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ADA Compliance for Websites:
The Definitive Guide (2022)

Danny Trichter
Author
| Last updated: September 2022 | 5 minutes
ADA Compliance for Websites: <br>The Definitive Guide (2022)

We hope it didn’t take a lawsuit to land you here.

Whatever the case, we’re here to help you learn about ADA compliance for websites and how to make your website ADA compliant.

In this comprehensive guide, we cover:

  • What web accessibility and ADA compliance are
  • The rise in web accessibility lawsuits and why websites must comply with the ADA
  • How to make your website ADA compliant and protected from legal action

Let’s dive in.

What is ADA Compliance?

ADA compliance is the responsibility businesses must take to better serve customers and employees who have disabilities.

This means making “reasonable modifications” for customers to access their premises and accommodating disabled employees so they can perform their jobs without design limitations. 

 

 

What is the ADA?

The ADA  is a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination based on disability.

The ADA gives similar protection to the differently-abled community that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 gave to people of different races, genders, and religions.

What is the ADA Title III?

Title III of the ADA deals with how businesses help differently-abled visitors access their places of public accommodation.

That’s why you see wheelchair ramps in movie theatres and brail on elevator buttons.

Understanding how building design can help or hinder access to ‘physical sites’ is pretty straightforward. But what about websites?

Does the law consider them as places of public accommodation?

Chapter 2:

Are Websites Covered Under Title III of the ADA?

Are Websites Covered Under Title III of the ADA?

In this chapter, we answer a big concern website owners have – Are websites also covered under Title 3 of the ADA? 

Spoiler alert: Yes, they are. 

We also examine the ADA requirements for websites, the wave of ADA / web accessibility-related lawsuits, and how ambulance-chasing lawyers found a niche that is very profitable for them but problematic for you.

Let’s begin.

What is a ‘Place of Public Accommodation?

According to adata.org:

“A public accommodation is a private entity that owns, operates, leases, or leases to, a place of public accommodation. Places of public accommodation include a wide range of entities, such as restaurants, hotels, theaters, doctors’ offices, pharmacies, retail stores, museums, libraries, amusement parks, private schools, and day care centers. Private clubs and religious organizations are exempt from the ADA’s title III requirements for public accommodations.”

Nothing about websites there… 

What’s the DOJ’s Stance on the Matter?

The United States Department of Justice—the DOJ—is a federal executive department of the United States government tasked with enforcing federal law and administering justice in the United States.

In short—they enforce the ADA.

How Does the DOJ View Websites?

The following is a letter the DOJ sent to Congress dated September 25, 2018, addressing and clarifying the organization’s views on whether or not websites are included in Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

US department of justice letter to congress regarding ADA compliance and web accessiblity

“The Department first articulated its interpretation that the ADA applies to public accommodations’ websites over 20 years ago. This interpretation is consistent with the ADA’s…requirement that the goods, services, privileges, or activities provided by places of public accommodation be equally accessible to people with disabilities.”  

 

Verdict: Despite the lack of clear regulations, this letter supports the DOJ’s stance—that websites should be considered places of public accommodation.

Is there a Precedent?

ADA compliance cases roll in daily, but let’s look at some famous examples.  

One of the most well-known cases, Robles v. Domino’s Pizza Inc., in 2019, found the pizza chain giant subject to the regulations under Title III regarding their website and mobile applications.

 Dominos pizza sued for breaching ADA website compliance

This landmark case set a larger trend for other lawsuits regarding web technologies.

Other companies like Netflix, Amazon and even superstar Beyonce have all spent millions of dollars fighting digital accessibility suits. 

The more these big-name companies experience suits, the more media attention they get—leading to more discourse and attention for accessibility lawsuits.

Beyonce failed to comply with ADA compliance website accessibility

Stats:

In 2013, 2,722 Title III lawsuits were filed in federal courts. By 2021, that number had increased to 11,452.

This significant rise in cases is due to the influx of lawsuits regarding digital accessibility.

