No one wants to face a lawsuit, especially for something preventable. And one preventable lawsuit that’s grown rampant over the years is accessibility-related lawsuits. An increasing number of people are now aware of digital accessibility and the legal recourses available if a business website is inaccessible. And this has led to a massive increase in the number of ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) lawsuits in the past few years. It’s now imperative that all websites comply with the web accessibility standards and ADA website compliance requirements. Failure to do places your website at risk of lawsuits, losing out on massive opportunities, and the risk of tarnishing your brand.
So to help you reach ADA compliance for websites, here is a complete and definitive guide on what ADA requires for digital accessibility.
What is ADA website compliance?
ADA prohibits discrimination and is the landmark of civil rights laws based on disability. And ADA compliance traditionally meant that public accommodation should provide physical accessibility from physical barriers to disabled users. It involved using building ramps and accessible parking spaces in a physical location.
The ADA law comprises three titles- Title I prohibits workplace discrimination, Title II prohibits government discrimination, and ADA Title III prohibits discrimination by private businesses, applicable to websites and apps.
Courts have recently agreed that the law should also include accessibility on commercial websites so that the blind, visually impaired, and others with disabilities can use them.
Web content accessibility guidelines and ADA compliance
WCAG is a set of guidelines providing basic principles and information about web accessibility. It gives clear instructions to make a website accessible to disabled users. While it’s not technically required to follow the WCAG guidelines, they hugely impact ADA litigation and are thus considered de facto compliant with ADA standards.
The WCAG guidelines divide accessibility issues into three levels, Levels A, AA, and AAA. Level A is the most urgent issue that can limit the disability user’s ability to navigate or use the website.
Level AA issues are more rooted and generally address areas when improved, giving disabled users a whole site experience. Level AAA issues are the highest standard, expanding on Level A and AA issues.
And while a goal, full-level AAA compliance is practically impossible for most websites to have.
Accessibility issues are divided into four groups, P.O.U.R.:
- Perceivable issues affect a user’s ability to find and process website information, like including audio descriptions with video content.
- Operable issues affect the visitor’s website navigation and use, like ensuring keyboard-only commands for all site functions and navigation.
- Understandable issues affect the user’s ability to understand the website information and navigation, like providing error messages with clear instructions to correct an error.
- The robust issues affect the website’s ability to adapt and meet the disabled users’ changing needs, like testing compatibility with leading screen readers.
Is your website ADA Compliant?
ADA compliance means the website is ADA-compliant with all applicable laws. The web content accessibility guidelines provide the guidelines to make a website accessible.
And organizations have to prove that their website is ADA-compliant to avoid legal issues or penalties. They must keep people with disabilities needs in mind while designing their websites.
These disabilities include cognitive limitations, low vision, limitation to movement, photosensitivity, and hearing impairment. However, as the WCAG is not a law, websites conforming to it are not automatically rendered ADA-compliant.
What happens if my website isn’t ADA-compliant?
You may face legal action if people with disabilities cannot access your website for any reason. Usually, there is no reason why your website does not provide equal access to everyone.
Sometimes it may be just that your website is not readily available for everyone and may end in thousands of lawsuits. Companies with inaccessible websites risk getting sued anytime, even away from their physical locations and without notice.
And most importantly, law firms filing the cases can choose the jurisdiction for filing their lawsuit. So it is not odd that they often file lawsuits for plaintiffs living in plaintiff-friendly jurisdictions.
And web accessibility lawsuits can range from $5,000 to $30,000 based on the lawyer, plaintiff, and jurisdiction, and this amount often does not include the legal fees. The best way to avoid these expenses would therefore be to ensure your website or app is ADA-compliant in the first place.
ADA Website Compliance Checklist
At first glance, the WCAG guidelines seem to be rather complicated. However, once they are broken down, you realize that a few basic actions help meet its digital accessibility requirements.
Here is a checklist to help you know and better understand the requirements for ADA compliance standards:
1. Include accessibility interfaces to your website
Websites should have an accessibility interface that lets visitors adjust the website design and user interface elements to fit their needs and disability. Examples are allowing users to zoom in for larger text and using carefully selected contrasting colors for the ease of the visually impaired.
