ADA Americans with disabilites act -ADA Website Compliance checklist & guidelines for 2021 in plain english

ADA Website Compliance: Checklist & Guidelines for 2021 in Plain English

Published: September 10, 2021

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    The Americans with Disabilities Act was devised before the internet. Architects had an evolution mindset. As technological change evolves, websites and apps are important places to browse, learn, share and connect. Most people still do not understand what these ADA website compliance standards are.

    The growing awareness regarding digital access as a right has pressed website owners to tackle these issues or face court action. The WebAIM project in Utah ran accessibility tests on a million websites. The 2020 report revealed that 99.9 percent of pages failed to comply with WCAG 2.0 standards as they are already used.

    No law mandates web accessibility for private US entities. However, there have been DOJ actions, court rulings, floods of demand letters, and lawsuits in recent years. The simple solution is WCAG conformance. The most common questions about ADA website compliance are

    • What does ADA website compliance mean?
    • Does a site have to be ADA-compliant?
    • How do you know if a website is ADA compliant?

    ADA site compliance boils down to making a website conform to WCAG 2.1 AA technical standards. There is a checklist of 50 accessibility concerns for a site, app, etc., to be compliant with the ADA.

    This article unravels the tangled ADA compliance and digital accessibility hangers. It addresses

    • What is mandatory
    • WCAG
    • Overlay widgets
    • Automatic scans
    • Accessibility audits

    Laws To Protect People With Disabilities Online

    The Americans with Disabilities Act governs US accessibility. The premise is those who do not make things accessible are discriminating against people with disabilities. Websites are not mentioned in ADA Title III.

    It has been interpreted by US courts and the Department of Justice to apply to websites. Mobile apps and websites are considered to be places of public accommodation. That means a site that has anything remotely commercial has the potential of becoming a plaintiff’s law firm target.

    The lawyer is looking for technical ways a site does not meet WCAG. There is no formal legal website prescription for private US entities. WCAG 2.0 AA and 2.1 AA are the technical standards the courts and the Department of Justice reference.

    A plaintiff’s lawyer seeks technicalities where a website may conceivably have an accessibility issue. Accessibility issues differ in significance. Some are inconveniences, and others significantly hinder or prevent access.

    The discretion of litigation lies in a plaintiff’s lawyer’s hands. Often, they choose litigation. If they send a demand letter or sue, the site owner loses mental energy, money, and time. Even though a website owner did not technically violate the law, it has a loss effect.

    The Title III of the ADA does not speak directly to mobile apps or websites. The statute’s broad language requires full and equal enjoyment of facilities, goods, services, advantages, privileges, or accommodations for places of public accommodation.

    For a website to allow full and equal enjoyment, those with disabilities must have access to content, be able to navigate the site, engage with the elements, etc. The DOJ and US courts continually reference WCAG 2.0 Level AA as the standard criteria for determining whether a website is successfully accessible.

    Not fully meeting the WCAG criterion is not an ADA violation. As an example, the text color contrast ratio is supposed to be 4.5:1. If the ratio is 4.4:1, a website is not in breach. There is some flexibility in complying with web accessibility.

    Without adopting specific website technical requirements, there is flexibility in how public accommodations comply with general ADA requirements. Unless the DOJ adopts specific requirements for web accessibility, there is flexibility in determining how to make a website compliant with the general ADA requirements of effective communications and non-discrimination. The Ninth Circuit Court stated the ADA’s implementing regulations are meant to provide maximum flexibility for public accommodations to meet the statute’s requirement.

    Four Legal Bullet Points

    • There are no defenses or excuses for violating the strict ADA liability law.
    • Parallel state court lawsuits that allege a violation of state anti-discrimination law provide for more plaintiff damages.
    • Anti-discrimination laws like the Fair Housing Act, are used in suits against site owners. They target specific industries.
    • Having under 15 employees does not exempt an entity from complying with the ADA as a public accommodation.


    While WCAG has many territories incorporated into law, it is not the law. The guidelines are published under the Web Accessibility Initiative of the World Wide Web Consortium. The W3C publishes standards intended to make the internet run better and be more uniform.

    If everyone uses the same accessibility guidelines, things are better in many ways. There are three versions of the WCAG – 1.0, 2.0, and 2.1. It has three conformance levels also – A, AA, and AAA. The two that matter most are WCAG 2.0 AA and WCAG 2.1 AA.

    There are 38 success criteria for 2.0 AA and 50 for 2.1 AA. The criteria make websites more accessible. WCAG 2.1 AA includes 2.0 AA criteria. Some of the 50 success criteria are more critical in terms of legal risk and accessibility.

