The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) has implications for the digital world—not just for physical spaces. And the legal landscape surrounding ADA website compliance is highly active, with thousands of web accessibility lawsuits filed each year. These complaints can be costly and time-consuming to navigate, and significantly tarnish a brand’s reputation.

On the flip side, complying with the ADA not only enhances a brand’s image, demonstrating a genuine commitment to inclusion, but can help organizations reach a broader network of customers and elevate users’ experience.

So, how can you ensure your website is ADA compliant? In this piece, we’ll explore the ADA’s requirements for websites, the types of organizations they apply to, and why they’re important. We’ll also provide some quick tips for getting started bringing your site into compliance with the law.

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What are the ADA requirements for website accessibility?

When the ADA was enacted in 1990, the internet had not yet gone mainstream. As a result, the law does not explicitly mention website accessibility or other digital experiences. However, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) has clarified that Title III of the ADA, which requires accessibility in “places of public accommodations,” applies to websites. And U.S. courts have supported this opinion, repeatedly ruling that an inaccessible website is a violation of the ADA.

When it comes to specific requirements, the DOJ has cited conformance with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) as the benchmark for ADA website compliance. WCAG is a set of technical standards that, when applied, make online content accessible for all users, including people with disabilities who use assistive technologies (AT). These standards help website owners remove common accessibility barriers, including:

  • Poor color contrast
  • Non-descriptive hyperlinks
  • Missing page headings
  • Illegible text resizing
  • Poor keyboard access

Beyond the ADA, WCAG is consistently referenced as the global gold standard for digital accessibility. Conform with WCAG, and your website is following best practices for compliance with Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA), the European Accessibility Act (EAA), and other U.S. and international laws.

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What organizations are required to make their websites comply with the ADA?

Most web accessibility lawsuits in the U.S. reference Title III of the ADA, which applies broadly to any organization in the U.S. that provides a place of “public accommodations.” These lawsuits typically cite accessibility issues on the websites of private-sector businesses. However, public-sector organizations have their own legal obligations regarding digital accessibility. Title II of the ADA includes accessibility requirements for state and local governments, and federal agencies must ensure their digital technology conforms with WCAG under Section 508.

Legal consequences of non-compliance with the ADA

Failing to meet the ADA’s requirements for digital accessibility could lead to legal action, particularly in the current climate. The number of web accessibility lawsuits filed under the ADA has soared in recent years, jumping from 814 in 2017 to over 2,200 in both 2018 and 2019. Major brands, including Winn-Dixie, Domino’s Pizza, Fox News Network, and Blue Apron, have been on the receiving end of an ADA website compliance lawsuit. These lawsuits can tax organizations’ resources as well as erode consumers’ trust.

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The business case for ADA website compliance

Beyond mitigating legal risk, digital accessibility has numerous benefits for organizations. Below, we’ve outlined some of the key business advantages of ADA website compliance.

  • Enhancing brand reputation: Accessibility is a key component of many diversity, equity, and inclusion programs. A clear commitment to digital accessibility is a way of demonstrating to consumers that your organization takes meeting the needs of diverse stakeholders seriously.
  • Driving innovation: When products and services incorporate accessibility features, they often solve unanticipated problems and lead to more innovative solutions. For example, thinking about accessible design forces designers to ideate different ways for users to interact with a site. This is beneficial for people with and without disabilities.
  • Expanding market share: There are more than one billion people around the world living with a disability, which may impact their experiences and ability to navigate online. And that number will only grow as the population ages. Additionally, in the U.S. alone, working-aged adults with disabilities control around $490 billion in disposable income annually. By creating accessible digital content and experiences, organizations can capture this valuable market.

How to get started bringing your website into compliance with the ADA

Now that we’ve clarified what’s at stake when it comes to ADA website compliance, you may be wondering how to bring your site into alignment with the ADA’s requirements. We recommend the following best practices to get started:

  • Hire a reputable independent third party to manually audit your website at regularly scheduled intervals.
  • Ensure the audit includes user flow testing performed by professionals, including individuals with disabilities.
  • Utilize automated scans to continually monitor your website for accessibility issues that could prevent you from achieving ADA website compliance.
  • Incorporate mandatory web accessibility training for all individuals who contribute to your digital operations.
  • Invite feedback from users and provide customer assistance for individuals with disabilities.
  • Form a web accessibility committee and appoint a coordinator to that committee.
  • Adopt an internal digital accessibility policy indicating the specific standards your organization will meet, the processes in place for ensuring conformance with these standards, and the individuals responsible for enforcing these processes.
  • Publish an outward-facing accessibility statement communicating your ongoing commitment to digital accessibility, and the steps you’re taking to uphold this commitment.

An innovative solution for ADA website compliance

At first, meeting the ADA’s web accessibility requirements can feel complicated—but you don’t have to do it alone. With over two decades of experience, Level Access has helped hundreds of organizations, across industries, achieve and sustain compliance with the ADA and other global accessibility laws. Our tailored approach combines a unified platform with a wide range of services that scale with your organization’s needs, equipping you with the technology and expert support you need to reach your accessibility goals. Learn more about our legal expertise here.

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