In early 2022, the Department of Justice (DOJ) published guidance for meeting the web accessibility requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Unfortunately, most websites still have major accessibility barriers that affect users with disabilities — and many organizations have paid a hefty price for ignoring digital compliance.
Businesses may improve compliance with the ADA and other laws by following the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), the consensus international standards for digital accessibility. Below, we’ll take a look at several common WCAG failures that have been directly cited in ADA lawsuits.
1. Missing alternative text for images
Image alternative text (also called alt text or alt tags) provides a written description of visual content. It’s essential for accommodating screen readers (software that converts content to audio or braille).
Missing alternative text has been cited in many of the most infamous digital accessibility lawsuits — including Robles v. Domino’s Pizza, LLC, a landmark case that helped to establish how Title III of the ADA applies to websites.
Related: What is the Best Way to Write Alternative Text?
2. Poor color contrast
Low-contrast text may be difficult to read, particularly for individuals with color vision deficiency (CVD, also known as color blindness) and other vision-related disabilities.
Color contrast is frequently mentioned in web accessibility lawsuits for several reasons. First, it’s an easy issue to identify. Automated tools — such as the Bureau of Internet Accessibility’s free Color Contrast Accessibility Validator — can instantly determine whether websites meet WCAG’s color contrast requirements.
Secondly, it’s one of the most common accessibility issues: In a 2022 analysis from WebAIM (Web Accessibility In Mind), nearly 84% of the internet’s top 1 million homepages had detectable low-contrast text.
Related: Designing for Color Contrast: Guidelines for Accessibility
3. Keyboard traps and other keyboard accessibility issues
Many internet users don’t use a mouse for navigation. Keyboard accessibility is a fundamental part of good web design, and to comply with the ADA, websites should be fully operable with a keyboard alone.
Keyboard traps are an especially serious accessibility concern. Traps occur when the user cannot change the focus to another element using only the keyboard interface. Obviously, this is extremely frustrating for people who use AT — and once again, it’s a legal concern. The DOJ specifically mentions “mouse-only navigation" as a concern on its ADA guidance page.
Related: What Is Keyboard Accessibility?
4. Missing form labels and other form issues
Without accurate form labels, people may not be able to fill them out. That’s a missed opportunity to engage with your audience (and a potential ADA violation).
Every entry within a form must have an accurate, programmatically determinable label, which enables screen reading software to present the information. You’ll also need to provide clear instructions, error correction mechanisms, and other essential info to provide an equivalent experience for all users.
Related: Why Form Labels and Instructions Are Important for Digital Accessibility
5. Missing, misleading, or redundant link text
Hyperlink text refers to the words enclosed by the HTML anchor tag that provides the link. Descriptive link text enables users to understand the purpose and function of the link.
If a link appears in HTML, but doesn’t have corresponding on-page text, it’s essentially empty — screen readers will announce the presence of the link, but nothing else. Users can’t determine what the link does and whether they want to follow it. Likewise, if link text is generic (like “click here" or “read more"), it isn’t helpful for readers.
Poor HTML may also lead to redundant links, which create a frustrating experience for AT users. Empty and redundant links were cited as alleged failures in Robles v. Domino’s Pizza and in a 2019 class-action lawsuit involving Beyonce’s official website.
Related: How Redundant Links Impact Accessibility
To limit legal compliance risks, test your content against WCAG
ADA compliance certainly isn’t optional, but digital accessibility has a number of other practical benefits. The best practices of inclusive web design can help you grow your audience and keep them engaged — and provide a better experience for every user.
By following WCAG, you can build a long-term plan for digital compliance. Get started with our free automated website accessibility analysis, which tests your content against WCAG 2.1 Level A/AA standards.