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AudioEye Explained: Legal Compliance


This short guide presents an overview of digital accessibility legislation in major global markets, explains the importance of legal compliance and provides an overview of the best practices for achieving and maintaining compliance.

Throughout the world, legislation is in force to ensure that people with physical and/or mental disabilities have access to essential services. Today, essential services explicitly or implicitly include digital varieties, such as websites and mobile apps, and digital documents such as PDFs. Depending on where your organization is located, where you operate and what you do, you may need to comply with one or more sets of legislation.

The penalties for noncompliance with laws on digital accessibility vary by country and by type of organization. In general terms, noncompliance can put your organization at risk of costly legal proceedings, significant financial penalties and reputational damage.

What Is Digital Accessibility Compliance?

Most countries globally have enacted legislation to penalize discrimination against people with physical and/or mental disabilities and to encourage equal opportunities. And as the world has embraced digital communications, this legislation has been adapted to ensure equal access to digital content.

The goal of digital accessibility legislation is to make it possible for the widest possible group of users to accomplish the core missions supported by websites. For an ecommerce site, that typically means ensuring that users of all abilities can find and purchase the goods or services they’re interested in. For a government site, it might mean empowering all citizens, regardless of ability, to check information and sign up for services. In both cases, the relevant legislation usually assumes that people with disabilities will make use of assistive technologies such as screen readers.

If you publish information online, you are potentially at legal risk unless you ensure that your website complies with the relevant legislation and offers equal access to visitors of all abilities.

Why Is Digital Accessibility Important?

In 2011, the World Health Organization estimated there were more than 1 billion people living with disabilities globally. The incidence of many physical and mental impairments increases with age, and global populations are living longer, so this number will likely continue to grow. However, when WebAIM analyzed the 1 million most popular web pages in 2020, it found that 98.1% contained basic accessibility errors. 

All people should enjoy the same opportunities — including access to digital services in a world that is increasingly online — regardless of age, gender, race, ethnicity or ability. Beyond the ethical arguments, the economics are also clearly in favor of inclusivity. Together with their friends and family, individuals with disabilities influence or control more than $8 trillion (U.S.) in annual disposable income. Can you afford not to make your website accessible to the widest possible group of users? 

Digital accessibility initiatives can also be the rising tide that lifts all boats. The optimization required to achieve compliance can help eliminate friction for all users and lower the barriers to making a sale. Similarly, improving accessibility will typically deliver improvements in search engine optimization (SEO).

The Legal Risk of Noncompliance

Aside from being the right thing to do, ensuring digital accessibility will reduce your legal risk. In many jurisdictions, failure to comply can trigger significant financial penalties. But even where the legislation does not include clear provisions for punitive damages, the costs of fighting litigation can be significant. These will include not only direct expenses such as attorney fees but also indirect costs such as time and effort spent on internal discovery.  

If you deal directly with U.S. state or federal government clients, noncompliance could result in disqualification from future contracts. This could then trigger a domino effect: Enterprises increasingly expect suppliers to share their corporate values, so you could even find yourself excluded from nongovernment business.  

Even a successful defense in a digital accessibility lawsuit can come at a considerable reputational cost. Any perceived failure to respect the needs of people with disabilities could have a tangible impact on your organization’s brand image and ultimately your revenues.  

Best Practices for Compliance

Compliance is not a one-off target or an annual obligation. Nothing is static: Legislation, how the courts interpret the law, the globally accepted standards for accessibility, assistive technologies, web technologies, development practices and your web content are constantly changing. Maintaining compliance is therefore an ongoing, continually evolving process.

Based on years of experience in helping clients to protect themselves against legal risk, AudioEye has determined that the following six points should form the core of a best-practices strategy for digital accessibility compliance:

  1. Substantial ongoing conformance to the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG)
  2. Regular expert website audits
  3. Comprehensive remediation planning and execution
  4. Clear feedback and grievance procedures for visitors
  5. Internal accessibility training and tooling
  6. Commitment to an internal culture of continuous improvement in digital accessibility 

Of course, no one can guarantee that adhering to these six best practices will eliminate your risk of a lawsuit, but our experience tells us that following them will give you a good level of protection.

