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Web Accessibility Standards, Guidelines, Laws and Compliance


According to the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), website accessibility is the practice of removing barriers so people with disabilities can “perceive, understand, navigate, and interact with the web”. When websites are designed and developed with accessibility in mind all visitors have equal access to site content.

web accessibility

Why Does Website Accessibility Matter?

The web accessibility compliance landscape grows more regulated over time which results in many companies finding themselves needing a major digital overhaul. Regulation changes stem from the fact consumer-buying behavior shifted from phone and in-person to digital.

Around 1 billion people, or 40 percent of global Internet users, have bought products or goods online.¹ Unfortunately, people with disabilities are often left out.

Much like their peers without disabilities, they want to engage and interact with organizations in the digital world. For instance, studies found that travelers with disabilities rely on websites even more than travelers without disabilities to get information about trips they’re looking to take.

Websites that aren’t accessible are a huge barrier for people with disabilities and are a frustrating experience.

How is the World Making the Web Accessible?

The W3C is a major player in the global effort to make the web a fully accessible place.² The W3C is made up of staff, volunteers, and member organizations from all over the world who collaborate to develop standards and protocols for the web.

One of the W3C’s areas of focus is accessibility. This international community recognizes that if the Internet is to continue to grow and flourish, it is critically important that it be accessible to all. Thus, the W3C Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) specifically works on guidelines and other materials to support web accessibility. The WAI links disability, government, and business groups with an interest in accessibility together.

The WAI has made great strides over the years. Currently, the WAI’s Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) are the most widely accepted set of web accessibility guidelines in the world. The WAI working group published the WCAG 1.0 in 1999, released the revised WCAG 2.0 in 2008, and added the WCAG 2.1 update in 2018.

Web Accessibility is the Outcome of Many Components Working Together

What does web accessibility mean in practical terms? Per the W3C, there are several components that need to work together to make the web What does web accessibility mean in practical terms? Several components that need to work together to make a website accessible.

  • Content: This is the information on a web page or web application. It includes “natural” information such as text, images, and sounds, as well as code or markup that defines the structure, presentation, etc.
  • Display Software: Web browsers, media players, and other software people may use to visit and enjoy your website. These are known as “user agents.”
  • Assistive technology: This includes assistive devices and software programs that assist people with disabilities when using a computer, tablet, or smartphone. Examples are screen readers, alternative keyboards, switches, and scanning software.

People with disabilities use a variety of technology which results in varying online experiences. Other factors that influence the online experience include:

  • Users’ knowledge: Individuals have varying levels of experience and comfort when they go online. Individuals with disabilities may also have developed their adaptive strategies for using the Web.
  • Developers: Web developers are the people who create content for the web. They can be designers, coders, authors, and more. User-contributed content, such as someone who posts a comment or uploads an image, also plays a part in the web development process.
  • Authoring tools: This is software that helps developers create websites.
    Evaluation tools: These include web accessibility checkers, evaluation tools, HTML/CSS/WCAG validators, and more.

Doing Your Part to Make the Web Accessible

You may not have control over all the above components:

  • You can’t decide whether a visitor to your website will use a computer or a mobile device.
  • You can’t select their favorite browser.
  • You can’t determine their level of comfort or experience using the Internet.

But you are in control of your website and the services you provide. You have the power to dictate just how welcoming your corner of the Web will be to people with disabilities.

Anyone who serves, informs, entertains, or sells online has an important role to play in making the web fully accessible. There are many ways to make your website accessible. Ideally, you should be considering these principles to ensure that the needs of everyone are met.

Web Accessibility Checklist

If it looks like a long list, don’t be daunted. In almost all cases, these can be put into place without diminishing the appeal and serviceability of your website. Quite the contrary – your website will likely be enhanced as a result!

Here are a few basic web accessibility examples to consider:

  1. Alternative text: Written descriptions known as alt-text should be available for images, graphics, and logos. That way people who use a screen reader can understand visual content on your site.
  2. Online forms: Ensure these are accessible with features such as labels for any drop-down lists or checkboxes with text. Forms should also be easy to navigate with a keyboard. Time limits need to be generous enough that people with disabilities can fill out the form before time runs out.
  3. Organized pages: Web pages should include headers and lists to make it easier for people to make their way around the site.
  4. Captioned media: Videos, audio files, and other sound sources should be captioned or transcribed for people who are not able to hear them.
  5. Hyperlinks: When hypertext links are included, the text should be self-explanatory, even if it’s read outside of context. Someone might skip from link to link without reading anything else on the page. The links should also work with the keyboard.
  6. Special content: PDF documents, Word documents, and PowerPoint must be converted into accessible formats.
  7. Color: Don’t use color to communicate information. You should adhere to the accepted standard for color contrast so people with vision disabilities don’t have trouble distinguishing the text on your site.
  8. Effective writing: The writing on your website should be clear and your message should be easy to understand.
  9. Assistive technology made available: To give a customer with a disability an inclusive digital experience, organizations should consider offering free assistive technology on their websites. With technology, customers who have physical disabilities, like cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis, paralysis, stroke, arthritis, and others, can navigate the Web or use their mobile device hands-free.

