Americans are becoming aware that their online presence needs to meet Americans with Disabilities Act Compliance (ADA), but what does this mean?

In short, ADA Compliance means that your website is as accessible as possible to Americans with a range of disabilities. If your website is not accessible, it makes it hard for those with disabilities to use your site. Additionally, you could be leaving yourself and your business vulnerable to a lawsuit.

The ADA

In September 2010, the U.S. Department of Justice published the Standards of Accessible Design, an update to the ADA that was first passed in 1990. These standards apply to commercial and public entities that have “places of public accommodation”. Recently, it has also been interpreted to include websites as well.

The law applies to:

  • Americans with disabilities and their friends, families, and caregivers
  • Private employers with 15 or more employees
  • All state and local government agencies (which includes both physical and programmatic access to all programs and services offered)
  • Businesses operating for the benefit of the public and non-profits (more specifically, “public accommodations and commercial facilities”)

The interpretation to include websites is the result of recent lawsuits where “public accommodation” has been extended to include non-physical locations, like websites. With this inclusion, the ADA has made it clear that we achieve the same level of accessibility online that disabled people are guaranteed by law offline.

What is unclear at this time is what the ADA considers as accessible website content for “public accommodation”. As it stands now, the ADA has stated that it will not finalize its standards for web accessibility until 2018 and will enforce ADA compliance on a case-by-case basis. So, this begs a question.

How do I comply with ADA standards?

While it is finalizing its rules to make and enforce accessibility in websites, the ADA encourages the use of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 (WCAG) as a guide on how to make your site accessible.

WCAG 2.0 was published in December, 2008 and became an official international standard for website accessibility in 2012. These guidelines were first established in 1999 through the work of Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) and the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C).

WCAG is organized as 12 guidelines under 4 principles (POUR):

  • Perceivable: Web content is made available to the senses – sight, hearing, and/or touch
  • Operable: Interface forms, controls, and navigation are operable
  • Understandable: Content and interface are understandable
  • Robust: Site should work in all environments

These guidelines and principles conform to WCAG compliance (success criteria) in one of three levels:

  • Level A (must satisfy): Does not meet ADA Compliance
  • Level AA (should satisfy): Does meet ADA Compliance. Makes sites accessible to people with a wider range of disabilities, including the most common barriers
  • Level AAA (may satisfy): Most demanding level of WCAG compliance. This level is not required as a target for ADA Compliance.

WCAG 2.0 Level AA guidelines will soon be incorporated by the federal government (Section 508) in January, 2018 and has already been adopted by numerous countries as their defacto accessibility standard. It is the current recommended target suggested by most.

If you want to be certain your website is in compliance, Wakefly can help. We can perform an audit of your online properties to help identify any violations that may exist. If you would like more information about ADA compliance, WCAG, or Web Accessibility in general, contact us here to help.