Ever since its passage in 1990, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) has helped people with disabilities in the US participate more fully in the public sphere, and that has increasingly included websites. The movement toward meeting accessibility guidelines and being digitally compliant with the ADA is critical for businesses to protect themselves legally and to ensure they’re meeting the needs of all their customers.
So when a company decides to prioritize accessibility from day one, or to remediate an existing website for accessibility, they’ve committed to making their website usable for people with disabilities. For companies to maintain that commitment, they need to avoid believing the myth that accessibility is a one-time fix — remaining ADA compliant and making sure a website stays accessible requires maintenance and regular accessibility checks.
What does an accessible website look like?
According to the CDC, roughly 25% of US adults have a disability. Many people with disabilities will interact with a website and consume its content in different ways and sometimes with different devices or assistive technologies, like screen readers. Therefore, a website needs to be built in a way that meets the needs of people with a variety of disabilities, including vision, hearing, mobility, cognitive, and others.
For a website to be accessible, content and interfaces must be perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust. The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) are centered on those four principles.
WCAG 2.1 and ADA compliance
The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) are by far the most popular and well-established standards for web accessibility. The most recent version of the WCAG standards, WCAG 2.1, was released in June 2018, and includes additional guidelines with an eye toward accessibility on mobile devices.
Because the ADA itself does not explicitly address web accessibility, it does not specify any particular accessibility standard. However, in ADA lawsuits, WCAG has repeatedly been cited as an acceptable metric of web accessibility. Due to its widespread use and endorsement, conforming to WCAG 2.1 A/AA (and maintaining that conformance) will position a company well for accessibility compliance.
We already fixed our site for accessibility — aren’t we finished?
Few things in this world remain unchanged and technology is certainly not one of them. Maintaining accessibility compliance requires upkeep and regular checks.
Developing new pages and products, or updating site navigation or functionality, should be triggers to test for accessibility. Companies should strongly consider setting a firm expectation that new pages or significant modifications can’t be published without ensuring accessibility standards are met.
Even if a website stays fairly static without frequent or major changes, it’s important to remember that websites and the content they host don’t exist in isolation — they’re hosted somewhere, they’re accessed through various browsers from many device types, and often accessed using assistive technology. As these technologies advance, or even as they undergo updates or patches, something that once worked and was quite accessible can become a barrier to information. The content and the methods and agents used to access it must continue to work well together for accessibility to be maintained.
How and when to perform ADA compliance checks
In addition to testing when major site updates are made, it may be a good idea to schedule periodic accessibility checks to make sure content stays compliant. The frequency of these regular checks will differ for each organization.
If the majority of the content on a website rarely changes, then semi-annual checkups every six months or so may be enough. On the other hand, if the content is dynamic or subject to frequent updates, then accessibility testing should be done at several points throughout the year. For example, our full manual audit package offers quarterly scans to help ensure our clients have the tools to achieve and maintain compliance.
While automated testing is never a replacement for full manual testing, running periodic automated scans of a website can offer a good idea of what’s changed over the last few months. If something new shows up that wasn’t found in previous tests, it’s a good indicator that further investigation should be done to determine its true accessibility impact.
Periodically testing for key use cases is also critical to making sure that key activities can be accomplished by all users.
Our website isn’t ADA compliant — now what?
If you’ve received a demand letter or realized that your website isn’t accessible — or you aren’t sure — start with a free 30-minute consultation. If you prefer to start with a more self-service approach, request a free and confidential website scan.
When you’re ready, talk to us about how we can help you achieve, maintain, and prove digital compliance.