WCAG — a Global Standard 

The closest thing we have to a globally accepted standard for digital accessibility is the WCAG published by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) — of which AudioEye is proud to be a member. Several pieces of legislation in major economies explicitly require WCAG conformance, while in many other cases the requirement is implicit. Conformance with WCAG doesn’t guarantee compliance with any digital accessibility legislation, but it’s always either a necessary or significant step toward compliance.

WCAG contains hundreds of success criteria, grouped under four key principles. These state that web content and controls should be:

  • Perceivable to users using one or more senses
  • Operable so that users can navigate and interact with the site
  • Understandable by the widest possible group of users
  • Robust so that they can be accessed by any standard web browser or assistive technology

Achieving substantial conformance with these principles will get you a long way along the road to compliance. To complete that journey, you’ll first need to understand the precise legal requirements of the countries and regions in which you operate. As we outline the legislation in some major economies, you’ll notice that WCAG conformance crops up frequently.

Digital Accessibility Legislation in the U.S. and Abroad

Digital Accessibility Legislation in the U.S. and Canada

U.S. Federal Law

In the U.S., there are two key pieces of federal legislation concerning digital accessibility. Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act requires federal government agencies to procure and use accessible technology, but it also applies to agencies receiving federal funding and any contractors working for them. The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) applies to businesses, nonprofits and local and state government agencies, and mandates that “places of public accommodation” be accessible to people of all abilities.

Unlike Section 508, which calls for conformance with WCAG 2.0 Level AA, a widely embraced accessibility benchmark, the ADA doesn’t explicitly refer to websites. However, U.S. courts have frequently ruled that these also count as places of public accommodation. Title III of the ADA requires that businesses with websites make “reasonable accommodations” to ensure that people with disabilities can use those sites. Although the legislation does not define what those reasonable accommodations might be, legal precedent suggests that our proposed six best practices fit mentioned in the Best Practices for Compliance section of this page fit the bill.

The number of digital accessibility lawsuits filed under ADA Title III in U.S. federal district courts grew by a factor of more than three between 2017 and 2019, and rapid growth continued through 2020 despite the impact of the pandemic. Note that the ADA is a “strict liability law,” so there are no excuses for noncompliance. There are also no exemptions for small businesses.

U.S. State Law

Many states and cities have their own legislation that includes measures for ensuring equality for people with disabilities. The most prominent examples are the New York City Human Rights Law and California’s Unruh Civil Rights Act.

Over time, state legislation has become more specific and prescriptive. In 2017, California passed AB 434, a bill requiring state agencies to certify the conformance of their websites with WCAG on a biennial basis. Similarly, New York State policy NYS-P08-005 was updated in 2019 “to facilitate the full and complete use of State applications, websites, and other digital interfaces by the public and State employees.”

Applicability of U.S. Laws

Depending on what your organization does, how it is funded, where it is headquartered, where it operates and whether it offers a transactional website, you may be required to comply with one or more of these U.S. legislative structures. And commercial organizations in receipt of federal funding — for example, COVID-19 relief funds — should be aware that this may make them subject to legislation that originally targeted government bodies only.

Canadian Federal Law

The Canadian Survey on Disability notes that 22% of the population — 6.2 million citizens — live with a disability. Their rights are protected by the Canadian federal government in two key pieces of legislation: the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Canadian Human Rights Act. The latter was updated in 2016 to include explicit guidelines for ensuring the accessibility of digital content to people of all abilities.

More recently, the Accessible Canada Act of 2019 extends both sets of legislation with detailed measures for ensuring “barrier-free access to full and equal participation in society, regardless of [...] disabilities.” This act specifically covers government organizations, banks, telcos and public transportation, with penalties for noncompliance running as high as $250,000 (Canadian; $180,000 U.S).

Canadian Provincial Law

As in the U.S., there is also a second set of digital accessibility laws below the federal level. Ontario, the largest province, tends to take the lead in defining how accessibility legislation relates to websites. The Accessibility for Ontarians With Disabilities Act (AODA), introduced in 2005, applies to all government bodies, nonprofits and commercial organizations with at least one employee in Ontario. At the beginning of 2021, the law became more stringent, requiring all organizations with more than 50 employees in that province to achieve the WCAG 2.0 Level AA standard for their websites. Similar laws are either in force or being drafted in Manitoba, Nova Scotia, and British Columbia.

