Does My Website Have to Be ADA Compliant?

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Does My Website Have to Be ADA Compliant?

Posted December 15, 2023


Posted December 15, 2023

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Every year, thousands of businesses face lawsuits that cite violations under the ADA and other non-discrimination laws. To avoid this, your website needs to be ADA-compliant. Here’s how you can help ensure your business is compliant.

It can be hard to know exactly how the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) applies to websites amidst all the legal jargon and technical standards. But here’s the short answer: yes, websites need to be ADA-compliant.

Websites that are not ADA-compliant risk potential lawsuits and missed opportunities with both current and potential customers.

Want to see where your site is with accessibility? Get a free scan of any URL to uncover accessibility issues on your site.

The ADA Requires All Websites be Accessible

The ADA is a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in all areas of public life. While the ADA does not specifically mention websites or digital accessibility, the DOJ has repeatedly stated that websites qualify as “places of public accommodation”.

In other words: If your website is not accessible to people with disabilities, it is not compliant with the law as websites are considered public places according to the DOJ.

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Are There Any Mandatory ADA Guidelines?

Because the ADA does not have technical standards for web accessibility, the DOJ recommends that businesses use the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) to evaluate the accessibility of their websites and digital content. Although it isn’t codified into law, past rulings have set WCAG 2.0 Level AA as the benchmark for web accessibility.

Understanding ADA Compliance for Websites

Let’s dive into how your organization can better improve website accessibility and comply with ADA and WCAG guidelines and ADA requirements.

Why Do Websites Need to be Accessible?

One of the biggest reasons websites need to be accessible is due to the growing number of people with disabilities. The World Health Organization and CDC reported that 16% of the world’s population and 26% of the U.S. population have a disability. That equates to roughly 1 billion people worldwide and 86 million people in the U.S. who are unable to access web content.

Making an accessible website enables organizations to reach a broader audience and tap into a vast — and often overlooked — market. This can lead to more revenue and increased growth, which subsequently results in more customer engagement, satisfaction, and sales. 

Another reason websites need to be accessible is to ensure they are compliant with accessibility requirements — including ADA and WCAG. Ignoring these guidelines could result in potential accessibility lawsuits filed by customers.

Most importantly, however, creating an accessible website design is the right thing to do. Website owners who ensure their web content is usable and accessible to all demonstrate a commitment to inclusivity. This ultimately results in more satisfied customers, a better user experience, and a more positive brand image.

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

What is WCAG?

As we mentioned above, WCAG is considered to be the benchmark for digital accessibility. The most recent guidelines, WCAG 2.1, were published in July 2023 and include 61 success criteria. Each of these criteria are features that make a website more accessible and includes screen reader and assistive technology compatibility, clear contrast, the ability to enlarge font sizes, and more. 

If you’re looking to adopt WCAG standards, there are four accessibility principles to keep in mind:

  • Perceivable: Web content needs to be detectable to users, meaning content should be available to users with hearing, visual, or other sensory impairments. 
  • Operable: This ensures users can comfortably navigate your entire website, and the interface is user-friendly, particularly for those with disabilities.
  • Understandable: Users must be able to understand web content and navigate pages with ease.
  • Robust: This ensures content is still available even if websites are updated or technology changes. 

In addition to WCAG guidelines, WCAG also includes varying levels of conformance. These include:

  • Level A: This is the lowest level of conformance.
  • Level AA: This is considered the standard range of conformance and fulfills the majority of WCAG requirements.
  • Level AAA: This is the highest level of conformance.

It’s important to note that if your site meets one level of conformance, it meets the other. For example, if you’re conforming to Level AA criteria, you’re also conforming to Level A criteria.

What Types of Businesses Must Comply with ADA?

Based on how the courts have interpreted ADA standards, ADA web compliance is mandatory for websites that fall under two categories:

  • Websites for, or funded by, state or local governments: Title II of the ADA requires organizations within this category take steps to ensure their web content is accessible to those with disabilities.
  • Websites for businesses: Businesses that are open to the public (also referred to as public accommodations) must provide full and equal access to web content to all users, according to Title III of the ADA.

Even if your business is exempt from ADA compliance, it's strongly recommended to make your website as accessible as possible to create a better experience for users.

