Does An Accessibility Statement Protect Against Litigation?

September 3, 2021

The Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) recommends posting an accessibility statement for websites, mobile applications, and other types of digital content. We certainly support that recommendation — accessibility statements play a key role in promoting accessibility, and creating a truthful statement is a simple and straightforward process. 

However, some content creators misunderstand the goal: An accessibility statement doesn’t serve as legal protection against litigation, nor does it demonstrate conformance with any particular law, regulation, or set of standards. With that said, accessibility statements can be the very first thing that people look for if they’re considering litigation (and, as we’ll discuss, if they simply want assurance that a website will provide a pleasant experience). 

The statement makes an effective starting point because it provides some indication as to whether the company knows accessibility exists — and whether it’s a priority. A thorough, accurate accessibility statement can be an important asset, but only if the statement is written for its target audience. 

Many people with disabilities look for accessibility statements. 

Your accessibility statement is your company’s opportunity to say “we care about being accessible, and we’re working on it.” When you back up your statement with real action, it’s extraordinarily helpful to real-world users. 

Alternatively, when users can’t find accessibility statements, they might logically assume that the site isn’t accessible. They can’t easily identify any efforts made to facilitate users with disabilities, and they may decide to look for an alternative. That’s also true when the accessibility statement is extremely simplistic or inaccurate.

A great accessibility statement might include: 

  • A target goal for accessibility. Goals might include conformance with the A/AA/AAA levels of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 or 2.1, and/or compliance with certain laws and regulations. 
  • A list of known issues. Sites should provide assurance that developers are working to fix those issues. Wherever possible, developers should include a target date for the fixes.
  • Information about the types of accessibility testing that have been performed.
  • Information about specific technologies accommodated. For instance, the statement might indicate whether a website has accessible mobile and desktop formats.
  • Contact information for providing feedback about accessibility issues.

If the accessibility statement was evaluated by a third party, the statement could also include information about the independent evaluators. All of this information can be helpful for addressing visitors' concerns — but a simple, boilerplate accessibility statement might not include enough details to be useful. 

To craft an effective accessibility statement, write for real users.

While accessibility statements can contain quite a bit of information, we’ll reiterate that they’re not intended as legal documents. Real people will read the statement, so it’s important to use natural language. As we’ve discussed on this blog, writing clearer content keeps users engaged and helps them understand how your site functions.

Private and public organizations have a legal and ethical responsibility to make their digital content accessible. The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), the most widely accepted standards for accessibility, can make this process easier (read more in our blog, “Is There a Legal Requirement to Implement WCAG?”). However, you don’t need to achieve a certain level of WCAG conformance to post an accessibility statement. If you have a long-term goal of meeting WCAG standards, you can (and should) post an accessibility statement to show that you’re taking reasonable actions to build a better website.

And while accessibility statements are important, remember that they’re intended to showcase your efforts — not to replace those efforts. The statement doesn’t take the place of a broad accessibility initiative. 

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