Note that the location of your company’s headquarters does not impact the need to comply with the AODA. Simply having a single employee in Ontario triggers the requirement to comply with the law. In addition, public-sector organizations of all sizes, together with businesses or nonprofits with 20 or more employees, must complete and submit annual Accessibility Compliance Reports.


Digital Accessibility Legislation Worldwide

Most major economies are signatories to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Disabled Persons (UNCRDP), which commits them to ensure that people with disabilities enjoy equal access to digital information.

European Union

In the European Union, the Web Accessibility Directive mandates that all government organizations achieve a minimum level of digital accessibility based on WCAG 2.0 criteria. The European Accessibility Act 2019, which comes into force in June 2022, is the equivalent legislation for the commercial sector, mandating equal access to digital services including corporate websites, broadcast media content, ATMs and ecommerce platforms.

E.U. member states are typically both subject to E.U. rules and themselves individual signatories to the UNCRDP, resulting in a two-tier system in many countries. For example, Germany issued the Federal Ordinance on Barrier-Free Information Technology in 2011, requiring central and state government websites to achieve WCAG 2.0 standards. Non-E.U. businesses with a presence or commercial activities in E.U. countries may therefore need to respect both E.U. and national legislation.

The United Kingdom 

The Equality Act 2010 states that website owners must make “reasonable adjustments” to enable people with disabilities to access their services. The 2018 Public Sector Bodies Accessibility Regulations required public sector websites to achieve WCAG 2.1 AA standards from 2020 onward, while commercial organizations can consult the British Standards Institute BS8878:2010 Web Accessibility Code of Practice for guidance.


International businesses with a web presence in Israel should be aware of two pieces of legislation. The 1998 Equal Rights of Persons With Disabilities Act (ERPD) requires all companies to implement measures enabling citizens with disabilities to play an active role in society. Following Israel’s signing of the UNCRDP in 2012, the government implemented Israeli Standard 5568 (IS5568) based on WCAG 2.0 guidelines and amended the ERPD accordingly. All retail, telco, banking, cultural, education, transportation and religious websites must now conform to IS5568 standards.

What Does It Mean to Be Compliant?

As we’ve seen, WCAG is widely accepted as the yardstick for judging digital accessibility. However, it’s important not to confuse WCAG conformance with digital accessibility compliance. WCAG does not propose a standardized way to score a website’s accessibility, and no legislation defines compliance purely in terms of adherence to WCAG or any other standard.

Legal precedent in the U.S. strongly suggests that the courts are concerned more with practical outcomes than with measured adherence to standards. You don’t need perfect conformity with a particular level of WCAG; rather, compliance depends on ensuring that people with disabilities can access and use the core functions of your website with the aid of standard assistive technology. That is why we recommend a holistic approach outlined in the next section.

Practical Steps to Compliance 

Step 1: Identify the Relevant Legislation for Your Organization

This will vary according to the type, size, location and activities of your organization. Next, you need to review the legislation and understand its implications. Typically, the law will require at least conformance to some level — usually AA — of WCAG.

Step 2: Test Your Website for Accessibility Barriers

Test your site both for its conformance with WCAG standards and for its practical usability in the real world. You could start by attempting to complete common user journeys using only a keyboard or using a screen reader with your monitor switched off. To test at scale and to identify more subtle compliance issues, you’ll want to take advantage of tools and resources such as those provided by W3C.

In practical terms, you’ll be looking at how well your digital content respects the four key principles of the WCAG guidelines:

  • that it is perceivable,
  • operable,
  • understandable and
  • robust.

Each of these principles then breaks down into potentially tens or hundreds of individual guidelines against which you can test your content. 

Manual Review and Remediation is Key 

Many organizations will deploy some kind of automated remediation tool. While these will certainly help in rapidly eliminating common errors, they will never catch every problem, so you must also plan for manual testing and remediation. Many WCAG guidelines cannot reliably be tested by an automated system but rather require human judgment: Technology is not a silver bullet for compliance. 

