20 minute read

The Ultimate Guide To An ADA Compliant Website

Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination against people with various disabilities in all areas of life, including websites.

To comply with the ADA, a website must be accessible for individuals with a wide range of disabilities, including blindness, deafness, and limited mobility. While there is no one-size-fits-all solution for making a website accessible, many compliance guidelines and standards can be followed to ensure that your website is as inclusive as possible.

Everything You Need To Know About ADA Compliance

Signed into law in the 90s by President George Bush, the Americans with Disabilities Act was one of the most comprehensive pieces of legislation in US history. The ADA prohibits discrimination, including employment, education, transportation, and access to government services.

The law also requires private businesses to accommodate employees with disabilities and imposes accessibility standards on businesses and public facilities.

One area that the ADA did not address, however, is the internet. This is because the internet was still in its infancy when the ADA was enacted. In the years since the internet has become a necessary part of business and has even been dubbed the “backbone of global commerce.”

As a result, some people with disabilities have argued that they are being denied equal access to the internet due to the lack of ADA compliance for websites.

What The ADA Says About Websites

ADA compliance has been a frustrating and confusing story. The ADA does not explicitly address compliance online, even after undergoing several amendments over the years. With no specific scope covered under the law, it usually falls on the court system to determine if and how the ADA standards apply to websites.

Title III of the ADA states that every business owner or operator of a “place of public accommodation” provides access to people who meet ADA standards for disability. With roughly 2 billion people worldwide making online purchases annually, one might presume that this concept extends to websites. However, from a legal standpoint, there is a vast amount of gray area.

The ADA does not explicitly mention websites. While many lawsuits have been filed against companies over website accessibility, the courts have yet to reach a consensus on whether or not the ADA applies to websites.

Commercial websites are ruled by courts as “places of public accommodation” and are subject to ADA compliance. Other court cases have found that websites are bound by ADA compliance regulations if there is only a close “nexus” between the website and a brick-and-mortar location. A more famous example is the ruling against the Domino’s Pizza chain for not making its site and mobile app accessible for disabled users.

Other courts have decided that the ADA does not offer any protections for internet users. Since there is no set of federal rules in place, it’s challenging to make a concrete statement about whether or not the ADA accessibility rules govern any given website.

Further complicating the issue, legislation appears to be on the cusp of adopting more comprehensive accessibility requirements. The current administration has removed this requirement as part of a general push toward deregulation. This leaves the online applications of the ADA as muddy as ever.

This is unfortunate because WCAG 2.0 Level AA compliance is not arduous for most organizations. It would have gone a long way toward making US federal websites more accessible to people with disabilities. However, there is no clear guidance on how public-facing websites should comply with the ADA, which leaves both web developers and people with disabilities in a state of limbo.

Failure To Comply Can Be Costly

If your business’ website is not in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), you could be facing a legitimate lawsuit or, even worse, an internet troll. Internet trolls are attorneys who make their living by targeting business owners in violation by filing frivolous lawsuits.

These trolls are looking for payouts from these businesses to settle out of court. Unfortunately, if your website is not in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), your business could be at risk of being targeted by one of these predators.

The costs of a lawsuit can add up quickly, including attorney’s fees, court costs, settlements, and damages. The best way to avoid an ADA lawsuit is to be proactive and ensure that your business complies with the law. Taking the time to ensure that your business complies will save you money in the long run.

Missing Out On A Larger Audience

One in every four adults (26%) in the United States has a disability. ADA compliance is essential for more than just regulatory reasons. Failure to provide accessibility to people with disabilities means missing out on business opportunities. If users can navigate your website, you’re gaining sales.

ADA compliance helps to ensure that everyone can use your site, regardless of their ability level. By making your site accessible, you’re meeting your legal obligations and opening up your business to a more extensive potential customer base. ADA compliance is good for business.

ADA Compliance Is Great For Your Website’s SEO

Most businesses understand the importance of being visible on search engine results pages (SERPs), but many need to be aware of ADA compliance’s role in this process. ADA compliance helps to ensure that your website and digital marketing are accessible for all people, including those people with disabilities.

This has many benefits. It makes it easier for these disabled individuals to access your content, as well as making it easier for search engines such as Google to index your website. Most of the guidelines the ADA deems essential are the same ones that favor your web pages in search engine algorithms. As a result, adhering to ADA standards can help to improve your SERP ranking and get your content in front of more users.

Many ADA compliance rules also benefit search engine optimization (SEO). For example, ADA compliance requires that form labels be visible and easy to read. This can help users with disabilities to understand and complete the form, but it also makes it easier for search engines to index the form and improve your website’s ranking.

Another is creating text alternatives for visual elements such as slideshows, audio-only files, videos, and images. These text alternatives help search engines crawl, index, and rank your web pages and media files.

