Website accessibility is no longer a recommendation, but a mandatory condition in the 21st century. Every organization must be aware of the ADA requirements as creating an ADA compliant accessible website will help you build successful business and protect you from possible lawsuits.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was enacted in 1990 when the Web was not as commonly used as at the present time. Then why do we constantly hear about lawsuits over discrimination against individuals with disabilities related to website accessibility? Even though the ADA that manages accessibility in the States doesn’t directly mention websites, the courts have interpreted Title III of the ADA to be applied to websites. Nowadays, with the fast growth of internet use, websites are considered as places of public accommodation.

Another law, that was conceived to eliminate barriers in information technology, is Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which was enacted in 1998.

Do the ADA accessibility requirements for websites exist?

ADA requirements may be hard to find as there are no clear ADA regulations that point out what kind of web design specifically complies with the law. That doesn’t mean businesses can ignore it, though. The ADA is a strict liability law and that implies zero tolerance for violations. Creating an accessible website for users with disabilities has become mandatory.

“I want to make sure that my website is ADA compliant. What do I do?”

As mentioned before, there are no clear definitions or official ADA accessibility requirements, however, you can still get on track and move towards ADA website compliance by following certain rules.

WCAG to the rescue! But, what is WCAG?

There are web accessibility guidelines that were developed by the Web Accessibility Initiative of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). W3C is the main international standards organization for the World Wide Web. It was founded in 1994 and is currently led by Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the WWW.

Since the ADA doesn’t set any specific website accessibility requirements, most companies follow the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). This is not a legal prescription, but courts often refer to it as the standard guidelines. Furthermore, updated and reorganized Section 508 Standards Guidelines harmonize web accessibility requirements with WCAG 2.0. And, if we check lawsuits or previous Title III website actions, the conclusion is clear and obvious: creating or updating your website in conformance with WCAG 2.0 AA is the best course to pursue.

What does “2.0” mean? There are three versions of the accessibility guidelines: 1.0, 2.0, and 2.1. Although the latest standard is 2.1, courts still use 2.0 which was updated in 2008 as the reference because the 2017 refresh of Section 508 requires federal agencies to adopt WCAG 2.0 standards for web accessibility. There are also three levels of conformance in this accessibility guideline: “A” meets the minimum level of accessibility, “AA” meets the target level, and agrees with legal requirements, while “AAA” exceeds accessibility requirements.

A simplified version of ADA accessibility requirements – Based on WCAG 2.0

To understand the main ADA requirements here is a simple and concise list. It doesn’t include all the information developed and published by W3C, but it’s a good starting point for remediating your website.

It might be hard to go through all the points carefully, but it’s doable and totally worth your time.

WCAG 2.0 is divided into four sections based on its four main principles.

A person presenting ADA and WCAG compliant website design next the shield icon

Principle 1. Perceivable – It implies that the information and user interface components must be presentable to users in ways they can perceive.

  • 1.1 Text Alternatives:
    • 1.1.1 Text alternatives for any non-text content (with several exceptions). (Level A)
  • 1.2 Time-based Media:
    • 1.2.1 Audio and video alternatives. Text transcript as an equivalent to what is presented visually. Transcripts labeled and linked below the media content. (Level A)
    • 1.2.2 Accurate closed captions for media content. (Level A)
    • 1.2.3 Audio description of the video content, or, all of the information in the synchronized media in text form. (Level A)
    • 1.2.4 Live captions for any live media content. (Level AA)
    • 1.2.5 Audio description for all prerecorded video content. (Level AA)
    • 1.2.6 Sign language interpretation for all prerecorded audio content in synchronized media. (Level AAA)
    • 1.2.7 Additional audio description for all prerecorded video content. (Level AAA)
    • 1.2.8 Alternatives for time-based media for all prerecorded synchronized media and for all prerecorded video-only media. (Level AAA)
    • 1.2.9 Live audio accessible through the use of a text alternative. (Level AAA)
  • 1.3 Adaptable:
    • 1.3.1 Information, structure, and associations between content parts conveyed through presentation can be programmatically determined or are available in text. (Level A)
    • 1.3.2 Meaningful order and sequence so that content is read properly. (Level A)
    • 1.3.3 Sensory characteristics. Do not rely solely on sensory characteristics of components such as shape, size, visual location, orientation, or sound. (Level A)
  • 1.4 Distinguishable:
    • 1.4.1 Color is not the only visual means of conveying information, so no need to rely on color alone, it is not that important. (Level A)
    • 1.4.2 Audio control. Audio must have a mechanism to be paused, stopped, or muted. (Level A)
    • 1.4.3 Color contrast ratio must be at least 4.5:1 between the text and background, and at least 3:1 for large-scale text. (Level AA)
    • 1.4.4 Except for captions and images of text, the text must be capable of being resized up to 200% without loss of content or functionality. (Level AA)
    • 1.4.5 Images of text are not used unless it is necessary. (Level AA)
    • 1.4.6 Contrast (Enhanced). Text and images of text have a contrast ratio of at least 7:1. Large-scale text and images have a contrast ratio of at least 4.5:1. (Level AAA)
    • 1.4.7 Low or no background audio. (Level AAA)
    • 1.4.8 Visual presentation of text block. A mechanism to achieve the following: foreground and background colors are selected by the user; width is no more than 80 characters or glyphs (40 if CJK); text is not justified (aligned to both the left and the right margins); line spacing (leading) is at least space-and-a-half within paragraphs, paragraph spacing – at least 1.5 times larger than the line spacing; text is resized without assistive technology up to 200% in a way that doesn’t require the user to scroll horizontally to read a line of text on a full-screen window. (Level AAA)
    • 1.4.9 Images of text (no exception). They are only used for pure decoration or where a particular presentation of text is essential. (Level AAA)

