The Most Common ADA Compliance Issues for Websites

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The Most Common ADA Compliance Issues for Websites

Posted August 08, 2022


Posted August 08, 2022

Stylized web page that shows a number of error messages and the label ADA
Stylized web page that shows a number of error messages and the label ADA

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Many websites have barriers that affect users with disabilities. Here’s a look at several common potential ADA compliance issues and how to fix them.

Your website is a powerful marketing tool. But if it isn’t accessible to people with disabilities, it isn’t doing its job.

About 1 in 4 adults in the United States has some form of disability, and a report by the American Institutes for Research found that working-age adults with disabilities control about $490 billion in discretionary spending.

There’s a strong business case for digital accessibility. Especially when you consider that accessibility best practices can help provide a better experience for all users.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires businesses to provide people with disabilities with equivalent access to services in “places of public accommodation.” The Department of Justice (DOJ) has consistently taken the position that websites qualify as places of public accommodations — and given the rising number of web accessibility lawsuits, organizations of every size need to plan for complying with the ADA.

Chart that show the three levels of conformance for the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines

Using WCAG Conformance to Demonstrate ADA Compliance

One of the major criticisms of the ADA is that it lacks technical standards for digital content. Of course, there’s a good reason for that: it was written in 1992, long before the internet became an everyday tool for millions of Americans.

However, web accessibility does have clear rules. The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) publishes the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), which are considered the international standards for digital accessibility.

The DOJ has identified WCAG conformance — meaning a business voluntarily follows the guidelines — as a reasonable way to demonstrate compliance.

To see how businesses have followed WCAG conformance standards, check out these examples of web accessibility.

What Are the Most Common Website ADA Violations?

To comply with the ADA, the best practice is to follow all of the Level AA guidelines from the latest version of WCAG (currently, WCAG 2.1).

One of the easiest ways to identify the accessibility issues on your website is to use an ADA compliance checker.

Some of the most common WCAG violations include:

Low Contrast Text

Color contrast ratio refers to the difference in light between foreground elements (such as the text on your website) and the background. WCAG 2.1 Success Criterion (SC) 1.4.3 requires websites to maintain a color contrast ratio of at least 4.5:1 for normal text and 3:1 for larger text.

If your site doesn’t maintain an appropriate color contrast ratio, some users may be unable to read your content. Depending on the colors you choose, people with certain vision disabilities (such as color vision deficiency syndrome) might see a blank page. Individuals with low vision or neurocognitive conditions may have trouble focusing on the text.

Unfortunately, most websites don’t meet the minimum threshold. Each year, WebAIM (Web Accessibility In Mind) performs basic audits on the home pages of the top 1 million websites on the internet. In WebAIM’s 2022 report, 83.9% of homepages had low contrast text that fell short of WCAG’s requirements.

Find out if your website meets WCAG contrast standards with our free color contrast checker.

Missing Image Alternative Text

WCAG 2.1 SC 1.1.1 requires that you make any information conveyed by non-text content — such as charts or images — accessible through the use of a text alternative.

Providing a text alternative for non-text content enables screen readers and other assistive technologies (AT) to present the media to the user. For example, a person who cannot see a picture can have the text alternative read aloud using synthesized speech. Alternative text (also referred to as image alt text) is a brief, basic description of the image.

In WebAIM’s 2022 report, 55.4% of homepages had missing alternative text for images. That can be a potentially serious concern for compliance, especially when you consider how often missing alt text is cited in major ADA digital accessibility cases.

Missing Language Tags

WCAG 2.1 SC 3.1.1 requires that the default human language of each web page can be programmatically determined, or understood by software.

Screen readers use different pronunciation rules depending on the language of the content. If the default language isn’t set, the screen reader software must guess — and that can lead to a frustrating experience for users.

Empty Hyperlinks and Poor Link Text

WCAG 2.1 SC 2.4.4 requires that hyperlinks contain descriptive text that helps users understand its purpose, so they can decide whether they want to follow it.

Assistive technology has the ability to provide users with a list of links on the page. Link text that is as meaningful as possible can help people choose which links to follow, without having to employ complicated strategies to understand the page.

Exactly what constitutes meaningful link text depends on the link itself. On some pages, “contact us” might be descriptive enough. On others, you might need to provide more information. However, empty links should be avoided.

An empty link is a hyperlink that does not contain link text or any other content to describe its purpose. This can occur when a link contains only non-text content, such as an image, and that link cannot be identified by an accessible name.

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