What Businesses Must Comply With The ADA?

The ADA covers many businesses, including Title III, retail establishments, restaurants, hotels, and other public accommodations. That means the entirety of the law applies, from physical locations to digital. According to the ADA, a business must comply if it has at least 15 full-time employees and operates for 20 or more weeks yearly.

Titles I and II of the ADA also apply to state and local governments and businesses that receive federal financial assistance. There are some exceptions. Companies that are exempt from ADA compliance include private clubs, religious organizations, and certain types of small businesses.

If you own a business under Title I or Title III of the ADA and are unsure if you are compliant, you must consult with a disability lawyer to discuss your options. A disability lawyer will be able to help you determine what steps you need to take to make your business compliant with the ADA.

How To Manually Test A Website For ADA Compliance

Use our free ADA compliance website auditor to test your site for ADA compliance. This tool will help you identify any areas of your website that must be fixed to meet ADA standards. Another way to test your website’s accessibility is to use our Accessibility Chrome Extension. This extension will allow you to test your website for compliance with ADA standards manually.

Is It Mandatory To Make My Website ADA Compliant?

There is no easy answer regarding ADA compliance and website accessibility. The laws are still very new and constantly evolving, not to mention very vague, which makes it challenging to know what is required of businesses and website owners.

However, it is a great idea to err on the side of caution. Many states nationally have adopted their own accessibility laws. The volume of accessibility-related lawsuits filed against websites has tripled yearly.

Plaintiffs and predatory internet trolls have been more successful in these suits than ever before. With no clear set of regulations, it is probably not worthwhile for most businesses to make a gamble that a court will rule in their favor.

How To Tell If Your Company’s Website Is Compliant

The best measure available is the WCAG, as mentioned earlier. WCAG standards and guidelines have been the guiding accessibility principle since the 90s. The most recent update taking effect in 2021.

The WCAG is a set of recommendations rather than an enforceable set of directions. It forms the foundation of many online accessibility laws worldwide. It offers a robust model for any business organization to provide equal access for all users.

The Biggest Changes In WCAG 2.1: Quick Reference Guide

Since the ADA was enacted, technology has advanced rapidly, making it possible for people with disabilities to participate in many previously inaccessible activities. In response to these changes, the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) released updated guidelines for web accessibility, known as WCAG, which stands for Web Content Accessibility Guidelines.

The WCAG guidelines were last updated in 2018 from version 2.0 to 2.1. The WCAG 2.1 guidelines cover technological changes that have occurred since the previous version and address areas that were underrepresented in 2.0.

Here’s a quick reference of the basic principles of these WCAG guidelines and making your digital marketing and website ADA compliant.

The Different Levels Of ADA Compliance Broken Down

The WCAG breaks down accessibility issues into three levels.

  1. Level A – These are navigational issues. These include problems that can severely limit a disabled person’s ability to use and navigate a website.
  2. Level AA – These are website functionality issues. Areas where improvement is needed to give the disabled the full experience of a website.
  3. Level AAA – These issues are the most complex, fine-tuning and expanding on issues of Level A and AA.

Adhering to Level A and AA standards, businesses can make a considerable difference in the lives of their disabled customers and employees.

What Are The 4 Areas Of Focus For WCAG?

The World Wide Web Consortium’s Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) divides accessibility issues into four distinct groups, which can be conveniently remembered with the acronym P-O-U-R. These categories are Perceivable, Operable, Understandable, and Rrobust.

1. Perceivable

ADA compliance relates to perceivable issues affecting a user’s ability to find and process the information on a website. (for example, providing alternate text for audio, video, and images).

2. Operable

Operable issues impact a disabled visitor’s ability to navigate and use a website (for example, navigating and operating a site via keyboard commands or screen readers).

3. Understandable

ADA compliance concerns a user’s ability to understand and easily comprehend all information and navigation on a website. This includes composing error messages that clearly explain the error and the direction for correcting it.

4. Robust

ADA compliance involves a website’s ability to evolve and adapt to meet the changing needs of users with disabilities. This includes testing and reviewing compatibility with industry-standard screen readers.