2. Have text alternatives on your site
Visually impaired users depend on assistive technologies to understand a site’s content. However, screen readers will work only if you add text alternatives to non-text elements. This is essential as the images and other media tell better stories on your site.
So adding alt tags to relevant images and text transcripts to video files make it easier for screen reader software to understand these elements.
3. Easy website navigation
There is always the chance of some of your website owners not having a full motor function. Evaluating your site’s layout and navigation functionality is thus essential to ensure even those with motor impairments have equal access to your website.
This is where some navigational tools can be used to make web content accessible. These tools include:
- The use of specific keyboard keys like Tab and Enter keys for specific website purposes like tabbing through menus, buttons, and other navigational elements
- The presence of an on-screen keyboard for users who cannot use a computer mouse
- Shortcuts like G for graphics, M for menus, and F for forms that users can use to quickly and easily access specific website elements.
- Fast navigation techniques where users can click to access important pages
- Maintaining a consistent navigation menu across all web pages
- Using proper header tags on all pages to highlight content hierarchy for an easier and better understanding of web content
- Labels are best to use for form accessibility. Each form field should have one so that a screen reader can read each field name. Any critical information users need to know, like passwords being at least nine characters long, should not be included as placeholder text. It should be used as text under the field label.
- All forms should be easy to use, with a logical flow, and keyboard-accessible to let users tab through fields. Instructions at the top of the form help users know how to fill out the form.
- As Calls to action (CTA) are necessary for marketing success in a business, ensure all of them are accessible with an accessible name, preferably with some text on the button. Using an aria-label for the button gives assistive technology the necessary information.
4. Optimize content for optimal web accessibility
Your website content should be optimized and accessible to all your visitors, including those with the four types of disabilities: hearing, visual, motor, and cognitive, to achieve ADA compliance.
Proper content structure with headings like the H2 function will help users using screen readers or those with other visual impairments easily read your content. However, ensure your headings follow a logical hierarchy with the title or H1 followed by H2, and H3 headings, making the content and structure easy to follow. Providing easy-to-read and follow content is essential for readers with cognitive disabilities. Besides, it is easier for other users to scan and read your content. So short and to-the-point sentences, bulleted lists, summary sections, and bolded keywords provide easier scanning and make an accessible website.
And while writing content, start with the most important, and end with the least important information. Avoid jargon or complicated words, and align left text, including all headlines.
Link to web pages using other descriptive link text instead of ‘click here.’
Users with screen readers and visual impairments can thus read the descriptive link text and know where each leads. All linked PDFs, word documents, PowerPoint, and other file types should have accessible links.
5. Have an accessible design
An accessible design is not only for people with disabilities but also more usable for everyone. When it comes to videos, these three tips will make them more accessible.
- The first is to ensure all videos have subtitles. It is not only convenient for people with hearing disabilities but also for those watching in crowded settings or for those who prefer not to wear headphones while watching videos publicly.
- The second is to include transcripts with text versions of any speech in a video. The best transcript is a descriptive transcript that describes whatever happens in the video.
- The third tip is to include an audio description in videos so that the blind and those with visual disabilities can easily consume content.
When it comes to images, all should have alt text or short text clearly and neutrally describing the image. It is this alt text that screen readers read on reaching an image.
As 4% of the population suffers from color blindness, using color to communicate information can be problematic for some users. Instead, use patterns, borders, icons, sizing, fill, or whitespace with color for communication.
And when using colors, use contrasting colors so that users can read text or see color differences. For example, WCAG 2.0 level AA compliance requires that all text have a color contrast ratio of 4.5:1. If necessary, use a color contrast checker to double-check all the color combinations.
Use more sans serif fonts as they are easier to read without the small, decorative markings. And always restrict the number of fonts you use to one for the body text and one for the headlines. Use at least size 12 font and bold instead of italics for emphasis.
Last but not least, ensure all website pages have ‘skip navigation’ links and that the website has a website accessibility policy page. Contact information should also be easy to locate for the users who may want to request some accessibility information.
