ADA testing is the process of evaluating and documenting the accessibility of a website or application in order to make it compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Accessibility testing or audits may be called ADA testing if being performed in order to meet ADA regulations.
The Americans with Disabilities Act prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in public accommodations. Websites and other publicly-available digital tools and programs are generally accepted as being places of public accommodation. As such, the Department of Justice (DOJ) has stated and reaffirmed in the past that the ADA applies to websites.
One of the most publicly-visible and followed cases supporting this involved Domino's Pizza. The popularity of the defendant organization and the length of time during which the case evolved and stayed relevant brought digital accessibility to the forefront in a way many people hadn't seen before.
In the 2016 case of Robles v. Domino's Pizza, LLC, the plaintiff alleged that the Domino's website and app weren't accessible to screen reader users who are blind or visually-impaired, thus violating their ADA protections. The case was dismissed in 2017, but that dismissal was reversed in 2019 by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. In the Ninth Circuit Court's opinion summary, they clarified why the Americans with Disabilities does in fact apply to Domino's:
The Act mandates that places of public accommodation, like Domino's, provide auxiliary aids and services to make visual materials available to individuals who are blind. Even though customers primarily accessed the website and app away from Domino's physical restaurants, the panel stated that the ADA applies to the services of a public accommodation, not services in a place of public accommodation. The panel stated that the website and app connected customers to the goods and services of Domino's physical restaurants.
The pizza chain then asked the Supreme Court to overrule the Ninth Circuit's opinion. In October of 2019, the Supreme Court opted not to hear the case, denying the company's petition and effectively upholding the court's opinion. That case is one of thousands that have emerged over the last few years — some including household names like Beyonce, many involving lesser-known defendants.
In order to achieve accessibility compliance with the ADA, we recommend comprehensive testing that uses human and artificial intelligence, like our four-point hybrid testing. Testing in this way in accordance with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) gives companies the best path toward ADA compliance by identifying and removing barriers that would constitute discrimination against web users with disabilities.
Some laws, like Section 508, require WCAG conformance already. While the DOJ has not yet identified WCAG as the formal technical standard for private businesses to comply with the ADA, they have reaffirmed that the ADA applies to websites. Knowing that the ADA covers websites and that WCAG conformance provides the clearest path to accessibility, we recommend that all businesses that have a publicly-available website test and fix their sites according to WCAG 2.1 specifications.