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What Is An ADA Compliant Website?

Mar 23, 2024

A website complies with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) if it is reasonably accessible for people with disabilities. Of course, the phrase “reasonably accessible" is fairly subjective — but fortunately, there are widely recognized guidelines that you can use to test compliance.

Those guidelines are the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), which the Justice Department has recognized as a reasonable standard for ADA compliance. WCAG is also the basis of many international disability non-discrimination laws.

Below, we’ll answer a few common questions about testing websites for ADA compliance. We’ll also explain how accessibility can help your business grow its audience.

Why should I care about ADA compliance, anyway?

For starters, ADA compliance is mandatory. Title III of the ADA applies to “places of public accommodation,” and court cases have established that websites, mobile apps, and other digital products qualify as places of public accommodation.

Title III is primarily enforced through civil lawsuits, which can be expensive: According to one estimate, settling a single ADA lawsuit costs about $25,000 on average, and businesses can face multiple lawsuits at once. 

Federal law also allows for fines with maximums ranging from $55,000 to $75,000 per violation. Fines are reserved for cases investigated by the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division.

But let’s set aside the legal repercussions of non-compliance for a moment. Accessible websites work better for everyone and allows you to reach the 27% of U.S. adults who live with disabilities. Adopting WCAG opens up opportunities for your business, including better eCommerce metrics and better search engine positioning. Learn more about the business case for an accessible website.

What are the technical requirements for an ADA-compliant website?

The ADA was written way back in 1990, and it doesn’t have specific technical standards for websites or mobile apps. Eventually, Congress might clarify businesses' requirements, and the Justice Department is currently considering rules to establish WCAG as official standards for Title II of the ADA (which applies to government agencies). 

However, WCAG Level A/AA has been firmly established as a reasonable standard for accessibility — and numerous ADA lawsuits have cited WCAG standards to show that websites are not compliant with Title III. 

Related: Is There a Legal Requirement to Implement WCAG?

Are small business websites exempt from ADA compliance requirements?

No. Regardless of your business’s size, you must comply with Title III of the ADA. 

The size of your business and its profitability may affect legal arguments about undue hardships, which are accommodations that are unreasonably expensive. However, many web accessibility accommodations cost little or nothing to implement — and “undue hardship" exemptions aren’t easy to prove in a court of law. 

It’s also worth noting that even successful web accessibility lawsuit defenses carry a cost. Ideally, you want to avoid lawsuits and provide your audience with an excellent experience; following the best practices of WCAG will help you accomplish those goals. 

Related: Who Enforces Accessibility of Online and Digital Content?

How can I test my website for ADA compliance?

WCAG is divided into three levels of conformance: Level A (the least strict and most essential standards), Level AA, and Level AAA (the most strict standards). Websites that follow all Level A/AA standards of the most recent version of WCAG are in a great position for ADA compliance. 

To test your content, you’ll need to use a combination of methods:

  • Automated tests are performed by software. An automated test can evaluate a large amount of content quickly, but is limited to WCAG criteria with simple pass-or-fail rulesets.
  • Manual tests are performed by accessibility experts (ideally, people who have experience with screen readers and other assistive technologies). While manual tests are more time-consuming than automated tests, they’re essential for evaluating issues that require human judgment. 

By using both types of tests, you can audit against WCAG guidelines and fix (or remediate) barriers that affect your users. For additional guidance, read: How to Check WCAG Compliance: A Quick Guide.

Build an ADA compliant website for your business

A one-time accessibility audit can help you improve compliance with the ADA, but accessibility is a set of priorities — not a one-and-done project. You’ll need a long-term testing and remediation strategy for sustainable results.

Regardless of your organization’s budget, digital accessibility is achievable. AudioEye’s accessibility platform tests content for common accessibility barriers as the page loads, fixing some issues automatically. The platform also provides guidance for addressing problems that require human judgment — and industry-leading legal protection against frivolous lawsuits.

Learn more about AudioEye’s digital accessibility platform or schedule a free consultation with the Bureau of Internet Accessibility.

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

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