As litigation surrounding the accessibility of websites has soared in recent years, the term ‘ADA website compliance’ has become commonplace.
But how do you make a website compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) for 2021?
While there is no formal federal prescription on exactly what you need to do, the best practice is to make your website conform to WCAG 2.1 AA.
WCAG stands for Web Content Accessibility Guidelines. 2.1 is the current version. AA refers to the conformance level that is most commonly required and accepted, not only in the United States but across the globe.
WCAG 2.1 AA basically amounts to 50 things you can do to improve the accessibility of your website, or mobile app for that matter.
As we mentioned, there is no current law but we do have a tremendous amount of history from authoritative legal sources that points to WCAG being a good standard for what makes a website (or a mobile app) ADA compliant.
- Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act incorporates WCAG 2.0 AA
- The Department of Justice (DOJ) has required WCAG 2.0 AA conformance as a part of consent decrees
- Numerous U.S. District Court decisions reference WCAG 2.0 AA
Why do we recommend WCAG 2.1 AA?
While conformance with WCAG 2.0 AA certainly makes your website or app very robust in terms of accessibility, there are 12 additional success criteria (or things to do) that are found in WCAG 2.1 AA that will improve your digital asset’s accessibility.
What’s of particular importance is a handful of WCAG 2.1 AA success criteria address mobile accessibility.
WCAG 2.0 AA was first published in 2008. Mobile usage has since exploded in popularity, thus, we always recommend updating to WCAG 2.1 AA.
Also, it’s worth mentioning that most lawsuits now reference WCAG 2.1 AA.
Moreover, if you have an app, 2.1 AA is almost always going to be the standard to strive for.
Note that WCAG 2.2 is expected to be officially released in the summer of 2021. Our Chief Accessibility & Legal Officer Kris Rivenburgh even goes so far as to recommend 2.2 AA draft conformance after you’ve attained 2.1 AA conformance.
What exactly do you need to do?
Of course, the most important action you can take is to make your website accessible and free from barriers, but there are things you can do, especially as a larger organization, to exhibit and maintain that compliance.
Here are some of the best practices for 2021:
- Hire a reputable independent third party to manually audit your website at regularly scheduled intervals (annually at a minimum)
- Engage in user testing by persons with disabilities
- Utilize automated scans and continually monitor your website for accessibility issues
- Incorporate mandatory web accessibility training for all individuals who contribute to your digital operations
- Invite feedback and provide for customer assistance for those who have disabilities
- Form a web accessibility committee and appoint a coordinator to that committee
- Adopt and publish an outwardly facing digital accessibility policy
- Once you achieve accessibility, request a statement of conformance (i.e., certification of accessibility) from your third-party consultant or agency
We strongly recommend you publish a policy, as plaintiffs’ lawyers specifically note an absence of a policy (sometimes referred to as a statement) as a detraction from the accessibility of a website.
Although the law is uncertain, the practical implications of not addressing your website, app, or other digital asset’s accessibility are not. Many entities – large, medium, and small – are at the receiving end of numerous demand letters and lawsuits that end up costing a minimum of 5-figures in legal fees and they still must address accessibility.
What Organizations Are Covered Under The ADA?
Besides state and local governments (Title II), the ADA also covers places of public accommodation (Title III). Per the ADA, places of Public Accommodation include:
(A) an inn, hotel, motel, or other place of lodging;
(B) a restaurant, bar, or other establishment serving food or drink;
(C) a motion picture house, theater, concert hall, stadium, or other place of entertainment;
(D) an auditorium, convention center, lecture hall, or other place of public gathering;
(E) a bakery, grocery store, clothing store, hardware store, shopping center, or other sales or rental establishment;
(F) a laundromat, dry-cleaner, bank, barber shop, beauty shop, travel service, shoe repair service, funeral parlor, gas station, office of an accountant or lawyer, pharmacy, insurance office, professional office of a health care provider, hospital, or other service establishment;
(G) a terminal, depot, or other station used for specified public transportation;
(H) a museum, library, gallery, or other place of public display or collection;
(I) a park, zoo, amusement park, or other place of recreation;
(J) a nursery, elementary, secondary, undergraduate, or postgraduate private school, or other place of education;
(K) a day care center, senior citizen center, homeless shelter, food bank, adoption agency, or other social service center establishment; and
(L) a gymnasium, health spa, bowling alley, golf course, or other place of exercise or recreation.
The ADA is meant to protect disabled individuals as they go about their daily lives. The law generally mandates that people with disabilities are not denied entry into the above places or denied services by a company due to their disability.
Of course, as the legal landscape currently stands, places of public accommodation are being interpreted to include websites, apps, and documents, as well as other digital offerings including kiosks, software, and other electronic technology.
Why is ADA Compliance so Critical?
Accessibility is a human right.
People with disabilities are all around us. They live in every country and often differently experience life compared to people who don’t have emotional, mental, or physical disabilities. Around 15 percent of the global population is classified as disabled. Of this 15 percent, an estimated 190 million people experience significant disabilities.¹
The sheer number of people who have disabilities is one of the reasons that the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) passed in 1990. As its name suggests, the ADA is designed to protect individuals with disabilities in the United States. The ADA makes it illegal for any government entity or business to provide goods and services to the general public without ensuring that the entities are accessible by people with disabilities.
How Can Digital Accessibility Make A Difference?
Over 4.57 billion people are active Internet users.2 In the U.S. alone, consumers spent an estimated $517.36 billion online.3
These statistics are especially important when you consider the potential spending power of people with disabilities – an estimated $490 billion in the US alone. If the website isn’t accessible, then it is excluding more than 60 million Americans.
Additionally, 69 percent of customers with disabilities will instantly leave the site if it does not meet their accessibility needs4. Another 80 percent of customers with disabilities have stated that they will spend more on a website that has improved accessibility features.
Fortunately, if you follow Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), then you can appeal to millions of individuals who want to enjoy the same online experiences as their friends, family, and neighbors. ADA website accessibility requirements are not only a legal requirement, but following them extends how many people your business can reach.
Aside from the legal and business angles, making websites accessible is just the right thing to do.
Discover an Innovative Solution to Web Accessibility
eSSENTIAL Accessibility is proud to offer a comprehensive Accessibility-as-a-Service solution to help organizations conform with the latest WCAG guidelines.
Request a demo today and learn how we can help you achieve and maintain compliance with global digital accessibility laws.
Editor’s note: This article was originally published January 2020 and has been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.
- World Report on Disability, World Health Organization, 2019
- Statista, July 2020
- Digital Commerce 360, February 2019
- Click-Away Pound