This blog was created before the release of WCAG 2.2. For information on the most up-to-date WCAG standards, visit our WCAG Compliance page.
Summary: “ADA website accessibility” generally refers to making your website, mobile apps, or digital properties accessible to users with disabilities. While web accessibility is not explicitly mandated in the ADA, courts have interpreted that it applies to websites and other digital experiences. The best practice for ADA website compliance is to make your website conform with WCAG 2.1 AA standards for accessibility. In this blog, we’ll outline what it takes to do so.
As litigation surrounding the Americans with Disabilities Act(ADA) website accessibility has soared in recent years, the term “ADA website compliance” has become commonplace.
But deciphering what “ADA website compliance” means is tricky. Because the ADA was signed into law before the internet went mainstream, the law itself doesn’t specifically reference website accessibility. However, court rulings consistently favor accessibility, interpreting that the ADA does, in fact, apply to the digital world.
Recent ADA website compliance rulings point to WCAG, the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, as the gold standard for website accessibility. A best practice for ADA website compliance is to make your website conform to WCAG 2.1 AA standards.
Certain international laws actually require WCAG conformance. Among them are Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act, the AODA, the European Accessibility Act and others.
2.1 is an updated version of WCAG. AA refers to the conformance level that is most commonly required in legislation. WCAG 2.1 AA includes more than 50 technical standards to improve the accessibility of your website, or web-based mobile app. Conforming with WCAG will make you compliant with the ADA, achieving what’s often referred to as “ADA website accessibility.” or “ADA website compliance.”
Why do we recommend WCAG 2.1 AA?
While conformance with WCAG 2.0 AA certainly makes your website or app robust in terms of accessibility, there are 12 additional success criteria included in WCAG 2.1 AA.
What’s of particular importance is that a handful of WCAG 2.1 AA success criteria address mobile accessibility. And as mobile usage continues to explode, it’s best to incorporate specific standards related to mobile interactions. In short, if you’re interested in fully ensuring ADA website compliance if you neglect your customer’s mobile experience.
Also, it’s worth mentioning that most ADA lawsuits now reference WCAG 2.1 AA.
Best practices for ADA website compliance
What exactly do you need to do to meet ADA website compliance requirements?
Here are some of the best practices:
- Hire a reputable independent third party to manually audit your website at regularly scheduled intervals (annually at a minimum)
- Ensure the audit includes user flow testing performed by professionals, including individuals with disabilities
- Utilize automated scans and continually monitor your website for accessibility issues that could preventyou from achieving ADA website compliance
- Incorporate mandatory web accessibility training for all individuals who contribute to your digital operations
- Invite feedback and provide for customer assistance for individuals with disabilities
- Form a web accessibility committee and appoint a coordinator to that committee
- Adopt and publish an outward-facing digital accessibility policy or statement (plaintiffs’ lawyers specifically note an absence of a policy)
- Request a statement of WCAG conformance from your third-party web consultant or agency, if applicable
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What organizations are required to comply with the ADA?
In addition to state and local governments (Title II), the ADA also applies to the public sector in its mention of places of public accommodation (Title III). Per the ADA, places of public accommodation include:
(A) an inn, hotel, motel, or other place of lodging;
(B) a restaurant, bar, or other establishment serving food or drink;
(C) a motion picture house, theater, concert hall, stadium, or other place of entertainment;
(D) an auditorium, convention center, lecture hall, or other place of public gathering;
(E) a bakery, grocery store, clothing store, hardware store, shopping center, or other sales or rental establishment;
(F) a laundromat, dry-cleaner, bank, barber shop, beauty shop, travel service, shoe repair service, funeral parlor, gas station, office of an accountant or lawyer, pharmacy, insurance office, professional office of a health care provider, hospital, or other service establishment;
(G) a terminal, depot, or other station used for specified public transportation;
(H) a museum, library, gallery, or other place of public display or collection;
(I) a park, zoo, amusement park, or other place of recreation;
(J) a nursery, elementary, secondary, undergraduate, or postgraduate private school, or other place of education;
(K) a day care center, senior citizen center, homeless shelter, food bank, adoption agency, or other social service center establishment; and
(L) a gymnasium, health spa, bowling alley, golf course, or other place of exercise or recreation.
Court opinions vary on whether a website may count as a place of “public accommodation”. Most circuit courts to address the issue of ADA website compliance so far have stated websites need to be accessible if a business has both a physical location and a website. But some circuits have indicated indirectly that a website must be accessible even if there is no physical location.
Legal opinions will continue to evolve in the coming months and years, and many thousands of new lawsuits will likely be filed while we wait for greater clarity on the regulations. So, there’s only one sensible course of action: aim to comply with the highest standard rather than trying to second-guess the courts.
Get more details on recent ADA website compliance case law in our related blog.
Why is ADA compliance so critical?
Accessibility and inclusion are human rights. It is estimated there are more than one billion people globally living with a disability. Ensuring they have equal access to online information is a moral obligation, in addition to a legal one.
Additionally, 69 percent of customers with disabilities will instantly leave a site if it does not meet their accessibility needs. Another 80 percent of customers with disabilities have stated that they will spend more time and money on a website that has improved accessibility features. If your website isn’t meeting ADA website compliance standards you’re missing out on traffic and potential sales.
Conforming with WCAG 2.1 AA standards will help you ensure your digital experience is accessible to all users.
An innovative solution to web accessibility
Level Access offers a comprehensive end-to-end digital accessibility solution to help organizations conform with the latest WCAG guidelines and follow all best practices to meet ADA website accessibility standards.
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