ADA compliance lawsuits stats - Graph

No industry is particularly safe. According to a report from Usable Net, a wide variety of industries were targeted in ADA web and application lawsuits in 2021. However, E-commerce websites are particularly vulnerable:

– E-commerce – 74%

– Other industries – 26%

 ADA Compliance E-commerce lawsuits vs other industries

 

What If Your Website is Not Accessible / ADA Title III Compliant?

Websites that fail to comply with the ADA website accessibility guidelines are perfect candidates for ambulance-chasing law firms that make a lot of money suing website owners. 

The average settlement cost following a website accessibility demand letter is $5000, with some companies reporting lawsuits that result in up to $20,000 in settlement costs.

Screenshot of ADA compliance demand letter

Are you an easy target for these lawsuits?

Accessibility Checker

Scan your website for accessibility related issues for free

Chapter 3:

Step by Step: How to Make Your Website Accessible & ADA Compliant

Step by Step: How to Make Your Website Accessible & ADA Compliant

Now that you have a basic understanding of ADA website accessibility, it’s time to get technical.

What does it actually mean to make our website accessible? And to whom exactly?

This chapter covers all of that.. and then some.

Digital vs. Physical Space

Historically, the places the ADA names as “places of public accommodation” are all physical places: Theaters, museums, restaurants, etc.

When a restaurant or theater owner designs their building, they need to consider adding accessible ramps, as in the picture below.

accessible ramp

And an accessible toilet:

accessible toilet

But interacting with the internet is different.

A person who needs a wheelchair can often use the internet just like a non-disabled person does.

Who do we need to make our website accessible for?

Think about how you interact with the internet.

Eyes

You use your eyes for viewing the screen. People who have visual impairments need assistance accessing your website. These include:

People who are color blind:

Color blindness explained through a photo showing same image but divided into two - Once it shows how a regular eye would see it and the other part is how a color blind person would see it

People who are totally blind:

Blind woman typing on braille keyboard

People who have other visual impairments:

Tunnel vision:

Tunnel vision

Central loss vision:

Central loss vision

Low vision:

Old lady with vision impairment surfing the web

 

Ears

You use your ears to hear videos and audio. People with auditory impairments need assistance accessing your website. These include:

People who are hard of hearing:

Kid with hearing aid

Hands

You use your fingers to type. People with physical impairments need assistance accessing your website. These include:

People who are differently-abled and use different devices to type:

sip and puff device

Man with motor impairment using a stick to type

 

Cognition

You use your cognitive processes to understand the information that is displayed on the screen. People with cognitive impairments need assistance accessing your website. These include:

People who have seizures, ADHD and other forms of cognitive disabilities:

a girl fainting from seizure and another last holding her

A man with autism using the web with the help of a woman

 

WCAG: The Accessibility Standard for ADA compliance

The DOJ has frequently referenced the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 level AA as the web accessibility standard to follow to become ADA compliant.

It’s unlikely that a WCAG 2.0 level AA compliant site would be sued for lack of accessibility.

What is the WCAG?

The WCAG is a series of guidelines that provide information about web accessibility.

The guidelines (reaching a staggering 80+page count) give site owners clear instructions toward making their website accessible to people with disabilities.

WCAG - The definitive guide

A WCAG & ADA Title III Checklist

WCAG’s guidelines can be complicated at first glance. When broken down and put very simply, the requirements are solved by performing a few basic actions.

Let’s take a closer look.

1.Add an accessibility interface to your site

An accessibility interface allows visitors to adjust the website’s design and user interface elements to fit their individual needs or disability. Example use cases of an accessibility interface include: 

  • ADHD-friendly functions: Reduce distractions to allow individuals with neurodevelopmental disorders to ingest website content more easily.   
  • Visually impaired functions: Allow for larger text, contrast, and careful use of colors
  • Cognitive disability functions: Help users with cognitive disabilities like autism and dyslexia to focus and understand essential website elements

The easiest way to add an accessibility interface to your website is to purchase a ready-made solution such as accessiBe. Using one line of code, you can apply a custom interface to your site and start complying with ADA Title III regulations.

accessibe user interface

2. Add text alternatives to your site

Visually impaired users use screen readers to better understand the content on a site. For screen readers to work on your site, adding text alternatives to non-text elements is important.