Always test website accessibility as per the website content accessibility guidelines. It is even better if you automate your website accessibility check to avoid missing any critical accessibility problems.
We are constantly asked questions related to accessible websites and have compiled this list of frequently asked questions to clear any doubts you have.
1. What is ADA-compliant for a website?
An ADA-compliant website meets all the requirements outlined in Section 508 and WCAG 2.0. In other words, all HTML code, web content, and uploaded or linked Excel, PowerPoint, PDF Documents, and other documents must meet these requirements.
And most importantly, it is a website accessible to everyone, including individuals with disabilities.
2. Is ADA compliance mandatory for websites?
While ADA compliance does not apply to private clubs and religious organizations, it is mandatory for most websites. Depending on how courts and the DOJ have interpreted ADA compliance, it’s mandatory for two types of websites-Commercial websites and websites for or funded by state or local governments.
3. How do you make your website ADA-compliant?
Making your website ADA-compliant is easy. All you have to do is find a reputed ADA agency to build your accessible website if you are starting. If you have a website, have the ADA agency audit your code.
Based on the audit, you get an idea of the amount of work needed to reach web compliance and the budget involved. You can then have the ADA agency work on making your website ADA-compliant, or your web developer can do it.
However, ADA compliance is not a one-time task, as compliance standards keep changing. So keep checking and ensuring your website is digitally accessible and updated.
4. What does the ADA say about website accessibility?
According to the ADA, a website is accessible if it is easy for people with disabilities to read, navigate, use, and access with dignity.
5. Can a website be 100% ADA-compliant?
No website will be accessible to 100% of its users. However, businesses must take reasonable measures to comply with ADA requirements by eliminating possible digital accessibility barriers.
6. Who is exempt from ADA compliance?
ADA compliance does not apply to religious organizations, private clubs, places of worship, and other facilities controlled by religious organizations like schools or daycare centers.
The path to ADA website compliance may seem daunting, and online accessibility remains vague for the future. However, it is imperative that equal access is essential for users across America and is the best option for most organizations.
And if you need help ensuring web compliance, we at ADA Site Compliance can help you. We are proud to be the #1 source for all ADA website compliance improvements online.
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The ADA prohibits any private businesses that provide goods or services to the public, referred to as “public accommodations,” from discriminating against those with disabilities. Federal courts have ruled that the ADA includes websites in the definition of public accommodation. As such, websites must offer auxiliary aids and services to low-vision, hearing-impaired, and physically disabled persons, in the same way a business facility must offer wheelchair ramps, braille signage, and sign language interpreters, among other forms of assistance.
All websites must be properly coded for use by electronic screen readers that read aloud to sight-impaired users the visual elements of a webpage. Additionally, all live and pre-recorded audio content must have synchronous captioning for hearing-impaired users.
Websites must accommodate hundreds of keyboard combinations, such as Ctrl + P to print, that people with disabilities depend on to navigate the Internet.
Litigation continues to increase substantially. All business and governmental entities are potential targets for lawsuits and demand letters. Recent actions by the Department of Justice targeting businesses with inaccessible websites will likely create a dramatic increase of litigation risk.
Big box retailer Target Corp. was ordered to pay $6 million – plus $3.7 million more in legal costs – to settle a landmark class action suit brought by the National Federation of the Blind. Other recent defendants in these cases have included McDonald’s, Carnival Cruise Lines, Netflix, Harvard University, Foot Locker, and the National Basketball Association (NBA). Along with these large companies, thousands of small businesses have been subject to ADA website litigation.
Defendants in ADA lawsuits typically pay plaintiff's legal fees, their own legal fees for defending the litigation, and potential additional costs. In all, the average cost can range from tens of thousands of dollars, to above six figures. There are also high intangible costs, such as added stress, time and human capital, as well as reputational damage. Furthermore, if the remediation is incomplete, copycat suits and serial filers can follow, meaning double or triple the outlay. It's vital to implement a long-term strategy for ensuring your website is accessible and legally compliant.