance
ADA compliance is your golden ticket to adhere to web accessibility laws and standards. It can keep your website accessible to users and help protect your site and business from potential legal issues.
Besides dodging complaints and avoiding lawsuits, reaching ADA website compliance can also help you create barrier-free and inclusive user experiences for all your visitors. You can reach more audiences, increasing your sales opportunities.