38-Point ADA Compliance Checklist For Websites

  1. Image alt and title text
  2. Transcript for videos and audio files
  3. Captions and subtitles for videos
  4. Sign language for audio-only files
  5. Text sliders and banners are better than just images
  6. Don’t just use color only for a form field failure, use descriptive text like “incorrect phone number format”
  7. Form validation like a captcha must have a visual and audio element or option must be present
  8. Success or status feedback after a form completion or purchase is present
  9. Don’t auto-play video or audio files without a way to pause or stop them
  10. The text must be a good contrast color from the background
  11. The text should be able to zoom in at 200% without affecting the layout or content by getting clipped or overlapped
  12. Use EM and % for font size, line height, width, height, and letter spacing instead of pixels
  13. You can also use named values for font sizes like xx-small, xx-small, x-small, small, medium, large, x-large, xx-large, smaller, or larger
  14. Make sure hover or focus content can be dismissed easily, like a pop-up, don’t make it only dismissed if they click a particular tiny spot like an X
  15. The target area size must be a minimum of 44 pixels
  16. Any user interface component that is a focal point can not initiate a change of context
  17. Reading through a website can be performed by a keyboard
  18. No keyboard traps; you must be able to exit via a tab, arrow, or keyboard button like an escape
  19. If there is a time limit set, there needs to be a way to stop it or extend it
  20. Remove any moving, blinking, animated, or scrolling information that:
    1. Starts automatically
    2. Lasts more than five seconds
    3. Is presented in parallel with other content
    4. In the instance the blinking, movement, or scrolling is part of an essential activity, you must have a control mechanism for the user to stop, pause, or hide it
  21. Remove any auto-updating information that:
    1. Starts automatically
    2. Is presented in parallel with other content
    3. Unless auto-updating an essential activity, there must be a control mechanism for the user to stop, pause, hide, or control the frequency of the update
  22. Except for interruptions involving an emergency, interruptions can be suppressed or postponed by the user
  23. The user can continue activity without losing data after re-authenticating when an authenticated session expires
  24. When a user doesn’t take any actions, they’re warned of the duration of any inactivity that could cause loss of data
  25. Web pages don’t contain anything that flashes three times per second
  26. Unless essential, animation or motion animation triggered by interaction can be turned off
  27. A control mechanism is provided to bypass blocks of content that are repeated
  28. Web pages have titles that describe the topic or purpose
  29. Headings, subheadings, and labels describe the topic or purpose
  30. Use H1, H2, H3, etc. in sequence to organize content
  31. The purpose of each link can be determined from the link text alone or in conjunction with context surrounding the link
  32. Multiple ways available to locate a web page
  33. The language of each web page can be determined
  34. Control mechanism for identifying the meaning of abbreviations is available, such as a link to learn more or to use the abbreviation next to the full wording
  35. Control mechanism is available for identifying specific pronunciations of words where the meaning of the words is unclear without knowing the pronunciation
  36. Consistently identify components with the same functionality inside a set of webpages
  37. Help is readily available via phone calls, live chat, or other means
  38. For content using markup languages except where the specifications allow these features:
    1. Elements have complete start and end tags
    2. Elements are nested according to their specs
    3. Elements don’t contain duplicate attributes
    4. All IDs are unique

ADA Accessibility Guidelines For Websites

The ADA requires companies to communicate effectively with people with communication disabilities.” To do this, businesses must ensure that their websites and marketing materials are accessible to everyone, regardless of disability.
It’s Time to Improve Your Website for Users With Disabilities
Is Your Website ADA & WCAG Compliant?
Don’t be the next company sued for poor ADA or WCAG website accessibility.

Keep These 14 ADA Compliance Guidelines In Mind

1. Content

When writing content for the web, emails, social media, etc., ADA compliance should be considered to ensure that the content is accessible for people with all types of disabilities such as visual, hearing, motor, and cognitive.

2. Structure

Using proper heading tags, you can help those with visual impairments easily navigate your site and find the information they’re looking for. A well-structured hierarchy also makes it easier for search engines to index your content, improving your SEO. In short, using headings properly is good for business.

3. Readability

Make your content easy to read and follow for everyone. Keep sentences short and to the point. Use summary sections, bulleted lists, and bolded keywords for easier scanning. Start with the most critical information and end with the least important information. Avoid jargon and overly complicated words. Left align all text, including headlines.

People affected with cognitive disabilities are more likely to be loyal customers, and making your content easy to read and follow will make it more likely that people will stay on your site. So, whether you’re ADA compliant or not, following these simple tips will make your content easier to read and follow for everyone.

4. Link Text

When linking to other web pages, descriptive link text makes it clear to people using screen readers or having visual impairments the context of the link. This helps them navigate your site more efficiently and ensures that they can access all the information you have to offer.

If you use “click here” as your link text, it can be difficult for these users to understand which links they need to click on, and they may miss important information. Every link should express your intent.

5. Accessible Files

PDFs, PowerPoints, Word documents, and other types of files are often not accessible to people with disabilities. As a result, it’s essential to take care when linking to such files from your website. Create web-safe versions of these file types or offer text-only alternatives. Stay away from files that require third-party software to open or view. Use web browser native technologies.