    Two essential items that frequently appear in lawsuits are missing alt text and labels. WCAG is exceptionally long, technical, and challenging to read, making it hard to make a mobile app or website accessible. The document addresses

    • Alternatives
    • Presentation
    • User control
    • Understandable content
    • Predictability


    All images and non-text content require alt text. All audio-only and video-only content require a text transcript that is clearly labeled and linked beneath the media. Video with sound requires accurate closed captioning.

    Include a text transcript or add an audio description for a video with relevant information that is not audio-conveyed. Any live, formal presentations require closed captions. An audio description is optimal for Level A, but not AA.


    Use proper markup techniques when structuring a website’s content—present content in a meaningful sequence and order to make it read correctly. Do not rely solely on color to communicate information. The ability to pause, stop, or mute audio is required.

    The ratio of color contrast between the background and text should be a minimum of 4.5:1. Resizing text up to 200 percent without affecting the use of functions or ability to read is required. Only use images of text when necessary.

    User Control

    All web content and functions need to be keyboard-only accessible. The ability to navigate forward and backward for keyboard-only users is required. Users must be able to turn off, adjust, or extend any website time limits.

    Web pages should contain nothing that flashes more than three times per second. A ‘Skip Navigation’ or ‘Skip to Content’ link permits users to bypass the headers or navigation menu and access the main content directly.

    Understandable Content

    Each website page needs a unique and descriptive title. Navigating through a website in a logical order that preserves the meaning is necessary. The anchor text should clearly provide the purpose of every link.

    There are multiple ways of accessing pages and information on a website. Programmatic labels and headings must be descriptive and clear. They do not have to be lengthy. Any ‘user interface control that a keyboard user focuses upon should indicate the focus of the selected element. Set the website language. Indicate language changes within the content or for an entire page.


    A user must select active items before changes take place. Nothing changes because the information was put into a field. The navigation layout needs to be consistent on all website pages. Components having the same function are consistently identified.

    Make form errors identifiable and easy to understand and correct. Programmatically label input fields or forms so that users know the expected input and format. Provide suggestions for correcting errors that are automatically detected.

    One of three things must occur for pages with important data submissions, such as financial transactions or legal commitments.

    • Submissions are reversible.
    • There is an opportunity for the user to correct errors.
    • Confirmation is available that permits reviewing and updating before submitting.

    Ensure HTML code is free of errors, notably missing closed brackets. All HTML elements need to be correctly nested. The name, role, and value of all interface components that include components generated by scripts, links, and forms should be determined programmatically. The features must be compatible with assistive technology.

    Overlay Widget

    Some vendors claim to have a magical widget that instantly makes a website accessible and ADA-compliant by injecting JavaScript code. The claim is a lie. You take considerable security and privacy risk by injecting the code into a website.

    The vendors take advantage of the ambiguity and confusion that exists to sell worthless widgets. A widget is a separate and unequal experience that violates the ADA. Why would a person use a separate toolbar to access a site when everyone can access it without the widget?

    Besides that difference, the widget still does not make web content accessible. It does not take all disabilities into account. Professionals have routinely and repeatedly denounced overly widgets. There is no instant fix for web content accessibility. Several widget overlay vendors have been sued.

    Automatic Scans

    Web content accessibility scans can flag approximately 20 to 25 percent of the success criteria of 2.1 AA. Some flagged items are more conclusive than others. Scans are entirely different than overlays. Overlays are a ruse. Scans are helpful.

    Scans identify accessibility issues but are limited. A Website Accessibility Scan reduces human error and saves time but can only catch so much. Problems detected by a scan still require manual review. For example, if an image does not have an alt attribute, the scan shows an alt text error.

    You still must determine whether the image is meaningful or decorative. Meaningful images require concise, descriptive alt text value that you create. Scans are a small, limited, but helpful part of the accessibility process.

    Accessibility Audits

    Experts perform a formal evaluation by manually evaluating and testing against web content accessibility guidelines WCAG 2.0 AA and 2.1 AA. When an audit is complete, a report is provided to the client that details all the accessibility issues.

    The significance is the audit is conducted manually. There are digital marketing agencies that try to pass off scans as audits. A quality accessibility audit conducted by a reputable provider runs in the four and made figure range. This is the BEST solution and what ADA Site Compliance specializes in to help your website become 100% compliant.

    Lawsuits and Demand Letters

    Lawsuit filings in 2020 were slowed only for a few months due to COVID-19. Reports of ADA accessibility cases going down do not speak to the state-filed cases. There was a surge of state lawsuits that included the New York Human Rights Law lawsuits and California’s Unruh Act lawsuits.

    While you are figuring out a plan of action and making your website have equal access, you may be hit by a lawsuit or demand letter. ADA website compliance settlements usually range from $3000 to more than $25,000, depending on the entity’s size.