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What’s the Difference Between the ADA and Section 508 Compliance?

Unlike the ADA, Section 508 applies to federal agencies and any organization that receives federal funding, including contractors and suppliers. Section 508 requires federal agencies to make their information and communications technology (ICT) accessible to people with disabilities — which means in practice, they must conform to Level AA of WCAG.

Examples of Poor Web Accessibility

Even with mandates around web accessibility, there are numerous ADA compliance issues users encounter. From poor color contrast to unhelpful alt text, here are some ways business websites can be inaccessible.

  • Not enough color contrast: Poor color contrast can affect users with visual impairments (such as color blindness or low vision) to perceive information. You’ll want to ensure users can easily read your website copy regardless of the device type or lighting they’re accessing your site with. To ensure your site has appropriate color contrast ratios, consider using a free color contrast checker like this one.
  • Mouse-only navigation: Not all users can use a mouse or trackpad to navigate the web. If your site does not offer additional navigation options such as keyboard navigation, it’s largely inaccessible to certain users.
  • Lacking captions: Roughly five percent of the world’s population (430 million people) have significant hearing loss or other hearing impairments. This is a huge number of people who may not have access to your content if you’re not using captions or use poor-quality captions. 
  • Unhelpful alt text: Alt text that is not descriptive enough is not helpful to users. Failing to accurately describe an image, graphic, or other visual element prevents users from fully understanding web content. To resolve this, ensure all visual elements include alt text and create descriptions that are detailed and accurate.
  • Including non-accessible documents: When you include PDFs or other documents on your website, are you making sure they’re accessible? If not, ensure documents include alt text for all visual elements, offer additional navigation options, and have PDF tags.

To see what an accessible website does look like, check out these examples.

How Can I Make My Website ADA-Compliant?

Although the DOJ has stated that “non compliance with [WCAG 2.0 Level AA] does not necessarily indicate compliance with the ADA,” the best way to reach that benchmark is to conform with WCAG 2.2 standards. 

After all, WCAG 2.2 provides a detailed roadmap for delivering an accessible browsing experience for everyone, and it will be the standard you’re compelled to follow in an ADA settlement or consent decree anyway.

One way to start your path to ADA website compliance is to use a checklist based on WCAG 2.2 AA standards. We’ve included some of those requirements below. Another option is to conduct regular ADA testing on your site.

ADA-Compliant Web Accessibility Checklist

  • Alt text: Ensure all alt text descriptions are detailed, accurate, and easy to understand. 
  • Descriptive anchor text: All outbound links should be clickable and readable for both users and search engines.
  • Proper heading tags: Use the right heading tags to help convey the content’s importance.
  • Subtitles and transcripts: Ensure your videos, images, and audio content have clear and accurate subtitles and transcripts to help users understand information.
  • Accessible fonts: Utilize fonts such as Calibri, Times New Roman, Verdana, and Arial as these are more accessible and readable to users with disabilities.
  • Accessible contrasts: Provide a strong differentiation between foreground and background content to accommodate users with visual impairments.
  • Keyboard functionality: All site content should be navigable with a keyboard.

What’s the Risk of Non-Compliance?

Over the past 20 years, numerous ADA lawsuits and DOJ settlements have been filed due to website accessibility barriers. According to Seyfarth Shaw LLP, 3,255 website accessibility lawsuits were filed in federal court in 2022 — a 12 percent increase from 2021.

That number doesn’t include demand letters related to web accessibility either. According to one estimate, 1,500 demand letters were sent every week in 2022. These letters typically list web accessibility issues that plaintiffs encountered on the site — and can seek restitution in the form of tens of thousands of people.

Find and Fix Accessibility Issues with AudioEye

To ensure your website is compliant with ADA accessibility standards — and that you’re serving a key demographic — it’s critical to find and fix accessibility issues on your site. And that’s where AudioEye can help.

First, our website accessibility scanner will test your website to get real-time insight into the accessibility issues your users encounter every day. 

Then, we’ll help you remove these barriers through a combination of automated remediations and custom repairs from certified accessibility experts. 

Finally, our patented technology will provide continuous monitoring across your site to immediately identify any new accessibility issues and resolve them before they impact your customers or result in potential legal action.

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