6. Design

A few things to contemplate when it comes to ADA compliance:

  1. Your design should be easy to use for people with disabilities. This means that your design should be easy to navigate and use.
  2. Your design should be accessible to all users. This means that your design should be available to users who are blind, color-blind, deaf, or have other disabilities.
  3. Your design should be easy to understand. This means that your text should be legible and easy to understand. Use white space and padding around objects and text.
  4. Your design should be responsive and hold up on all sizes and devices, from a giant desktop computer screen to a tiny Apple Watch.
  5. Your design should be durable. This means that your design and layout should withstand the test of time and leave room for future technology and devices.

7. Videos

One way to make ADA compliance easier is to ensure all videos on your site are captioned, transcribed, and have audio descriptions. This will help people with hearing disabilities, blind people, and people with visual disabilities to be able to consume your content.

It is also helpful for people in crowded settings or who don’t want to have their video content heard in public. Including transcripts and audio descriptions makes it easier for search engines to index your content, which can help you rank better in search engine results.

8. Images

All images should have alt text. Alt text is text that neutrally and clearly describes what’s happening in the image. This is the text that a screen reader reads when coming across the path of an image. File numbers or unhelpful information can cause significant usability problems for visually impaired users.

The ADA compliance standards state that all images should have alt text, except for decorative images. These images should have the alt attribute empty (e.g., alt: “”). This detail can make a big difference for the visually impaired as they rely on screen readers to navigate your site. By including clear and concise alt text for all images, you can help to ensure that your site is accessible to everyone.

Plus, it’s also great for search engines. Correctly naming images and utilizing alt text will help rank your web pages and content better.

9. Color

Color is an essential element of design. It’s important to remember that not everyone can see color the same way. Approximately 4% of the population is color blind. Using color alone to communicate info can cause problems with people affected by color blindness or visibility issues.

That’s why it’s essential to use complimentary design elements. Patterns, color fill, color combinations, gradients, borders, icons, and whitespace are essential in communicating color in your layout and design

When using color, ensure that the contrast is sufficient enough for users to read text or see color differences. WCAG compliance requires that your text on a web page have a contrast ratio of 4.5:1. If this seems daunting, this ADA and WCAG Compliance Tool can help you with all of this.

10. Fonts

Choosing the right font is a crucial part of ensuring accessibility. Sans serif fonts are generally easy to read. They don’t include the small decorative markings (serifs) that can make the text more challenging to scan.

When selecting fonts, it’s best to limit the number of different font families you use.

Always use at least size 12 font; smaller sizes can be difficult for some readers to decipher. For emphasis, use bolding rather than italics, as the latter can be harder to read.

Also, don’t forget to increase line height and use lots of white space or padding around a text block.

11. Website Functionality

To make your website compliant, you need to ensure that it can be used by people with all types of disabilities, including those who are blind, have low vision, are deaf, or have a motor impairment. Here are three ways to make your website’s functionality more accessible.

12. Keyboard Navigation

All navigational elements should be keyboard accessible. The user should be able to tab through menus, buttons, and all other navigational elements. When the user navigates to an element, there should be some indicator or focus on showing where on the page the user is. This will help the user keep track of their location on the page.

13. Form And Table Labels

Forms are a critical part of many websites, but they can often be inaccessible to users with disabilities. To ensure that your forms are accessible to all users, it is important to follow some basic guidelines.

The most crucial element is labels. Each form field should have a label using the

In that case, it should be included as text underneath the field label, not as placeholder text in the field itself.

In addition to labels, it is also important to make sure forms are easy to use and have a logical flow. Forms should be keyboard accessible so that users can tab through fields. Finally, provide instructions at the top of the form to help users understand how to fill it out.

14. Call-To-Action (CTA) Buttons

One of the most important aspects of ADA compliance is ensuring that your call-to-action (CTA) buttons are accessible. That means ensuring the text on the button is readable and that screen readers can access the button’s label. Using an aria label is one way to ensure that your CTAs are fully accessible.

Following these best practices can ensure that your marketing campaigns will be successful and that all your customers will have a positive experience on your site.

The Final Verdict On ADA Compliance

Anyone who has tried navigating a website with a disability can attest that much of the internet is still inaccessible to those with specific impairments. Many businesses are unaware of their obligations under the ADA. As a result, companies every day are finding themselves at the receiving end of lawsuits, internet trolls, or struggling to keep up with changing regulations.

ADA compliance is not only good for business, but it’s also the morally correct thing to do. Making your website accessible can help you avoid costly problems and make it easier for everyone to access your content.

In addition, designing a compliant website can lead to more sales, target a larger audience, better the overall user experience (UX), and increase your page rank in search engines.

To find out more about making your website or digital marketing ADA compliant and how you can protect your business, consider consulting with a disability attorney.

Make Your Website & Digital Marketing ADA Compliant – FREE INSTANT AUDIT

Related Articles