Creating an “ADA compliant” Website

Posted on Friday, 10 January 2020 by Marissa Sapega

It’s easy to see the ways the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) has helped people with disabilities navigate the world around them. Wheelchair ramps, curb cuts, accessible parking spaces sporting the bright blue wheelchair icon, and a generously sized public bathroom with handlebars next to the toilet are all building structure ADA compliance in action.

But did you know that the ADA also applies to digital content? According to the Department of Justice, websites are also considered “places of public accommodation.” That means it is just as critical for your website to meet the requirements of the ADA as it is for a structure and, therefore, can carry a similar legal risk if you don’t meet the requirements.

What does “ADA compliant” mean for websites??

You may have read about “ADA compliant websites” from a variety of sources, but I’m here to let you in on a little secret: “ADA website compliance” isn’t technically possible.

Mind. Blown. Right?? But how can this be? Read on…

First and foremost, understand that no language exists in the ADA that specifies “ADA compliance for websites.” That’s because when it was passed in 1990, the widespread use of the World Wide Web was still a decade away. This means that there is no such thing as an “ADA compliant website.” Nowhere in the ADA does it say how an organization can follow specific guidelines or regulations to ensure “ADA website compliance.”

In a nutshell, all this means is that when people use the term “ADA website compliance,” they aren’t technically correct. In order to have an ADA “compliant” website, there needs to be exact criteria that can be adhered to 100%, similar to those for buildings. No such exact criteria exist for accessible websites; therefore, while a building can be ADA compliant, a website cannot be.

If an ADA compliant website is impossible, what’s with all the lawsuits?

You’re probably wondering why website accessibility lawsuits have been skyrocketing as of late if there is no language in the ADA supporting “ADA compliant websites.” Well, for starters, while there may not be specific language in the ADA regarding website accessibility, the DOJ has reaffirmed that websites can be considered places of public accommodation under Title III and therefore need to be accessible to people with disabilities.

As recently as 2018, the DOJ wrote “The Department first articulated its interpretation that the ADA applies to public accommodations’ websites over 20 years ago” in a letter to Congressman Ted Budd, who had requested clarity on the issue.

How to ensure your website meets ADA requirements

I bet you’re sitting there reading this thinking, okay, you’ve convinced me. I’m game to make my organization’s website accessible to people with disabilities. But how do I actually make a website meet ADA requirements if it does not have criteria to adhere to?

Before we get into that, let’s take a step back. While there are no cut-and-dry rules for making an accessible website included in the ADA, there are what is known as “web accessibility standards.” These standards come in the form of Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). These guidelines are a series of success criteria that, when followed correctly, will help ensure that your digital content is accessible to people with various disabilities, such as visual, cognitive, hearing, and motor function. The tricky part is that the guidelines are just that: guidelines, so there is room for interpretation for how to implement them in real life.

Let’s see if I can guess what you’re thinking now. Is it I have no idea what WCAG is – all I want to know is how to make my website accessible to people with disabilities as quickly as possible? If that’s the case, then you’re in luck. While there are no perfect “website conformance checkers,” there are tools that give you ways to significantly improve website accessibility by identifying errors you can remediate. One such website accessibility testing tool, ARC Toolkit, is a free Chrome browser plugin that you can use for single-page website accessibility testing.

Another option is ARC Monitoring, our automated accessibility testing and monitoring solution. Both of these tools will help you scan for possible errors that would present a barrier to people with disabilities attempting to navigate and engage with your website.

Moreover, you can also employ a website accessibility checklist to help you get started on critical accessibility elements. Such a checklist will also help with keeping track of what remediation you’ve been able to accomplish and what still needs to be completed.

Do all websites have to be accessible to people with disabilities?

If it’s meant for public view? Then yes.

If you work for the Federal government or do business with the Federal government (in which case your organization would fall under Section 508), there is unambiguous language in the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 that allows no room for interpretation.

Websites, apps, and other digital content are not explicitly named in the ADA, which is why using the term “ADA compliant website” is even more inaccurate. Title III of the ADA requires “places of public accommodation” to be ADA compliant, but when the ADA was written this only referred to physical locations and building structural elements (e.g., bathroom stalls, accessible parking spaces, wheelchair ramps, etc.) so organizations could actually make their buildings comply with the ADA. However, as you’ve learned, the DOJ considers websites as places of public accommodation, which means any organization with an inaccessible website could potentially become the target of a messy and expensive lawsuit

Your free automated website accessibility test awaits

I bet by now the primary thought running through your head is still is my website ADA compliant? (You mean meet the requirements of the ADA right, right?) Never fear – TPG has the solution. Take our free website accessibility scan today to get a better understanding of how your site stacks up when it comes to web accessibility standards.

If you’re still unsure how to make a website accessible to people with disabilities, contact us today. And spread the word: “ADA compliant websites” don’t exist!


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