This is post #20 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).
Putting it all together here’s our view of what makes an ADA compliant website:
- Accessibility Approach: The approach used to implement accessibility on the website meets the legal and regulatory requirements of the ADA.
- Implementation: The implementation of the approach—typically direct code changes—has been implemented properly and in a fashion likely to ensure full and equal use by people with disabilities.
- Operational Controls: The ongoing operation of the organization—the policies, practices, and procedures—are likely to result in ongoing compliance with the ADA requirements.
We then take each of those categories and break them down into a series of sub-assessments that validate each overall item.
The website has implemented a particular approach for achieving ADA compliance. That can be natively implementing it in the site (the best approach), deploying an overlay, deploying a widget, providing some form of alternative, a mix of those methods or something else entirely. For the approach selected we then look at the following questions:
- Equivalence: Does the approach provide equivalence of utility in terms of the covered features and functionality?
- Integration: Is the approach provided integrated with the core experience provided to the general users of the site?
- Appropriate: Is the approach appropriate for the communication needs of the features and functions?
- Self-Service: Is the accessibility approach self-service in nature?
- Real-Time: Is the approach real-time in nature?
- Availability: Is the approach available 24 hours a day, seven days a week?
- Privacy: Does the accessibility approach protect the privacy of a person with disabilities to the same level as a person without disabilities?
- Independence: Does the accessibility approach protect the independence of people with disabilities to the same level as a person without disabilities?
- Consultation: Was the approach arrived upon in consultation with people with disabilities?
As noted in the previous post on effective communication, the last one is a bonus item, but we view it as critical for justifying the overall approach.
This focuses on determining if the implementation of the accessibility approach meets the level of full and equal access required under the ADA. We determine that with two tests:
- Coding: Was the site built in a fashion that is reasonably likely to support to accessibility needs of people with disabilities? Assessed by reviewing compliance with a widely used technical standard for digital accessibility—currently the WCAG 2.1 AA level.
- Usability: Does it work for a person with disabilities? Assessed by having people with disabilities attempt to accomplish the core activities of the site.
Are the operations of the organization set up such that accessibility is likely to be maintained on an ongoing basis? This focuses on ensuring that the commonly accepted practices for ensuring accessibility on an ongoing basis are in place. We determine that with the following tests:
- Formal Testing: Is there a formal testing schedule in place with a qualified third-party expert in digital accessibility?
- Monitoring: Is there a framework for monitoring the accessibility of the system in development and in production?
- Training: Has appropriate training on digital accessibility requirements been deployed at relevant portions of the development life cycle?
- Tooling: Have appropriate tools been deployed and seeing meaningful use for validating accessibility in the development process?
- Implementer Support: Is expert support being provided to the people that are implementing and maintaining the accessibility of the system?
- Policy: Do you have a consistently structured and applied set of digital accessibility policies?
- Feedback: Do you have a method of collecting feedback on digital accessibility issues?
- User Support: Do you have a discrete method of supporting users with disabilities in their access of your site?
If you have clear, affirmative answers to all those questions then in our view, yes, you’re compliant with the ADA.
One final item to keep in mind is that the scope of the above is limited to the portions of the website that relate to the goods and services provided at the place of public accommodation—physical or digital. For the portions that are covered you need to provide (i) full and equal access to its functionality for people with disabilities, and (ii) ensure it meets the requirements for effective communication. The above is the detail on how you do all of that.