Step 3: Identify Resources to Remediate Issues Found

Naturally, the next step in compliance is to fix the accessibility concerns that you discover. Fixing existing issues and ensuring that new content is fully accessible will require you to train web designers and developers on the WCAG standards. You will also need to ensure that any third-party plugins and platforms meet the relevant accessibility standards.

Step 4: Ongoing Monitoring and Maintenance

Dynamism is almost the defining feature of the web: Websites constantly evolve, as do the browsers and adaptive technologies used to interact with them. This means that compliance also requires ongoing monitoring and the creation of an organizational culture focused on continuous progress. And since progress can be measured only against past performance, this, in turn, requires audits and formal record-keeping.

In short, compliance depends on setting up organizational systems and processes to identify and resolve accessibility problems on an ongoing basis and to monitor, measure and record your performance over time. By not only executing the work required to make your site as accessible as possible but also preserving a record of the improvements you make, you’ll be in a much stronger position to demonstrate compliance if ever required to do so by a court.

How Can Organizations Achieve Compliance?

AudioEye proposes a holistic approach to compliance. Our unique hybrid solution combines automated monitoring and testing, backed by human-led assessment and remediation, to find and resolve common barriers to accessibility. In this way, we help clients overcome the primary compliance hurdle, which is to enable the largest possible community of users to interact with digital content.  

But compliance also means being able to show that you’re following the law. We provide certified conformance statements and help clients respond to litigation. The documentation we create helps clients demonstrate a clear commitment to testing end-to-end user journeys for accessibility, backed by regular third-party audits. We help close the loop and enable self-sufficiency by providing accessibility training resources for clients’ web designers and developers. We also deploy an Accessibility Toolbar on clients’ websites that helps visitors adapt content to meet their requirements and preferences, and our 24/7 Help Desk enables visitors with disabilities to provide feedback on their experience.  

AudioEye’s combination of automated monitoring and remediation with expert testing and legal support helps our clients address all aspects of compliance with the relevant legislation. 

How AudioEye Delivers on Best Practices

Based on several years of in-depth monitoring of digital accessibility lawsuits, AudioEye has developed a strong understanding of both the risks and the appropriate mitigation strategies.

In particular, we have seen that the courts are more interested in practical outcomes than in simple conformance to standards: The goal of digital accessibility legislation is to ensure that the widest community of users can use the core functions of your website with the help of the appropriate assistive technology.


What the Courts Are Looking for: WCAG Conformance

Conformance with WCAG guidelines is difficult both because of the number of guidelines and due to the subtlety of interpreting them. AudioEye helps companies overcome the challenge through a unique hybrid approach that combines automated tests and fixes with expert-led testing and custom remediation. Through this approach, we help clients address both the scale and the sophistication of the compliance task.

Every time a user visits your site, our lightweight automation runs a battery of more than 400 tests to find and mitigate common accessibility errors as defined by WCAG. Built on more than 15 years of expert knowledge in the digital accessibility area, our real-time technology finds and fixes problems that other solutions can’t. And as your content changes over time, we continuously monitor it to ensure ongoing conformance. Issues that require human input to resolve are flagged for attention and can be remediated either by your in-house team or by our dedicated team of more than 20 International Association of Accessibility Professionals (IAAP)-certified experts. Those specialists are equipped to:

  • Find and fix common accessibility errors in real time
  • Highlight complex errors for expert resolution
  • Continuously monitor new and changing content


What the Courts Are Looking for: Expert Audits

You should conduct a full digital accessibility audit at least annually, and this should include both automated and expert testing of digital assets. The human element should be conducted by people with the appropriate skills, expertise and accreditations, using a broad range of assistive technology (AT) and covering the key user journeys and use cases.

AudioEye brings to the table consistent, field-proven methodologies governing both expert and automated testing, wrapped up in a structured approach to measuring accessibility and recording the results. We focus on analyzing the most common user journeys — for example, adding a product to a shopping cart — which is not only more cost-effective than a blanket approach but also more in line with U.S. courts’ expectations for practical accessibility rather than box-checking. We determine the criticality of each accessibility problem we uncover by measuring its real impact on the user experience, creating a dynamic Accessibility Score for each element of your content. The Accessibility Score encompasses:

  • Audits based on real-world usability and accessibility
  • Proven methodologies from IAAP-certified experts
  • Comprehensive and detailed reporting on the impact of issues and remediations


What the Courts Are Looking for: Remediation Planning and Execution

It’s important to be able to demonstrate a structured, intelligent approach to tackling digital accessibility concerns. Precedent suggests that while U.S. courts do not expect perfection in outcomes, they expect organizations to take accessibility seriously and to have a clear, workable plan of action.