The list above is not exhaustive, but it does demonstrate some important things that should be on your checklist for making your website accessible. When organizations implement all the critical factors, they provide a truly inclusive digital experience for their customers with disabilities. You can download our Jargon Free Guide to Web Accessibility whitepaper to learn more about it.

Web Accessibility Laws, Standards, Guidelines, and Compliance

The web accessibility compliance landscape is run through guidelines, legislation, and regulation. Fortunately, there’s a lot of information and expertise available for web accessibility. It also means organizations need to follow laws to avoid penalties.

Compliance means a platform follows technical specifications, functional specifications, and WAI guidelines. It means content creators used web accessibility tools, authoring tools, and evaluation tools to build an accessible website.

Web Accessibility Guidelines

Let’s take a look at a few regulations, standards, and legal guidelines surrounding web accessibility to find out what they mean, where they take effect, and how to ensure your website is compliant.

Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0

WCAG 2.0 and 2.1 are universally accepted and adopted sets of guidelines for ensuring web accessibility. While not required as of January 2020, organizations looking to get ahead on legal compliance or make their web content more accessible can look to WCAG 2.1.

The WCAG features three levels of conformance: A, AA, and AAA. Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires your website to achieve WCAG 2.0 Level AA (mid-range) compliance.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)

The ADA is a law that prohibits discrimination against any person with a disability in the United States. It applies to businesses, schools, and public groups, and private organizations serving the public. By law, their communications and technologies must be accessible to people with disabilities.

The Rehabilitation Act (Sections 508 and 504)

The Rehabilitation Act prevents discrimination against people with disabilities.

Section 508 requires the federal government and any departments, programs, organizations, or businesses that receive funding or contracts from the federal government, including schools, to be fully accessible.

Section 508, “Standards for Electronic and Information Technology,” sets out specific accessibility standards for websites that must be followed for covered entities to comply.

Section 504 focuses on students with disabilities.

Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA)

The AODA is a law that applies to government, businesses, and organizations in the province of Ontario. It includes the development of accessibility standards that must be followed and a compliance time-frame.

The Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA)

The ACAA makes it illegal to discriminate against airline customers with disabilities. It applies to air transportation within, to, and from the United States for all air carriers. Phase II of ACAA, which rules that all web pages on an airline’s website must be accessible, went into effect in December 2016.

Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act (CVAA)

The CVAA became law in 2010. The purpose of the CVAA is to update older legislation and ensure that digital, mobile, and other modern technologies are accessible.

Why Investing in Web Accessibility Matters

People with disabilities are the largest minority group in the world. There are more than one billion people around the world who have some form of disability.³ Around one in five people self-identify as having a disability.

Still, many organizations view accessibility as a chore rather than an opportunity. This leaves many digital marketers in the dark about the benefits of inclusive digital assets. However, investing in disability and completing the web accessibility checklist has its fair share of returns:

  • Organizations have the opportunity to enhance the digital customer experience for the largest minority group around the world.
  • Research shows that 86 percent of buyers will pay more for better customer experience.4
  • Companies can begin to build a disability-friendly brand presence by enhancing the customer experience by making the website easy to use for people with disabilities.

Offering an inclusive web accessibility solution to customers with disabilities by integrating a suite of assistive technologies alongside accessibility compliance will enhance the digital customer experience. In return, an organization can expect to create an inclusive digital presence and make its brand accessible to all.

An Innovative Solution

eSSENTIAL ACCESSIBILITY has developed a comprehensive web accessibility solution to help organizations follow the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) and achieve and maintain compliance with standards and regulations. This includes integrating web accessibility evaluation services with assistive technology to deliver a transformative experience for people with disabilities. Learn more about eSSENTIAL ACCESSIBILITY’s innovative solution.


  1. Internet Stats & Facts for 2016.
  2. About W3C. W3C
  3. Disability and health fact sheet. World Health Organization November 2016
  4. Andy Beal. 86% of buyers will pay more for a better customer experience. Marketing Pilgrim July 31, 2014

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