The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires certain businesses to make accommodations for people with disabilities. These requirements are now applied to websites due to their interpretation as “places of public accommodation.” In order for your business to avoid a fine, it is important that you understand what updates need to be made and how to take action. This article provides an explanation of ADA compliance, as well as a checklist of updates you should be making.
Unfortunately, an ADA Website Compliance checklist doesn’t exist. The term ‘compliant’ is still up for interpretation, and differs for each website based on the types of content and functionality found within the site; however, most US courts and the Department of Justice routinely refer to the Website Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 (WCAG), set by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), as the measuring stick for determining website compliance. There are three different levels of WCAG conformance – A, AA, and AAA.
WCAG 2.0 was released 10 years ago and contains guidelines for web accessibility broken out into four pillars – perceivable, operable, understandable and robust. Back in June of 2018, WCAG released the updated 2.1 guidelines. These do not replace the guidelines detailed in version 2.0, but adds to them. For the most part, version 2.1 dictates guidelines for mobile accessibility. In total, version 2.0 and 2.1 account for 78 guidelines on website accessibility – 30 for level A, 20 for level AA, 28 for level AAA.
Following the WCAG guidelines ensures that your website is not solely dependent on audio or video elements as the only methods to distribute content, emphasizing the need for text alternatives. They also place a considerable focus on eliminating the use of different text colors as the only means for distinguishing important information. These website changes will make it easier for individuals with hearing and vision disabilities to digitally interact with your company and software.
Despite there being three levels, ADA requires that organizations comply with level AA WCAG guidelines. You might be wondering why level A exists if level AA is the requirement. The first reason is that, outside the US, level A compliance is satisfactory for most countries and websites. For companies located in the US, level AA guidelines need to be your eventual goal. For certain small businesses, achieving level AA requirements might not be immediately possible, either because of money, time or availability. If that is the case, then level A standards should be your company’s first priority. For larger, more mature businesses, you really need to make sure that you’re meeting level AA requirements in order to avoid a fine. Making these changes benefit the company just as much as the customer – after all, you wouldn’t want someone to avoid doing business with your company just because they can’t interact with you online.
To help clarify what’s required for each level, we’ve outlined the guidelines for each classification below, along with a brief description.