Principle 2. Operable – It implies that user interface components and navigation must be operable.

  • 2.1 Keyboard Accessible:
    • 2.1.1 Keyboard only, no mouse. Everything on the website is capable of being controlled by a keyboard only. (Level A)
    • 2.1.2 No keyboard trap. There must not be any parts of the website where keyboard-only users may get stuck up. (Level A)
    • 2.1.3 Keyboard (no exception). All content is operable from the keyboard. (Level AAA)
  • 2.2 Enough Time:
    • 2.2.1 Timing adjustable. With any time limits on a website, users are able to turn it off, adjust or extend it. (Level A)
    • 2.2.2 Moving, blinking, scrolling, or auto-updating information have the ability to pause, stop, or hide. (Level A)
    • 2.2.3 No timing. The only exception is for real-time events. (Level AAA)
    • 2.2.4 Interruptions can be postponed or turned off by the user except in emergencies. (Level AAA)
    • 2.2.5 Re-authenticating. When an authenticated session expires, the user continues the activity without loss of data after re-authenticating. (Level AAA)
  • 2.3 Seizures:
    • 2.3.1 Three flashes or the flash is below the general and the red flash thresholds. (Level A)
    • 2.3.2 Three Flashes. Nothing on the website flashes more than three times in any one second period. (Level AAA)
  • 2.4 Navigable:
    • 2.4.1 Bypass blocks. Skip links are available to let the users bypass the heading and go directly to the main content. (Level A)
    • 2.4.2 Page is titled with a description of the topic or purpose. (Level A)
    • 2.4.3 Focus order. Navigating through a website is in a logical, meaningful and sequential order. (Level A)
    • 2.4.4 Link purpose (In Context). Making the purpose of each link understandable. Providing link text that identifies the purpose of the link without needing additional context. (Level A)
    • 2.4.5 Multiple ways available to locate and navigate a website. (Level AA)
    • 2.4.6 Headings and labels describe topic or purpose. (Level AA)
    • 2.4.7 Focus visible. Any keyboard operable user interface has a mode of operation where the keyboard focus indicator is visible. (Level AA)
    • 2.4.8 Location. Information about the user’s location within a set of web pages is available. (Level AAA)
    • 2.4.9 Link purpose (Link Only). The purpose of each link is identified from link text alone, except where the purpose of the link is ambiguous to users in general. (Level AAA)
    • 2.4.10 Section headings organize the content. (Level AAA)

Principle 3. Understandable – It implies that information and the operation of user interface must be understandable.

A person standing next to a shield, magnifier and monitor with visually impaired friendly design

