Before downloading our website ADA compliance checklist, please take a moment to understand the background and chronology regarding the ADA’s efforts to make websites compliant and accessible to all individuals, regardless of disabilities.

  1. In December of 2008, the WC3 published the WCAG 2.0 Web Content Accessibility Guidelines which the ADA began to look to as they began formulating their own website compliance rules.
  2. Two years later, in July of 2010, the Department of Justice issued an ANPRM (Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking) regarding title III website accessibility.
  3. We waited 7 years for those rules, but then in late December 2017, the Department of Justice withdrew that ANPRM regarding ADA website compliance. Why? The Federal Register’s website says that further review and analysis were required to evaluate the matter. However, casual conversations in 2018 with Department of Justice representatives revealed that the effort to establish clear standards for ADA website compliance got snagged political roadblocks (does that surprise you?) and a lack of consensus.
  4. In June of 2018, the W3C updated their Web Content Accessibility Guidelines to version 2.1. Refer to this article to learn about the differences between the two versions (2.0 and 2.1.).

As we look ahead to January 2019, the Americans with Disabilities Act does not currently include clear written requirements for making a website ADA compliant, only recommendations. We had difficulty finding an actual law. Until a consensus is reached in Washington on what should be included and enforced under ADA law, the Civil Rights Division at the Department of Justice continues to defer to the W3C’s WCAG guidelines. The language surrounding website ADA compliance is instructive, yet loose. The ADA “recommends” that all website owners make their best effort to abide by level AA of the WCAG 2.0 (the W3C’s Web Content Accessibility Guidelines). Yet we continue to see a steady stream of lawsuits being won against unsuspecting companies.

Since today, no clear laws exist for ADA website compliance, it is unlikely that the ADA or Department of Justice itself will come after your business if your website does not comply with WCAG guidelines. However, representatives from ADA.gov said that the lack of clear ADA written law has not stopped private litigants from filing suit — and winning, in many cases — against companies that have not made an effort to make their websites comply with WCAG 2.0 guidelines.

So now that you understand the background and history, if you’d like to download our website ADA compliance checklist, do it here:

 

Examples of Lawsuits Filed for Lack of ADA Compliant Websites

According to UserWay, a company that provides a free widget to help websites become more ADA compliant, there have been “hundreds of lawsuits” and “thousands of demand letters” generated against companies whose websites lack the tools which make them more accessible to people with disabilities. Recent examples include Ace Hardware, Aeropostale, Bed Bath & Beyond, Estee Lauder, JC Penny, Home Depot, PeaPod, and Patagonia. In late 2017, we saw McDonald’s, Kmart, Grubhub, Empire Today

Observations About These Lawsuits:

  • Most of the recently sued companies from the above example are large, well-known brands
  • Most of these suits are coming from private lawyers representing visually impaired individuals
  • The next wave will most likely be against small and mid-sized businesses because they are easy targets

But Wait — Do Small Businesses Have to Abide By the Guidelines to Make Websites ADA Compliant?

  • Although certain parts of the ADA do not apply to small businesses with fewer than 15 employees, the recommendations to make websites ADA compliant do. ADA website compliance guidelines are independent of business size. Therefore, if you are a small business owner, you might want to take steps now to make your website ADA compliant.

What Are the WCGA Levels?

WCAG 2.0 and 2.1 guidelines are categorized into three levels of conformance: A (lowest), AA (medium), and AAA (strictest). The three levels relate to the impact they have on design and visual appearance. The higher the level, the more restrictive it is likely to be on design. Implementing most Level A guidelines is easy and not expensive. There’s almost no excuse why any website should not be compliant with at least some of the WCAG 2.1 Level A standards.

Level AA adds some practical recommendations that might take a little more effort to implement. Examples of Level AA recommendations include:

  • making text more readable by forcing line-heights to at least 1.5 em, paragraph spacing to at least 2em, and increasing letter and word spacing (sometimes called kerning or tracking)
  • improving non-text contrast: for example, making borders around text input boxes stand out better
  • adding audio descriptions for pre-recorded video content
  • adding status messages: for example, providing confirmations when items are added to a cart or when a meeting is successfully added to a calendar

Finally, Level AAA guidelines include adding things like:

  • sign language to video
  • form input error descriptions
  • ability to resize text up to 200%, etc.

For more information, please see the WC3’s Quick Reference Guide regarding how to meet the WCAG 2 recommendations.

Aside from UserWay’s ADA Compliance Accessibility Widget, Are There Other Ways to Make a Website More Accessible to Disabled Individuals?

Yes. You might image from the sudden surge in lawsuits that many developers and entrepreneurs are creating solutions to help business owners make their websites comply with ADA recommendations and W3C guidelines. If you have a WordPress site, here are some alternatives to the UserWay ADA Compliance Accessibility Widget that you might want to explore: https://speckyboy.com/wordpress-plugins-website-accessibility/  Note: Clear Lake Marketing does not recommend or endorse any one particular ADA compliance solution and does not offer legal advice.

The 70/25/5 Rule

Concerning ADA website compliance checklists, plugins, and widgets, none will make your website fully ADA compliant. We like to look at ADA website compliance through a “70/25/5″ lens:

  • Many plugins and developer solutions — even the free ones — will help your website achieve about 70% compliance with either the WCGA’s A or AA levels.
  • The next 25% you can accomplish by applying common sense, courtesy, and website development best practices. This includes validating your code, closing all element tags, simplifying the grammar and syntax of your text so it is more readable, providing transcripts for video that can be read aloud with a page reader, and making sure all images have relevant <alt> tags. If your site has PDF downloads, then you’ll need to make the PDF’s readable by a screen reader or post them in an alternative text-based format, such as HTML or RTF (Rich Text Format). Text-based formats are the most compatible with assistive technologies.
  • The final 5% you may never accomplish, nor may you need to, given the stratification of WAGC Levels of conformity. Some Level AAA guidelines are difficult, cost-prohibitive, or impractical to implement on websites, and it’s unclear whether the ADA will ever require all Level AAA guidelines once the Access Board gets around to making laws regarding website compliance. Examples of Level AAA guidelines that might be difficult for some implement? Having a sign language translator appear in all video and disabling website animations.

Future Predictions Regarding ADA Website Compliance

The author of this article is not a lawyer, Clear Lake Marketing does not provide legal advice, and no part of this article be should confused for legal advice. However,

  • It is clear that the DoJ will continue their push to define laws that support equal access to all websites by all people, including those with disabilities. Given what’s happening in our government, that might take some time.
  • It is also likely that as more lawsuits are won by private litigants representing disabled individuals or groups, more lawsuits are likely to surface, and many businesses with websites will become targets regardless of their size.

Download Our ADA Website Compliance Checklist

Here’s a handy checklist summary of things to keep in mind when making your website ADA compliant. It is not an exhaustive list, but it should give you an idea of what the ADA is expecting of you:

Conclusion

Complying with accessibility guidelines recommended by the W3C and supported by the ADA is highly recommended. It is only a matter of time before many of the W3C recommendations regarding ADA website compliance become law. In the meantime, many companies have been sued or issued demand letters from private litigants preying on businesses whose websites do not offer equal access to those with disabilities. Contact us if you would like help making your website more ADA compliant.

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Disclaimer

The author of this article and downloadable checklist is not a lawyer and is not attempting to give you legal advice. Clear Lake Marketing does not provide legal advice, and no part of this article should be confused for legal advice.

Last updated December 3, 2018