A Comprehensive Guide to ADA Compliance for Websites

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Everyone deserves access to information online, and that includes people with disabilities. But, websites aren’t always built and designed for people who are visually impaired, blind, hard of hearing, deaf, and anyone who must navigate with their voice, screen readers, or other assistive technology. To accommodate this important group, your website needs to abide by ADA compliance standards and requirements. We outline everything you need to know about ADA compliance for websites so it can be accessed by this group of people and protect your business as well.

What is ADA compliance?

The American Disabilities Act was established in 1990 to protect people with disabilities from discrimination. The movement was heavily inspired by the Civil Rights Act of 1964, expanding civil rights to include “reasonable accommodations” to employees with disabilities in the workplace.

In 2010, the United States Department of Justice revised regulations of the ADA to require businesses to make accommodations for people with disabilities. But legislators had no idea how essential the internet would be for global commerce back then, so there are currently no regulations outlined for websites in the Act. 

person on their phone searching something on google

Who should follow ADA compliance for websites?

It’s not exactly clear how or if ADA rules will be applied to any specific website. As of now, the ADA does not address online compliance, but there have been several lawsuits with outcomes that agreed in favor of the plaintiff that websites are places of public accommodation and are subject to ADA rules. That’s why it is better to be cautious and make your site accessible to people of all abilities. In general, it’s safe to assume that the more traffic your website gets, the more risk you take on when it comes to your site’s accessibility compliance.

What is WCAG?

So if there aren’t any regulations for websites in the ADA, how do you follow ADA compliance for websites? The best resource that is currently available comes from the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines.

These guidelines are published and updated by the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI), an international organization that holds standards for the internet as a whole. The guidelines have been added to over the years, and the newest addition will be released sometime in 2023.

person searching online on their laptop

WCAG Standards

The WCAG standards are made for web content developers, which include page authors and website designers. They have a 3-tiered grading system that includes:

  • Level A: A website is accessible to some users. The issues with this site grade could severely limit a disabled user’s ability to use the website.
  • Level AA: A website is accessible to almost all users. This grade is considered the target standard for most websites. Functionality isn’t optimum and requires improvement so a disabled user can access the full experience of a site.
  • Level AAA: A website is accessible to all users. Every aspect of a website would be accessible to all disabled users. This tier is an ideal standard, and it would not be possible to meet all the criteria.

When websites face lawsuits in the US, courts require them to meet WCAG 2.0 Level AA requirements to comply with the needs of the Americans with Disabilities Act. For that reason, it’s highly recommended that all websites strive to reach Level AA compliance at a minimum.

person on their tablet shopping online

WCAG Principles

In addition to the tier grades, the WCAG have 4 principles they want websites to abide by.

Perceivable – Any user should be able to understand the information on a web page, from text to images.

Operable – Any user should be able to easily navigate your website and use every feature you offer.

Understandable – Users need to be able to understand what they are reading, seeing, listening to, etc.

Robust – All users should have the same experience, no matter if they navigate your site through traditional methods or with assistive technologies.

What are some specific accessibility guidelines for websites?

So you understand why it’s important for anyone to be able to access your website and where the standards have come from. But how do you put these guidelines into practice? Check out this ADA compliance checklist to see what you need to do on your website:

  • Add alt text to all media files (images, videos, audio files, maps, etc).
  • Identify your website’s language in the header code.
  • Add descriptive HTML tags to all online forms (describing what inputs are expected in each field and whether they are required or optional).
  • Add descriptive anchor text to all hyperlinks.
  • Ensure all pages have “skip navigation” links.
  • Use proper heading tags to structure text content.
  • Ensure all PDF files are accessible.
  • Add subtitles, transcripts, and audio description to videos.
  • Ensure color contrast on each page meets WCAG standards. (If you’re not sure, enter your color combination in this checker: https://webaim.org/resources/contrastchecker/).
  • Use accessible fonts.
  • Ensure all HTML tables are populated with column headers, row identifiers, and cell information.
  • Use written captions for audio files.
  • Turn off auto playing audio.
  • Do not make color the only means of conveying information.
  • Include instructions for user inputs.
  • Add input error identification and suggestions.
  • Set up user controls for time-limited content.
  • Ensure text can easily be resized to 200%.
  • Offer several navigation options.
  • Add an accessible name and ARIA label to CTA buttons.
  • Add a website accessibility policy page.
  • Make contact information easy to locate so users can request accessibility information.
  • Test your website according to WCAG.

Using an Accessibility App

It may be overwhelming to make this many changes to your website. You may even not need all of them, but you’re wondering how you would navigate any of these updates. Luckily, there is an innovative solution: AccessiBe.

accessibe's homepage on their website

AccessiBe is an accessibility app that runs audits, tests, and provides solutions with the ultimate goal of making your website more inclusive and accessible for disabled users. They take the time and complication out of ADA compliance for websites, so you can focus on running your business!

ADA compliance for websites provides disabled users with the same accessibility as everyone else, which is what they deserve. By adhering to the reasonable standards outlined by WCAG, your business will become inclusive, have a better reputation, and, in turn, increase business. If you’re not feeling prepared to take on ADA compliance and accessibility for your site (even with an app), please reach out to our ecommerce development agency for help

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