  • 3.1 Readable:
    • 3.1.1 Language of the page. An option for setting the language for the website. (Level A)
    • 3.1.2 Language of parts. The language for each passage or phrase in the content can be programmatically determined. (Level AA)
    • 3.1.3 Unusual words. A mechanism for identifying specific definitions of words or phrases, including idioms and jargon. (Level AAA)
    • 3.1.4 Abbreviations. A mechanism for identifying the expanded form or meaning of abbreviations and acronyms. (Level AAA)
    • 3.1.5 Reading level. Content is written as clearly and simply as possible. Supplemental content, or a version that doesn’t require reading ability more advanced than the lower secondary education level, is available. (Level AAA)
    • 3.1.6 Pronunciation. When words are ambiguous or indeterminate unless the pronunciation is known, then providing a mechanism of determining the pronunciation is necessary. (Level AAA)
  • 3.2 Predictable:
    • 3.2.1 On focus. No focus change; a user must actively choose to activate an item before applying any change. (Level A)
    • 3.2.2 No input change. For example, form is not automatically submitted when all fields are filled out. (Level A)
    • 3.2.3 Consistent navigation. Navigation layout that is repeated on multiple web pages is consistent. (Level AA)
    • 3.2.4 Consistent identification. Components with the same functionality within a set of web pages are identified consistently. (Level AA)
    • 3.2.5 Change on request. Users have full control of changes of context. (Level AAA)
  • 3.3 Input Assistance:
    • 3.3.1 Error identification. Any errors are easy to identify, understand, and correct. The error is described to the user in text. (Level A)
    • 3.3.2 Labels or instructions must be provided when content requires any user input. (Level A)
    • 3.3.3 Error suggestions provided for correcting if an input error is automatically detected. (Level AA)
    • 3.3.4 Error prevention (legal, financial, data). For the pages that cause legal commitments or financial transactions one of the following is true: 1) submissions are reversible, 2) data entered by the user is checked and the user has an opportunity to correct them, 3) reviewing, confirming, and correcting information before finalizing the submission are available. (Level AA)
    • 3.3.5 Context-sensitive help. (Level AAA)
    • 3.3.6 Error prevention. If the web page requires to submit information, at least one of the following must be true: submissions are reversible; data entered by the user is checked for input errors and the user is provided an opportunity to correct them; a mechanism is available for reviewing, confirming, and correcting information before finalizing the submission. (Level AAA)

Principle 4. Robust – It implies that content must be robust enough that it can be interpreted reliably by a wide variety of user agents, including assistive technologies.

  • 4.1 Compatible:
    • 4.1.1 Parsing. Make sure that elements have complete start and end tags, they are properly nested, elements do not contain duplicate attributes, and any IDs are unique, except where the specifications allow these features. (Level A)
    • 4.1.2 Name, role, value: For all user interface components, the name and role can be programmatically determined; states, properties, and values that can be set by the user can be programmatically set; and notification of changes to these items is available to user agents, including assistive technologies. (Level A)

Those were the key points of WCAG 2.0. Meanwhile, there is also a version WCAG 2.1 published in 2018. So, what is the difference? WCAG 2.1 which helps to meet ADA requirements is basically an upgrade of 2.0 version with 17 additional success criteria that address mobile accessibility, people with low vision, and those with cognitive and learning disabilities. Nothing from the previous version was taken away, so WCAG 2.0 is still a good start. If you had taken into account the WCAG 2.0 requirements and remediated your website, the good news is you can keep developing your website with a 2.1 version.

Consequences of failing ADA requirements

Two people next to court and printed lawsuit documents

If you are still wondering why bother with all this website accessibility work, the repercussions for not abiding are listed below:

Firstly, failure to meet ADA accessibility requirements simply contradicts human equality and basic human rights as per the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. It promotes the design, development, production, and distribution of accessible information and communications technologies and systems.

Secondly, from a shrewd business perspective not having an ADA compliant accessible website leads to losing users and potential customers. Attracting as many users as you can, is your goal, right?

Thirdly, following ADA compliance guidelines protects and provides coverage from litigation. In today’s digital age you can witness a spate of website accessibility lawsuits. Between 2017 and 2018, there was a 177% increase in the number of suits – from 814 to 2,258. According to Seyfarth labor and employment partners Minh Vu and Kristina Launey, in 2019 there were 2,256 ADA website accessibility lawsuits filed in the USA federal courts. These litigation numbers are expected to grow in the coming years.

Regardless of the size, popularity, or industry, a company can get caught up in the non-compliance net and face a court case. There are several high-risk factors:

  • Location: Most ADA Website Compliance lawsuits come from California, New York, and Florida. There are state versions of the Americans with Disabilities Act such as the Unruh Civil Rights Act in California and New York Human Rights Law.
  • Industry: Retail, food, hospitality, banking, entertainment industries, and educational institutions, are especially prone to risk.
  • Website structure: Websites with e-commerce functions or purchased from third-party developers not currently in compliance with WCAG 2.0 standards are targeted in particular.

High-profile ADA website accessibility lawsuit cases

People next to a building, car, printed documents, and a book with the title Law

National Association of the Deaf vs. Netflix

In 2012, The National Association of the Deaf (NAD) sued the famous online television and movie streaming company, Netflix. This was a landmark case as it was one of the first lawsuits which established that accessibility applies not only to physical locations but to the virtual world as well.

