If you found this blog, you may have recently received a demand letter claiming your website is in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)—or maybe you learned about a web accessibility lawsuit targeting a similar organization, and now you want to take steps to protect your own business.

A woman and two men dressed in formal business attire look intently at an open laptop in a modern office space.

That’s a wise decision. The ADA doesn’t just mandate the accessibility of physical spaces: the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), as well as many courts, interpret it to also apply to the digital world. So, if people with disabilities can’t use your organization’s website, you might find yourself in legal hot water. And the legal landscape surrounding digital accessibility remains highly active. Roughly 14,000 web accessibility lawsuits were filed from 2017 through 2022, with this number steadily rising each year. Threatened legal action is even more frequent: more than 1,500 demand letters were sent per week in 2022.

Maintaining an ADA compliant website is key to avoiding reputation-damaging litigation and providing equitable experiences to all users. But web accessibility can feel complex, and you may be wondering where to begin. To help you move from uncertainty into action, this blog covers five steps your organization can take to jumpstart your journey to digital inclusion and compliance.

1. Understand the ADA compliance requirements for websites

To bring your website into compliance with the ADA, you need to understand what the law requires for digital experiences. While the ADA does not explicitly mention website accessibility, Title III of the ADA prohibits discrimination in places of public accommodation. The DOJ has repeatedly reaffirmed its position that websites are considered places of public accommodation under the law.

Because the ADA itself doesn’t provide specific requirements for web accessibility, it’s often up to individual circuit courts to decide what constitutes a violation. However, in its private enforcement actions, the DOJ has frequently referenced the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) as the standard for compliance. Most accessibility experts agree that conforming with the latest version of WCAG at an AA, or intermediate, level is a best practice for ensuring your website is ADA compliant.

A general counsel’s advice on navigating web accessibility lawsuits

Access the webinar

2. Evaluate your website for accessibility issues

Your next step toward creating an ADA compliant website is to audit your site’s current state of accessibility. Specifically, you’ll want to identify any areas of non-conformance with WCAG, as these may constitute barriers for users with disabilities. The most reliable approach to evaluation is to work with a third-party digital accessibility solution provider. Search for a partner that offers both automated and manual accessibility testing, and that will supply the context you need to prioritize and remediate the issues they identify.

An effective partner should focus their manual evaluation on key user flows: the specific paths users take to complete core tasks on your website, such as logging in or making a purchase. Thoroughly testing key flows is critical because accessibility barriers in these paths are the most likely to negatively impact users’ experience, and ultimately trigger legal action. For reliable results, testing of key user flows should be performed by accessibility experts and native users of assistive technologies (AT).

The most efficient approach to accessibility audits

Get the guide

3. Prioritize fixes based on user impact and legal risk

After you’ve obtained an evaluation of your website, it’s time to address any barriers that this assessment reveals. Depending on the maturity of your accessibility program, you may have a long list of issues—but you may not need to fix all of them right away.

Prioritize fixing issues identified in your key user flows. Issues in key flows affect the greatest number of users, and they leave you more vulnerable to legal action than barriers on lower-traffic parts of your site. In addition to addressing barriers in key flows, it’s strategic for organizations concerned about legal action to prioritize any issues that can be easily identified by automated testing. That’s because many ADA demand letters reference violations found through free automated scans. Issues in this category account for the vast majority of all web accessibility errors—but they’re typically the easiest to resolve.

Once you’ve resolved the barriers that have the most significant impact on users, as well as others that put you at high risk, you can move on to tackling lower-priority issues until you achieve your target level of WCAG conformance and your website is ADA compliant.

4. Start embedding accessibility in the digital experience creation life cycle

When you’ve addressed issues in key user flows, along with other high-priority barriers, you’re well on your way to an ADA compliant website. But as you work your way through lower-priority items, you’ll also want to start thinking about how to ensure you don’t introduce new issues the next time you make changes to your site’s content or functionality.

The most effective way to avoid creating new problems for users is to incorporate accessibility into your process for digital experience creation. That means ensuring web content is designed and developed with accessibility in mind. Consider investing in the following resources to support a proactive, sustainable approach to accessibility.

  • Training: Role-specific accessibility training should be available for content authors, designers, developers, and other teams involved in producing web experiences. Training courses can help professionals build the knowledge and skills they need to efficiently and effectively integrate accessibility into their day-to-day work.
  • Designer tools: Tools like a Figma plugin make it easy for designers to proactively test new design concepts for common accessibility issues and implement fixes before these designs are passed off to developers.
  • Developer tools: By incorporating accessibility testing into your existing process for vetting code, you can significantly reduce the likelihood that barriers slip into live experiences.

Five steps to getting started with efficient, sustainable accessibility

Get started with agile accessibility

5. Codify and communicate your commitment to web accessibility

As you’ve likely gathered by now, ADA compliance isn’t a one-time box to check. It requires ongoing action, maintained through clear processes within your organization. The best way to sustain this ongoing action is by creating a web accessibility policy. Your policy may also include information about how your organization will meet these standards, such as:

  • How web accessibility will be managed within your organization, including which individual or team is centrally accountable.
  • How you’ll ensure third-party technology used on your website is accessible.
  • What types of accessibility training and education are available to employees.

In addition to developing an internal policy, you may choose to publish an accessibility statement. A well-written accessibility statement publicly expresses your organization’s commitment to digital accessibility and the specific actions your organization is taking to meet the needs of users with disabilities, including maintaining an ADA compliant website. It should also provide a way for users to contact you if they do encounter accessibility barriers. Beyond demonstrating that your organization is doing the right thing, a public accessibility statement is a legal best practice: in fact, the DOJ has recommended accessibility statements in its enforcement of web accessibility ADA lawsuits.

You don’t need to have perfectly embedded accessibility into your design and development processes before you create a policy and publish an accessibility statement. It’s important to acknowledge, both internally and externally, that your commitment to accessibility is long-term, and you’re committed to continuous improvement.

Make, and keep, your website ADA compliant with expert support

Starting, and sustaining, a web accessibility program that ensures lasting compliance is easier with an expert partner. As you approach the work ahead, you may find that you need tools, guidance, and other resources you don’t have internally. A third-party expert can help you fill these gaps, keeping you on track to meet legal requirements.

With more than 25 years of experience in digital accessibility, Level Access has supported thousands of organizations in achieving compliance with the ADA and other global laws. From automated and manual evaluation to remediation support and help with policy creation, we’ll provide the technology and expertise you need to avoid legal risk and improve usability for all. To learn more about our approach, contact our team today.

Jumpstart your journey toward ADA compliance

Contact us