a hand holding up scales sitting atop 2 legal books

ADA Compliance: Is a Specific Level of Technical Compliance Required?

Written by: Timothy Stephen Springer

This is post #14 in the ADA Compliance Series, which aims to outline a structure for validating and justifying a claim of “ADA compliance” for a website or other digital system (a few notes and disclaimers on that).


There is much debate about WCAG 2.0 or 2.1 compliance being “the standard” for digital accessibility. What we’ve seen in lawsuits is that they typically ask for one of two things in terms of technical compliance for the targeted site:

  1. Conform to a specific version of the WCAG. These days the most common request is for version 2.1, although we still see some requests for 2.0.
  2. Make the website meet the requirements of the ADA. The majority of plaintiffs don’t actually ask for a technical standard. Instead they ask for the materially more nebulous “make the Websites fully compliant with the requirements set forth in the ADA, and its regulations” or that they are fully and equally accessible to the class of people with disabilities referenced in the lawsuit.

The latter is where the issues arise as it’s gets us back to the substantive issue of what is compliance in the framework of the ADA for a digital asset. Nobody knows, and the definition of compliance is ultimately driven by the specific facts on the ground. We’ve put forth our definition, which is well and wonderfully researched. But it’s just our opinion. It hasn’t gone through a structured rule or standards making process, and simply hasn’t been put to that level of scrutiny.

So even if you settle the matter, you’re still going to be held to a relatively nebulous definition of compliance, without a clear point at which you can say you are done.

From a legal and regulatory perspective, it bears stressing: there are not specific technical standards, either defined in the law, or specified in the regulations. Further, courts have not endorsed WCAG as a method of ensuring compliance with the ADA. One court has prescribed it as a remedy for ADA compliance issues in a specific matter, but that’s it. There isn’t really anything beyond the “full and equal access” requirements in terms of implementation requirements from either the statute or regulations.

Is that good or bad?

Actually, it’s a little bit of both.

It’s good in that if we can show full and equal access for users with disabilities we’re done. Our site can be wholly non-compliant with the WCAG but if people with disabilities can accomplish core tasks our view is that the site is broadly compliant with the ADA requirements for full and equal access.

It’s bad in that the ability to accomplish core tasks is entirely subjective and specific to an individual. It’s tough to know when we’ve actually met that standard unless we’ve had every person with a disability test the site.

We’ll run you through what that means in terms of our ADA Compliance strategy in a few of the upcoming posts in this series.