ADA Compliance and Web Design
First, we are not lawyers and are not making recommendations or providing legal advice. Please, consult a lawyer on ADA Website Compliance. We are providing the information on this page based on all the research we have done, along with our experience with various government agencies. We do know that the laws and testing tools are ambiguous. We have also heard from three different lawyers that have given three completely different opinions on how web design compliance should be handled.
What is the American Disabilities Act and how does it pertain to websites?
There is a great article from Monterey Herald that sums this up:
Passed in 1990, the Americans with Disabilities Act’s main goal was to provide equal access and experience to all people. Over time it expanded from physical location requirements into world wide web access that would make content accessible to the blind, deaf, and those who must navigate by voice, screen readers or other technologies that assist users with disabilities.
Those businesses that operate 20 or more weeks per year with at least 15 full-time employees fall under Title I of the ADA, and those that are under the category of “public accommodation” fall under Title III.
Section 508 of the U.S. Workforce Rehabilitation Act of 1973 is an amendment requiring all electronic information technology developed, procured, maintained, or used by the federal government be accessible to those with disabilities.
In 2010, the Justice Department began to draft formal regulations about ADA compliance for websites. But by the end of 2017, it had withdrawn its “rulemaking process” at a time the Trump administration was rolling back federal regulations.
“California businesses are required to have accessible websites under both federal law (the ADA) and state law (the Unruh Act). There is some controversy about whether internet-only businesses are covered by federal law but it would be a mistake for any business with a website to rely on technical arguments until the law is more settled – which will take years,” said Richard Hunt, an attorney with a focus on lawsuits brought under Title III of the ADA. “One note: nobody is sure what ‘completely accessible’ means. The best bet is something like the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 at success level AA.”
We’ll discuss these WCAG Guidelines further down this page.
Does my website need to be ADA compliant?
Government agencies and companies funded by or doing work with government agencies are usually required to have ADA Compliant websites. If you are running a government website, you need to be compliant.
Do non-government / corporate websites need to be compliant? The answer is possibly. That is not exactly the answer we were looking for either. The problem lies in the legislation and how the various courts are interpreting the policy. The government and courts have not made ADA Compliance clear. There are thousands of companies that have been involved in lawsuits and Domino’s Pizza is one of the most prominent, and the the Ninth Circuit Court’s findings are jolting to the corporate web world, Seyfarth has a great article here.
Why should my website be ADA Compliant?
While you may not be required to be ADA compliant, there are many reasons to do it.
- Be inclusive – it’s the right thing to do.
- Broaden your audience – the numbers are staggering. According to the World Health Organization, 2018 number show 15% of the world’s population has some form of disability and between 110 million and 190 million adults have significant difficulties in functioning. Rates of disability are also increasing due to an aging population and chronic health conditions. According to the American Institutes for Research, the total after-tax disposable income for working-age people with disabilities is about $490 billion
- Avoid lawsuits
According to Seyfarth, the number of website accessibility lawsuits filed in federal court under Title III of the ADA exploded in 2018 to at least 2258 – increasing by 177% from 814 such lawsuits in 2017. Without any clarification on the laws, testing tools and conflicts between courts, we expect this number will continue to climb.
ADA Compliance Testing with WCAG 2.1
Not only are the laws unclear, but the testing tools are inadequate and there are no real standards for testing ADA Compliance. Here’s our summary:
- WCAG 2.1
Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1 covers a wide range of recommendations for making Web content more accessible. Following these guidelines will make content more accessible to a wider range of people with disabilities, including accommodations for blindness and low vision, deafness and hearing loss, limited movement, speech disabilities, photosensitivity, and combinations of these, and some accommodation for learning disabilities and cognitive limitations; but will not address every user need for people with these disabilities. These guidelines address accessibility of web content on desktops, laptops, tablets, and mobile devices. Following these guidelines will also often make Web content more usable to users in general. WCAG 2.1 success criteria are written as testable statements that are not technology-specific.There is a lot of value and we do consider most of the “guidelines” to be best practice in web design. However, “testable” and “accessible” is suspect in our opinion.
- ADA Testing Tools
There are loads of so-called ADA Compliance Testing Tools, but they are all limited for a number of reasons. The testing tools look at code and examine compliance standards by level (A, AA, and AAA). These can be further broken down into reviews, warnings, and errors. Warnings are accepted, but errors need to be fixed. Many items require manual review because the testing tools can’t make a determination on those factors.The biggest issue that we find, is that the testing tools don’t account for website navigation. Can your website be tabbed via screen reader? The testing tools don’t account for screen readers, they just make assumptions based on code. This is a major flaw that no one seems to discuss in their ADA Compliant Testing. You need to test with other tools.PDF’s and multimedia files are also not tested through most of the ADA testing tools. There are tools for testing PDF’s, but it is a manual process, one at a time. YouTube has increased their compliance by now offering closed captioning, but there is more to do.Manual review items (color contrast, meaningful link text, alt text, UI scripts, flicker) are open to interpretation or may require other testing tools.
- ADA Accessibility Policy
We’re not sure who came up with this one, but I suspect it will not help in the way of litigation, do your own research. This agency has an ADA Accessibility Policy:
We also find it interesting that they include a signed certificate with Governor Gavin Newsom’s name listed at the top.It states that they are partially compliant:
How do I make my website ADA Compliant?
There are a lot of methods and there is a huge range in cost.
- Manual Remediation with WCAG Testing Tools
The comprehensive approach is to utilize third-party testing tools that allow you to fix and verify your website code. This can be a cumbersome process and it will also require manual testing for screen readers (separately), as well as PDF and multimedia testing. Testing tools alone will run $100 / month and some charge an annual fee of around $2,000 or more. Then someone will need to update / fix code and that cost depends on the number of pages on the website. We also recommend adding an ADA widget, particularly an AI compliance widget.
- Artificial Intelligence and ADA Compliance
- Accessibility Policy
We don’t think this covers you in any way, but found it interesting that a government agency thinks that this will help them in a court of law.
We also find it interesting that they put up a signed certificate with Governor Gavin Newsom’s name listed at the top:
Maybe a lawyer can comment on this?
How do I find the best ADA Compliant web consultants?
There are many web consultants and solutions out there. Beware, there is so much misinformation on the web regarding this topic. Even large corporations that specialize in helping test or achieve compliance are not offering the facts and leaving it to lower level employees to consult with companies.
We are ADA web consultants and would be happy to discuss various solutions with you. We want you to share your web design with a global audience, and reach your full potential of customers – efficiently and effectively, anywhere in the digital universe.