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What Does "ADA Compliant Website" Mean?

Apr 8, 2024

A website is compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) if it is reasonably accessible for most users with disabilities. That’s the simple explanation — but since the ADA doesn’t contain specific technical criteria for websites, there’s some room for interpretation. 

The Department of Justice (DOJ) notes that businesses “have flexibility" in how they comply with the ADA, adding that institutions “can currently choose how they will ensure" that websites are accessible to people with disabilities. The word “currently" may be especially important, since the DOJ is considering new rules for compliance. 

But for the time being, the DOJ recommends following existing technical standards to ensure ADA compliance. That means conforming with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), the international standards for web accessibility.

Why is WCAG important for ADA compliance?

WCAG is important because it’s thorough, accurate, and applicable to every type of digital product (including websites and mobile apps). It’s published by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), which also publishes the standards for HTML, CSS, and other technologies.

The goal of WCAG is to remove barriers that affect people with disabilities. While no website can be 100% accessible for every user, WCAG includes basic rules called success criteria for finding the most common issues. 

That includes barriers like: 

If you’re concerned with digital compliance, WCAG is invaluable. It’s frequently cited in ADA web accessibility lawsuits, and it’s written in plain language — by reading through the latest version of the guidelines, you can start learning the principles of accessible design.

Related: Does the ADA Require Mobile Websites and Apps to be Accessible?

Is WCAG the only rulebook for digital accessibility?

No, but WCAG is the most comprehensive and widely accepted set of standards. Many other accessibility guidelines are at least partially based on WCAG. 

For example, the U.S. government’s own Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act standards incorporate WCAG 2.0 by reference. Google’s web accessibility guidance cites WCAG’s color contrast requirements and reiterates several other WCAG success criteria. 

WCAG is also the basis for various international disability non-discrimination laws. If your organization operates in multiple countries — or even multiple US states — WCAG conformance is the best path to compliance.

Related: Which WCAG Standards Do I Need to Follow?

How can I test my website for ADA compliance?

To test for ADA compliance, you’ll need to audit your website against the Level A/AA requirements of the latest version of WCAG (currently, WCAG 2.2). 

Of course, that’s easier said than done: WCAG 2.2 contains 86 success criteria, and testing a single web page against dozens of guidelines can take hours. Automated tools can simplify this process by checking for some WCAG failures — and some tools can even automatically fix simple issues.

If you’re concerned with digital compliance, we recommend taking the following steps:

  1. Understand the basics of accessibility. Review the four principles of WCAG: Content must be perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust.
  2. Use an automated scanner to get a basic overview of your current level of accessibility. The Bureau of Internet Accessibility provides a free graded report that tests content against WCAG Level A/AA. 
  3. Before making any changes, understand how those changes will affect your audience. Always think about real-life users — don’t treat accessibility as a checklist.
  4. Publish an accurate accessibility statement outlining your current level of WCAG conformance. Learn about the best practices for writing accessibility statements.
  5. Have a long-term strategy. Accessibility isn’t a one-and-done project — it requires an organizational commitment to users with disabilities. 

The Bureau of Internet Accessibility and AudioEye can help you find a self-sustainable plan that works for your organization. Whether you’re operating a large eCommerce store or a small business website, accessibility should be a priority — and following the best practices opens up enormous benefits for your business.

To learn more, send us a message or read about AudioEye’s Digital Accessibility Platform

Use our free Website Accessibility Checker to scan your site for ADA and WCAG compliance.

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