NAD filed the lawsuit, claiming a violation of Title III of the ADA by failing to provide closed captions for a number of streaming videos. The decree said that Netflix would finish captioning 90% of its entire library by 2013 and 100% by 2014. In 2012, when the court trial began, 82% was captioned. The streaming service also agreed to caption incoming new content. Additionally, Netflix was obliged to pay the $755,000 in legal fees to NAD’s lawyers and another $40,000 to put the decree in place over the next four years.

NAD CEO, Howard A. Rosenblum issued the following statement, “The National Association of the Deaf congratulates Netflix for committing to 100 percent captioning, and is thrilled to announce that 48 million deaf and hard of hearing people will be able to fully access Netflix’s Watch Instantly services.”

National Association of the Deaf vs. Harvard and Massachusetts Institute of Technology

In 2015, four deaf and hard of hearing students together with the National Association of the Deaf filed two federal class-action lawsuits against Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). They charged that the schools didn’t caption online content, including massive open online courses (MOOCs). The plaintiffs claimed that because of this, the schools were discriminating against hard of hearing and deaf people. They asserted that Title III of the ADA, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act were violated.

In November 2019, the settlement was reached with Harvard requiring the university to add high-quality captions or transcripts to all media content available online. This includes videos that are live-streamed and content on third-party platforms, for example, YouTube. Harvard is also responsible for the Class Counsel’s motion for $1,575,000 in attorney’s costs and fees. The settlement between NAD and MIT occurred later, in February 2020, and was very similar to Harvard’s case. Additionally, the universities were obliged to give an opportunity to the public to request captioning of website content or report inadequate captioning, also provide training to staff on captioning content, and report compliance progress every six months to the NAD.

Access Living vs. Uber

In 2018, Access Living teamed up with three individual wheelchair users and claimed that the ADA required Uber to provide wheelchair-accessible service as part of its transportation business. Uber initially argued that they were not responsible because they were only a software development company that was responsible for the app and they don’t own or select their drivers’ vehicles.

In December 2018, Judge Manish S. Shah of the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois ruled that Uber must comply with the ADA and allowed the lawsuit to proceed. The court finally asserted that Uber’s business activities like controlling the cost, driver qualifications, and vehicles used by contractors qualify the company as a transportation company.

Some of the other big companies involved in ADA website accessibility lawsuits were Parkwood Entertainment (Beyoncé Knowles’ company), Domino’s Pizza, Five Guys Enterprises, Duke University, Scribd, Inc., and others. Small businesses are targets, too. They’re easy to deal with and win as they can’t afford long-drawn court cases.

What do you do next?

Two people building ADA compliant website design

Start making your website ADA compliant as soon as possible. No need to wait for a lawsuit to make the change, it will cost you much more in the end than working on website accessibility NOW.

A typical way to get started with ADA accessibility compliance is to audit and remediate your website. However, it is better not to rely on an automated audit alone. Automated scans can be only a part of a huge testing process. It turned out that some companies use free automated software when a client pays them for an audit. Running automated software is available to anyone, so don’t fall for it. For example, the WAVE and AXE accessibility browser extensions are free, and another great automated tool is Tenon.io.

The best option to get a full picture of your website’s accessibility is to perform a manual ADA website compliance audit through independent experts. The experts must be aware of ADA accessibility requirements and will give you recommendations on how to meet them.

What to do to audit a website manually?

Step 1. Hire an independent website accessibility consultant/expert.

Step 2. Check every primary layout template of your site and then apply the audit results to all identical templates of your whole website. The pages must be examined against WCAG 2.0 or 2.1.

Step 3. Test the website and see if everything works properly.

Step 4. Create a specific list of accessibility issues for each web page template.

Step 5. Get clear remediation instructions for making your website compliant with all ADA accessibility requirements.

Step 6. Use several automated scans only as a supplement for your large audit.

Step 7. Receive a clear, understandable PDF report.

Along with audit and remediation, maintenance of the website is necessary, too. Websites and their content constantly develop, requiring regular audits to ensure that they remain ADA compliant.

Accessibility is not a passing trend, but it is here to stay forever as a requirement. Running a successful business and targeting a global audience today demands full accessibility – from physical facilities to websites and mobile apps. PixelPlex has a qualified team of ADA Website Compliance expert auditors, developers, and consultants who can perform an in-depth accessibility review to provide you with a full list of issues and potential vulnerabilities. Furthermore, PixelPlex assists in all phases of an ADA compliance audit, remediation, and development. Contact us and we will help you make your website fully ADA compliant.

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Accessible Web Development and Design

ADA web compliance is a key to business growth