This is because images and other media help tell a story on your site. 

For example, some images might explain places and things, display your product, or contribute to your website content’s overall contextualization and understanding. 

Adding alt tags to your images and text transcripts to video files makes those elements easier to understand. 

Clearly labeling your forms and any input fields works hand-in-hand with screen readers. 

A woman holding a blue bag with bird and flower patches served as ornaments. The bag is on sale, 30% discount.

For example, the alternative text for the above image should say something along these lines: A woman holding a blue bag with bird and flower patches served as ornaments. The bag is on sale, 30% discount.

3. Make your site easy to navigate

Since not every user who comes to your website has full motor function, it’s essential to evaluate your site’s layout and navigation functionality.

 

Man with motor impairment

Those with motor impairments deserve equal access to navigating the internet, including your website. Certain navigational tools can be implemented to allow for ease of movement. These include: 

  • Using specific keyboard keys like Tab, Shift+Tab, and the Enter keys for specific purposes on the website
  • On-screen keyboard availability for individuals unable to use a computer mouse 
  • Shortcuts such as “M” (menus), “H” (headings), “F” (forms), “B” (buttons), and “G” (graphics) allow users to access
    specific elements of your website more quickly and easily
  • Faster navigation techniques enable users to access any important page with a click

Other steps that you can take to make your site easier to use are:

  • Ensure your navigation menu is consistent across all pages.
  • Use the correct header tags on every page to highlight a content hierarchy and make the content easier to understand overall.

Get a Free Website Scan & See Where Your Business Stands

Learn where your business is vulnerable and what you will need to change to meet ADA Title III regulations. 

If it turns out that your website has accessibility issues, the good news is now you know about it! Our checker also tells you exactly how to fix each problem.

Accessibility Checker

Scan your website for accessibility related issues for free

Chapter 4

Summary

Summary

We hope you enjoyed our guide.

Now, one question remains about website accessibility and compliance: Where does your business stand?

Thanks to technological advancements and semi-automated solutions, achieving ADA Title 3 compliance has never been easier.

Thankfully, your business’s compliance journey will protect you legally and open your business to an entirely new world of users, innovative practices, opportunities, and more.

So what are you waiting for?

Frequently Asked Questions

What is ADA compliant?

To be ADA compliant means your website meets the requirements and standards laid out in Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The Americans with Disabilities Act aims to ensure that anyone can access and enjoy online content, products, and services regardless of ability.

What qualifies as an ADA disability?

An ADA disability is any type of physical or mental impairment that limits day-to-day activities. This includes, but is not limited to:

• Deafness

• Blindness

• Epilepsy

• Intellectual disabilities

• Missing limbs

• Mobility impairments

• OCD

• Autism

• Cerebral palsy

• Muscular dystrophy

When was the ADA passed?

Signed into law in 1990 by former President George Bush, the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) has officially been around for over 30 years. The act aims to increase access and opportunities for people living with disabilities across their personal and professional lives.

How to apply for ADA protection?

To apply for ADA protection, you need to prove that you have an impairment that would limit or restrict you from performing day-to-day activities. In terms of job discrimination, employees need to be qualified to perform specific duties or functions to benefit from ADA protection.

What is ADA accommodations?

ADA accommodations refer to any changes that are made to the hiring process, working environment, or job performance requirements that allow a qualified person living with disabilities to perform essential duties associated with their position. An accommodation is considered reasonable if it does not disrupt or threaten a disabled employee’s job.

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Ivanka
Ivanka
1 month ago

Wow! Just realized that my website has only 24% accessibility. Great article and advices. Thanks!

Tetiana
Tetiana
1 month ago

A very intuitive and helpful guide!

Rachel
Rachel
28 days ago

Thank you for this article. My Web Design and UX students will be doing an assignment based on the info here. I’m hoping to teach a new wave of web designers who care about the accessibility of their sites!

Julia Davis
Julia Davis
2 hours ago

This was a very informative blog and I really enjoyed reading it.

The evolution of the internet has shifted the relationship between publishers and consumers to a new level and by seeing the growth of websites and their users across the globe, webmasters need to make their services accessible to their consumers.

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