ADA Accessible is the Incorrect Term

Last updated:

The term “ADA accessible” has become common because of the rise in digital accessibility-related lawsuits. However, in U.S. Federal Courts, these lawsuit claims are overwhelmingly ADA Title III claims. So while we can relate to the spirit of the phrase “ADA accessible,” when someone wants to make sure their digital assets are meeting legal standards, the correct term is “ADA compliant.” 

open book on table in library

To follow best practices for ADA compliance, organizations should make their assets conformant with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), which is internationally recognized as the standard for accessibility and has been incorporated into numerous anti-discrimination laws. 

What is the ADA? 

The Americans with Disabilities Act is a U.S. law signed in1990 that prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities. The law was revised in 2010 to extend civil rights protections to people with disabilities at both physical and online locations. 

Specifically, the Department of Justice (DOJ) has determined that Title III of the ADA – which prohibits discrimination based on disability in the activities of places of public accommodation, such as businesses – applies to websites. (PDF)

Some common barriers preventing those with disabilities from using a website include:

  • No alt text assigned to meaningful images
  • Missing or inaccurate closed captions
  • Inability to navigate by keyboard only (with no mouse)

The presence of such barriers can expose a website to lawsuits. More importantly, they can prevent equal access to the content and functionality of digital assets. The CDC reports that 61 million adults in the U.S., or 26 percent of adults, live with a disability. Therefore, ADA compliance is a must for any business to be able to serve the spectrum of customers.

Other digital accessibility laws 

Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 is another U.S. law that now covers websites and web content. In Ontario, Canada, website and web content accessibility is governed by the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA)

How to achieve ADA compliance 

The most important best practice for ADA compliance is to make sure your digital assets conform to the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). These guidelines are technical standards created by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), an international community dedicated to making web content accessible for all. 

While WCAG conformance is not the same as ADA compliance, legal precedent shows that conforming to WCAG is your best bet for compliance with the ADA.

Understanding WCAG 

The WCAG is a set of technical standards to help make websites, apps, software, and documents accessible.

There are different versions and conformance levels of WCAG. The best practice for ADA compliance is conforming to the latest version and conformance level of WCAG, currently WCAG 2.1 AA.

In recent years, courts have referenced WCAG 2.0 AA.

Level A conformance is the minimum for accessibility and will not bring your web content into compliance with the law. Level AAA criteria are more specific and are not required by the law, though we recommend incorporating some level AAA standards where possible. Level AA conformance is most relevant for the majority of website owners. Each conformance level includes the previous level, so if you are in conformance with level AA, you are automatically in conformance with level A.

Each conformance level consists of accessibility to-dos, formally referred to as success criteria.

WCAG 2.0 AA has 38 success criteria. WCAG 2.1 AA has 50 success criteria.

Our Chief Accessibility & Legal Officer, Kris Rivenburgh, organizes the success criteria into the following categories: 

  • Content alternatives – for example, text transcripts for podcasts
  • Content presentation – for example, using high color contrast to make content visible to users with color-related visual impairments 
  • User control – for example, the ability to stop, pause, or hide content that moves, scrolls, or blinks 
  • Understandable content – for example, making sure each page has a unique and accurate title tag 
  • Predictability – for example, if an automatic error message appears, providing clear instructions for how to correct the error

WCAG 2.2 

A new version of WCAG, WCAG 2.2, is expected to be released in 2021. The good news is, again, this version includes and builds upon the previous versions.

Although WCAG 2.2 has not yet been officially released, the W3C has published a working draft that website owners can use to get a head start on improving their web accessibility. You can familiarize yourself with the new criteria by reading our WCAG 2.2 AA summary and checklist

How eSSENTIAL Accessibility can help 

Making your website and other digital assets conformant with WCAG 2.1 AA and following best practices for legal compliance involves several resources, including software, expertise, skills, and knowledge.

So, move away from becoming “ADA accessible”and make your site “ADA compliant.” eSSENTIAL Accessibility provides a comprehensive compliance solution that takes you through auditing and testing, evaluation, and remediation. We combine software, services, and legal expertise to help make your digital content accessible and compliant and keep it that way. 

Learn more about how eSSENTIAL Accessibility can help you.

eSSENTIAL Accessibility has changed its name to Level Access! Read More

Gartner report

Recognized as a Representative Vendor in the 2023 Gartner Market Guide for Digital Accessibility report.

Access the report

Subscribe for Updates