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Since 1990, the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) has enabled many people who need physical accommodations in the workplace and public establishments to access the required assistance.

The ADA is not limited to wheelchair-accessible ramps, bathroom facilities, and elevators instead of escalators. Accessibility and disability accommodation protocols also apply to websites. Web accessibility compliance encompasses optimizing color contrasts and choices for color-blind visitors, audio and video closed captioning for the hearing impaired, and much more.

Key takeaways:

  • ADA is law, and while not every website must adhere to the guidelines, it’s still best practice to be as accessible as possible.
  • Various tools are available to provide accessibility audits and suggested fixes.
  • Accessibility is dynamic. Technologies that help disabled people browse the internet are constantly improving. Your website should change and adjust accessibility measures along with them.

Which Websites Must Be Compliant?

The main organizations required to conform to ADA standards include some fairly obvious ones, namely state and local government agencies.

However, this also extends to any company operating for the public’s benefit and any private employers with 15 or more workers, including many small businesses.

Even if you aren’t directly required to follow ADA guidelines, it’s a good idea to use a website builder and prepare your page ahead of time rather than playing catch-up should your company grow or regulations expand.

It’s always in your best interest to ensure that as many people as possible can access your site and products.

What Happens if You Aren’t Compliant?

You may set yourself up for a lawsuit if you do not follow ADA guidelines on your website. Beyond making access difficult for large portions of the population, failing to accommodate disabled visitors can still affect smaller sites. Lawsuits can be filed against businesses of any type found violating the ADA, regardless of their size.

What Criteria Should You Use To Make Your Website ADA-compliant?

There are several questions to ask regularly when ensuring your site remains accessible and, by extension, ADA-compliant. This includes, but is not limited to, the following:

  • Is it operable?
  • Is it perceivable?
  • Is it robust?
  • Is it understandable?

The first step in improving your website’s accessibility is conducting a manual site audit. To do this properly, make sure that you include these four categories.

Is it operable?

Sites should be navigable via more than one method. This includes moving around your page using only a mouse or other pointing device. It also means the opposite, as visitors should still be able to use other navigation methods, such as a solo keyboard.

Is it perceivable?

For content to be accessible on your website, it must be perceivable by all users. This means that if there’s audio-exclusive content, it should be accompanied by a text transcript covering the same content.

All of your graphics should also be described in such detail users with vision problems can absorb the necessary information using an assistive device.

Is it robust?

Your site should still be operable and perceivable under changing environments. In other words, it needs to be compatible with software that reads the screen for a user.

It’s important to understand that the needs of your audience may shift over time, as well as the assistive technology utilized to browse your website; your content should be able to adapt to it without breaking.

Is it understandable?

For many sites, particularly those that provide crucial information, it’s important to ensure that all of your visitors can understand the content. Language should, whenever possible, be simple enough to convey your message clearly.

If you use a lot of jargon on your website ― which may, in some situations, be necessary ― make sure you provide definitions of any acronyms you use. As a general rule, it’s best not to abbreviate words, but rather to include the full version of the text.

What Tools Are Available for Checking for ADA-Compliance?

Accessibility testing tools can analyze your website quickly to determine whether it’s accessible to people with disabilities. The leading platforms are generally compatible with common standards, such as the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) that outline the basic elements of an accessible website.

Consider these accessibility testing tools:

  • WAVE is one of the biggest names in accessibility testing. It’s a free service offered to the community by WebAIM at Utah State University. WAVE has been available since 2001, which makes it one of the oldest continuously operating website accessibility testing tools.
  • TAW is a free website accessibility testing tool that accepts donations to help fund its services. While TAW was originally built for a Spanish-speaking audience, it’s also available in both English and Portuguese. TAW is as easy to use as any other accessibility testing tool — enter your website’s URL to generate an analysis. The platform uses the standard WCAG, including WCAG version 2.1.
  • aViewer is another free website accessibility testing tool that’s available on GitHub. Unfortunately, aViewer is currently limited to Windows, so macOS and Linux users need to look for another option. While aViewer’s GitHub page hasn’t been updated since 2017, the software is also linked to a platform called TPGi. TPGi offers more of a managed service that’s ideal for businesses and other organizations.
  • axe Monitor is a major accessibility testing platform that’s built for enterprise clients. It’s used by leading tech companies like Microsoft and Google, but there’s also a free browser extension for Chrome, Firefox, and Edge that’s ideal for small-scale users.
  • Tenon is another enterprise-level platform that’s built for teams and organizations. While axe at least offers a free extension, Tenon only offers a limited free trial — you have to pay for ongoing access to the platform. Tenon was acquired by Level Access in November 2021. Level Access is a web accessibility platform that focuses on giving organizations the tools they need to make their content more accessible. However, Tenon still has a distinct website and provides its contact information for customer support.

Hire an Accessibility Consultant

Accessibility can get complicated. As you’re busy growing your business, you may not want to risk getting all the intricate details wrong.

Hiring a professional to thoroughly audit your website makes sense if you want to offer the most robust accessibility possible. They can make expert recommendations about what changes your site requires to keep it accessible and functional.

Frequently Asked Questions About Web Accessibility Compliance

Are there any websites exempt from ADA compliance?

Legally speaking, the only websites required by law to follow ADA are government-related or government-funded, as well as businesses with 15 or more employees and/or who provide essential services.

It’s still a good idea to make your site ADA-compliant even if you’re not legally beholden. Such a move increases your audience and is just plain courteous to the disabled community.

Can a website ever be 100% ADA compliant?

Complete compliance is an honorable but perhaps unrealistic goal. A website can be more compliant or less compliant, and you should do your best when offering accessibility features for your disabled visitors. The ADA only requires “reasonable accommodations,” not perfect accommodations.

Are WordPress and Wix websites ADA-compliant?

WordPress themes are designed with accessibility in mind, and many third-party plug-ins and apps are available to make it even easier for disabled visitors to enjoy your website at full functionality.

Wix websites, however, cannot guarantee that their templates and tools are ADA-compliant.

In both instances, we still recommend you audit your website to ensure it meets accessibility guidelines. It will always be the most reliable way to keep up with current laws and assistive technologies.