AudioEye’s automated testing and monitoring, backed by human expertise, enables you not only to detect accessibility problems but also to understand the likely impact on people with disabilities. This means that you can prioritize remediations according to the severity of impact and thereby build achievable plans — both in time and cost — for remediating any more complex issues that can’t be automatically resolved. Our services enable you to:

  • Analyze the impact of your efforts through your Accessibility Score
  • Prioritize your remediation actions for the greatest benefit
  • Demonstrate a planned approach to accessibility

What the Courts Are Looking for: User Feedback

The primary goal of digital accessibility legislation is not to penalize companies for noncompliance but rather to improve real-world access to digital resources for people with disabilities. A key element in demonstrating your company’s commitment to accessibility is the ability to understand and act on feedback from actual users.  

AudioEye provides easy access to a 24/7 Help Desk directly from clients' websites, enabling users with disabilities to gain assistance or to report accessibility obstacles to our certified experts. It is also a key source of information on the real-world effectiveness of accessibility measures, driving both more targeted remediation and improvements to automated remediation. The Help Desk can: 

  • Assist users with disabilities in real time 
  • Help clients understand the real-world performance of accessibility measures 
  • Enhance the scheduling and prioritization of remediations

What the Courts Are Looking for: Training and Tooling

A key element in your compliance strategy should be the creation of an internal culture of understanding and skills around digital accessibility. Training your staff on accessibility issues will help embed the right attitudes and demonstrate your commitment to legislative compliance. And by putting in place automated tooling, you can accelerate and reduce the cost of accessibility remediations.

AudioEye provides clients with a detailed, continually updated knowledge base on accessibility issues and best-practice remediations, as well as offering tailor-made education programs to transfer skills. In building a compliance-aware organization and developing internal proficiency, you should consider the right balance between internal and external expertise. Partnering with AudioEye as an expert provider of managed services regarding compliance can give you the day-to-day skills you need without requiring a deeper investment in knowledge unrelated to your core business.

Our Accessibility Toolbar enables users to customize and personalize their web experience, with easy control over elements such as font size and typeface. And in the background, our automated testing, monitoring and remediation services help to dismantle barriers to accessibility in real time. AudioEye has the ability to:

  • Build your corporate knowledge in digital accessibility
  • Access best practices on finding and fixing problems
  • Automate the resolution of many common errors while your pages load


What the Courts Are Looking for: Continuous Improvement

Website standards, web technology, online content and legal frameworks are all dynamic. It follows that compliance cannot be a static, point-in-time initiative but must be treated as an ongoing process. What’s more, the ability to defend against lawsuits is enhanced when you can demonstrate a track record of committing to, and achieving, ongoing enhancements in accessibility.

AudioEye helps clients meet this objective in several ways. From the moment of installation, clients have access to our powerful automation technology and certified in-house experts — both of which are constantly adapting and improving. Our automated testing, monitoring and remediation technology improves the accessibility of both existing and new content, and our Accessibility Score — weighted by real-world impact — provides a vital benchmark against which to measure continuous improvement. We also provide protection through our Sustainable Testing and Remediation (STAR) Plan, an automatically generated report that details our process for identifying and correcting WCAG errors, as well as the ongoing commitment to accessibility. Finally, we help clients by assisting with legal advice and evidential documentation to address noncompliance claims. Audio provides you with:

  • Powerful automation technology and in-house experts
  • Easy benchmarking of progress on digital accessibility
  • Legal support and documentation

Additional Resources 

We hope you find this e-book useful. For more information on how AudioEye can help you achieve and maintain compliance with the relevant digital accessibility legislation, visit the AudioEye Blog.  

Understanding Digital Accessibility Legislation and How to Comply 

Understanding Digital Accessibility Legislation and How to Comply 

  Find out more about how AudioEye can help you achieve and maintain compliance with the relevant legislation.  

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