This guide focuses on website accessibility which is only a subset of ADA. Please refer to the official ADA website for information about the act.
Table of Contents:
What is the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)?
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) became law in 1990 to prevent discrimination against individuals with disabilities across various aspects of public life. The ADA has five titles (sections), each addressing different areas of public life. The five titles are:
- Title I: Employment
- Title II: State and Local Government
- Title III: Public Accommodations
- Title IV: Telecommunications
- Title V: Miscellaneous Provisions
ADA Title III specifically addresses businesses that are open to the public. Examples of public accommodations include:
- doctor's offices
- golf courses
- daycare centers
- sports stadiums
When must businesses comply with ADA for websites?
ADA does not explicitly mention websites and what the accessibility requirements are for websites. Even after several amendments in the more Web-oriented era, the ADA has no explicit mention of websites. This makes it complicated to say with 100% certainty which businesses are legally required to make their websites accessible.
Determining whether a business should make its website accessible is not straightforward. However, we can examine court decisions in past ADA website compliance lawsuits to gain insight into the matter. The number of ADA Title III lawsuits has been increasing in recent years. Based on the growing number of lawsuits and the guidance from the Department of Justice on Web Accessibility we can conclude that website accessibility is important for businesses to address.
According to the ADA web guidance: "...the Department has consistently taken the position that the ADA's requirements apply to all the goods, services, privileges, or activities offered by public accommodations, including those offered on the web."
ADA Website Requirements
Unlike for example the European Accessibility Act (EAA), the ADA has no detailed standards for website accessibility.
Businesses and state and local governments can currently choose how they will ensure that the programs, services, and goods they provide online are accessible to people with disabilities.
A good practice is therefore to make sure that a website adheres to the World Web Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), which is also referenced by the Web Guidance from the Department of Justice. WCAG provides detailed guidance on eliminating barriers for people with disabilities on websites. This ensures a more inclusive and accessible online experience for all users.
What are the WCAG requirements?
WCAG 2.2 is the latest version of the internationally recognized accessibility standard published by the W3C. WCAG has 13 guidelines that are organized under 4 principles which are Perceivable, Operable, Understandable, and Robust.
For each guideline there are several testable success criteria. Some of these success criteria are easier to meet than others which is why the success criteria are divided into levels A, AA, and AAA.
Meeting all the success criteria of Level AA is recommended for most businesses since it removes most barriers without excessive cost for organizations.
Some general principles for website accessibility are:
- Provide alternative text for media.
- Use descriptive and meaningful text for links, frames, pages, dialogs, inputs, etc.
- Ensure proper heading structure on web pages.
- Implement keyboard navigation functionality.
- Provide clear and concise error messages for forms.
- Ensure sufficient color contrast for readability.
- Include captions and transcripts for multimedia content.
- Design forms to provide enough context for every user, including those who use screen readers.
- Make interactive elements accessible to every user, including those who rely on input devices other than a mouse and/or keyboard.
How to Ensure ADA Compliance for Your Website?
In general, we recommend the following approach toward website accessibility:
- Basic understanding of website accessibility:
Those who contribute to the website of the organization should have a basic understanding of website accessibility. There are plenty of good resources on website accessibility. We recommend the free course from w3C.
- Use an Automated Accessibility Checker:
An automated accessibility checker helps quickly gain insights into the most common accessibility barriers on a website.
The ADA accessibility checker provides an excellent guide to fixing common accessibility issues. Some issues are easy to fix in a CMS and can be performed by people without technical expertise. Other issues are easy to fix by a web developer or web designer.
You can save a lot of time and money by fixing the easy accessibility issues yourself.
- Manual Accessibility Audit:
A lot of accessibility issues can be found automatically but not all of them. To make sure your website complies with ADA Title III you have to test the accessibility of your website with a manual audit.
You can consult an accessibility expert, or you can choose to educate yourself or your web developer to understand and implement accessibility best practices.
- Welcome feedback:
Allow individuals to submit feedback on the accessibility of your website. A good practice is to include an Accessibility Statement on your website. You can use the W3C Accessibility Statement Generator to create an Accessibility Statement. Add different methods to submit feedback in your accessibility statement.
- Conduct a usability test with people with disabilities:
To further improve the accessibility of your website it is important to test with people with disabilities.
- Monitor changes to your website:
Accessibility compliance is an ongoing process. Websites change over time. To make sure your website remains accessible it is crucial to monitor the accessibility. An Accessibility Monitor can help identify issues early on.
We discourage the use of Accessibility Overlay products, as many users with disabilities are dissatisfied with websites employing them, and some may go to the extent of blocking accessibility overlays entirely.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was written before the widespread digital era. There are therefore no hard requirements for website accessibility. Therefore we recommend reading the Web Guidance from the Department of Justice on website accessibility requirements according to ADA.
In general, it is recommended for every organization to make their website compliant with WCAG to remove barriers online for people with disabilities.