    It is wise to start a plan of action as soon as possible. If you receive a demand letter before the website is accessible, you still must make your website accessible. Being sued once does not exempt you from being sued again. The Americans with Disabilities Act is a law of strict liability. There are no non-compliance excuses. Small businesses and corporations are targets.


    • What happens if my site doesn’t comply with the ADA?

      Individuals, advocacy groups, and other organizations represented as individuals with disabilities frequently file charges to businesses and organizations denying them equal access to information and services.

      The ADA does not have a specific timeline for complying with its rules so any complaint could hit you at any time. If your organization receives a complaint and can demonstrate that you actively work on toward an accessible website, you will likely face less severe consequences than you would otherwise.

      These cases usually favor the person denied access. An issue often costs defense organizations thousands of dollars. If that occurs, defense organizations can get shorter penalties than they usually do otherwise.

    • Which businesses must comply with the ADA?

      Under Title I of the ADA, a business of at least 15 employees who perform at least 20 days per year is covered by the law. Under title III, companies fall into the ‘public accommodations’ category, including hotels, banks, and public transportation.

      The entire statute applies from physical considerations to digital accommodation. If you are uncertain you are competent and in compliance, speak to a disability lawyer at the National Disability Law Center at 1 800-273-8254 OR on

    • What does the ADA say about websites?

      The ADA does not explicitly address online regulation even after several revisions in the web-oriented era of 2008. Without specific protections under the law, it is generally down to the courts to see how an online website will conform to the ADA.

      Other cases have also found that the ADA in its entirety does not provide protections for internet use. Federal mandates that were scheduled to go into effect in January 2018 would have held federal websites up to the standards of the WCAG 2.0 level AA that serve as the basis for internet accessibility standards for the vast majority of Europe. However, the current administration has removed this requirement in what has become a general push toward deregulation.

    • How does the ADA define compliance for websites?

      The ADA and the Department of Justice cannot prescribe what institutions should do to maintain the accessibility of their records. Organizations subject to ADA must offer equal access to any information, services, etc., provided by their websites.

      It is up to the individuals who want it, but an organization can offer people with disabilities 24/7 phone support. The ADA does not quote existing definitions of accessibility, nor do they address current definitions and accessibility definitions of the ADA.

    • What is ADA compliance?

      ADA was enacted to address discrimination based on disabilities. The ADA went further with the requirement that organizations provide reasonable accommodations for workers with disabilities such as assistive technologies like a screen reader. In 1990 legislators knew nothing about how the newly emerging internet would eventually become a fundamental business element.

      But the web itself would soon be the subject of an ADA lawsuit. It is also a big part of how the ADA is passed, and the internet has become incredibly crucial to the law’s success, including workplaces for employees. The internet is, in fact, one part of what ADA is called ‘the internet.’

    • Is my website ADA compliant?

      Without a website being designed and built to accommodate accessibility and ADA requirements, it simply cannot be. For a secure website, you can test your page with automated applications, for example, WebAIM. Such tools can only detect about 30 percent of the WCAG problems.

    • How do I ensure ADA compliance?

      Let ADA Site Compliance see if we can fix the accessibility issue for your website. You can also take steps to ensure their accessibility to information on this platform.

    • How to make a website ADA compliant?

      Internet access consists of two steps: The first step is a website audit, and the second step is remediation based on audit findings.

    • How do I test a website for ADA compliance?

      ADA-compliant web test sites need access to manual testing with our online site checker or by simply extending the Chrome extension.

    De facto Standard for Digital Accessibility

    WCAG guidelines on digital accessibility are internationally recognized. The group has been established and operated by the international standard group W3C. The de facto standard in the USA was approved and not set but has not been published by the courts and lawyers.

    Website owners must conform to version 2.1 from 2018. These are the requirements that require most demands letters. In Federal versus state litigation, state DOJ or education action have all been requested. Regardless of how firm the standard may technically be in practice, if you want to prevent litigation and make an accessible website, you will need the help of a company like ADA Site Compliance.

    ADA Compliance Audit Best Practices

    The best practice is WCAG 2.1 A AA audit with three aspects. You cannot rely upon a single automated WCAG audit because its rules are complex and interpretative. Automatic instruments are only able to see up to 30 per of WCAG problems.

    The key is to receive a comprehensive WCAG audit report which identifies what and where WCAG breaches are and how to fix them. It is challenging to find an accessibility specialist with extensive knowledge and experience to qualify. An accessibility consultant must be qualified to provide reliable information on improving an accessibility problem or identify problems before they occur.

    Contact ADA Site Compliance today for all your website accessibility needs.

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