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June 15, 2021
5 minutes

ADA Compliance Levels

Every website owner needs to know the basics of web accessibility and compliance levels are an important aspect of this. In this review, we will help you understand what the WCAG is as well as the different compliance levels it covers.

Many of today’s web accessibility articles include terms such as WCAG and ADA compliance without going into enough detail – or they simply don’t explain it clearly.

What about Level A and Level AA? What are the differences and how do they apply to your website? 

We’ve created this quick, easy-to-understand guide that explains the basics of web accessibility and what WCAG level you need to achieve to comply with local disability laws.

A Brief History of Digital Accessibility

We have come a long way in creating a world in which people with disabilities can enjoy and function within with ease.  Today we see individuals and businesses making an effort to incorporate intentional design, thoughtful considerations, and purposeful actions to allow website creators to successfully serve an audience with a diverse range of needs.

So how did the world arrive at the doorstep of digital accessibility? To understand that, we need to go back to the 1970s when the United States passed the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. In summary, this important act forbade any federal agencies and their contractors from discriminating against individuals through employment, financial assistance because of their disability, and importantly, technology.

Twenty years later, the United States passes the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which concentrates on accessibility in public spaces.

While you might immediately think of a classroom setting or a bathroom stall, the term public space includes the world wide web. It was not until 1999 that the WCAG first tackled the public space issue in a digital context by providing its first set of recommendations.

Understanding WCAG & the Compliance Levels

WCAG, or the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, are a series of guidelines that provide information about web accessibility. These guidelines, developed by the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), help give site owners clear instructions and information toward making their website meet compliance standards.

The WCAG is not all-encompassing concerning issues that users with disabilities face, but it generally covers most and is accepted internationally as a recognized standard.

Some countries have official legislation regarding digital accessibility that is derived from the WCAG guidelines. In the United States, under the American with Disabilities Act and Section 508 you need to ensure your website follows the WCAG guidelines, otherwise you are in risk of digital accessibility-related lawsuits.

Levels of Compliance

WCAG can easily be broken down and understood by four principles. These principles are:

Perceivable

Your website must be perceivable by users using one or more senses.

Operable

Your website must be navigable by users.

Compelling

Your website content must be understandable, readable, and easy to digest by visitors

Robust

You need to ensure that your website content works across all browsers.

The WCAG has thirteen guidelines that are independent from the four core principles. They have a rating between A, AA and AAA. These guidelines range from A (the lowest), to AA, and then on up to AAA (the highest). 

Out of all the ADA compliance levels, your site must be at least AA compliance. This means that you must comply with all guidelines for website accessibility levels.

  • To reach level A, there are 25 criteria your website must reach
  • In addition to the 25 criteria of level A, to reach level AA, your website will need to meet an additional 13 more criteria.
  • Level AAA is the top of the top, with 23 more criteria your website will need to meet.

How to Achieve WCAG and ADA Compliance Level AA

First thing is first, audit your website for free for accessibility issues. Our scanner will not only find the issues, it will also give simple explanations on the problems and multiple ways on how to solve it.

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You can also check out our article about the best automated solutions for accessibility in 2022.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What are the different levels of ADA compliance?

ADA compliance is divided into three different levels, starting with A, which means your website meets the basic requirements. Level AA is one up from this and it’s the level that most website owners should aim to achieve. Level AAA is the highest level but it’s not necessary for all sites to achieve this rating.

What is the difference between AA and AAA accessibility?

Where level AA indicates a website meets all the acceptable accessibility standards, level AAA means a site is accessible in every way possible. Instead of simply offering a good experience, an AAA-level site goes above and beyond. However, it’s perfectly acceptable for most sites to achieve level AA.

What does it mean that a Web page meets the conformance level AA of WCAG?

Meeting conformance level AA of WCAG means a site meets more than just the basic web accessibility criteria. Level AA indicates a website conforms to the additional requirements outlined in the updated version of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines.

What is the difference between Level A and Level AA?

To achieve level A, 25 WCAG criteria need to be met. Level AA has 13 additional requirements, some of which are related to color contrast, alternative text, form field labeling, status updates, and navigation elements.

What is AAA contrast?

AAA contrast refers to a minimum contrast ratio of 7:1 for normal text and 4.5:1 for any larger text. Larger text is anything over 18px or 14 points, this includes bold text.

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