ADA Website Compliance, Blog, website design

What You Need to Know About ADA Compliance for Websites

October 13, 2020 | 7 minutes to read
Website Accessibility Compliance
Summary:The world has significantly changed since July 1990 when the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) bill was signed into law by President H.W. Bush. While the original ADA bill did not take websites into consideration, fast forward to today and Title III of the ADA states:“prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in the activities …

The world has significantly changed since July 1990 when the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) bill was signed into law by President H.W. Bush. While the original ADA bill did not take websites into consideration, fast forward to today and Title III of the ADA states:“prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in the activities of places of public accommodations (businesses that are generally open to the public and that fall into one of 12 categories listed in the ADA, such as restaurants, movie theaters, schools, day care facilities, recreation facilities, and doctors’ offices) and requires newly constructed or altered places of public accommodation—as well as commercial facilities (privately owned, nonresidential facilities such as factories, warehouses, or office buildings)—to comply with the ADA Standards.”

Courts in the U.S. now consider websites to be “places of accommodations”.  This means that your business needs to accommodate those who have physical disabilities not only at your store or facility but also with accessing the website of your business as well. If you don’t do anything you run of the risk of being sued for having a business website that is not accessible and compliant. This may sound extreme, but during the last few years some prominent businesses have had to deal with lawsuits for not being compliant.

What makes a Website ADA Compliant?

why digital accessibility is good for businessA website is accessible when it can be fully used equally by all people including those with disabilities. This includes accessing content, easy navigation, and engaging with various elements. In addition, providing a good website design user experience means that you need to take accessibility into consideration. This also has the added advantage of expanding your customer base since people with visual disabilities can view all the content on an ADA compliant site that they would not be able to view on a non compliant site.

In order to determine whether a website is accessible U.S. courts are using the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 Level AA as the standard. It includes 38 requirements and if you meet all of these you’re in good shape. If you don’t meet all of the requirements, your site will need some changes to become accessible.

The WCAG has three levels. The Level A criteria is the easiest to meet that should not require that much change to your website. This level typically requires someone to identify something by color like “press the red button to stop” which most websites don’t have. Level AA criteria are more involved and typically require changes. An example of Level AA criteria includes having enough contrast level between your test and background must be between a specific ratios. Many websites don’t meet these criteria but can be easily changed. Level AAA is the strictest criteria. This would include the use of very dark colors on very light backgrounds and most websites will not achieve this ratio.  You should focus on meeting Level A and AA criteria and work to include Level AAA since there might be criteria that you can meet.

What Are You Legally Required to Meet?Digital Accessibility Diagram

There is actually no explicit web accessibility law for businesses in the U.S. which means there is no exact answer. However U.S. courts as well as  the Department of Justice (DOJ) have continually referenced the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 Level AA success criteria as the standard to gauge whether websites are accessible.  Fortunately private entities nave some degree of flexibility with regards to website accessibility. However just telling the court “we did what we could” or our “web developer is working on it” without showing genuine effort and progress will not get you off the hook.

The Various Parts of the WCAG

In the sections below we look at the various parts of the WCAG. These sections were written by attorney Kris Rivenburgh in an article titled “The ADA Checklist: Website Compliance Guidelines for 2019 in Plain English. (updated in Oct 2020). This article describes some of the main points of Level A and AA. Below are some of the insights the attorney provided.


  • 1.1 Alt Text: Images and non-text content needs alt-text (alternative text). (exceptions include CAPTCHA, decorative images, and more).
  • 2.1 Video & Audio Alternatives: Videos and audio files should have a transcript below the media clearly labeled and linked.
  • 2.2 Closed Captioning: Videos with sound should have closed captioning (“subtitles”).
  • 2.3 Audio Description: For videos, add an alternative video including audio description of info not shown in original video’s soundtrack or include text (there are exceptions).
  • 2.4 Live Captions: Live video presentations should have closed captions.
  • 2.5 Audio Description: Audio description is optional under 1.2.3 level A but not in 1.2.5 AA.


User Control

  • 1.1 Keyboard Only: Functions and content on a website must be completely accessible by keyboard only (i.e.: no mouse).
  • 1.2 No Keyboard Trap: Users using only keyboard must never get stuck on any part of the website and should be able to navigate forwards and backwards.
  • 2.1 Adjustable Time: If there are any time limits on the site, users must have ability to adjust it, turn it off, and extend it.
  • 2.2 Pause, Stop, Hide: Any content that blinks, scrolls, or moves must have ability to be stopped, paused, or hidden.
  • 3.1 Three Flashes or Less: Web pages must not contain any element that flashes more than three times in one second.
  • 4.1 Skip Navigation Link: Users should be able to bypass a heading and go straight to main content by clicking a “skip to content” or “skip navigation” link.



  • 3.1 Website Structure: Proper markup techniques must be used to structure website content (this includes using correct heading tags and HTML for ordered and unordered lists, etc.).
  • 3.2 Meaningful Order: Content should be presented in a meaningful order and sequence so it reads properly.
  • 3.3 Sensory Characteristics: Detailed instructions shouldn’t be reliant on a single sensory ability.
  • 4.1 Use of Color: Color alone should not be used to convey information.
  • 4.2 Audio Control: Users must have the ability to pause, stop, or mute audio.
  • 4.3 Color Contrast: The color contrast between all text and backgrounds must be at least a 4.5:11 ratio. Visit the WebAim contrast checker to check the contrast of your website text.
  • 4.4 Text Resize: Users must be able to resize text up to 200% without negatively affecting ability to read or functionality.
  • 4.5 Images of Text: Do not use Images of text unless necessary (exceptions include logo images).



  • 2.1 On Focus: When an element receives focus, it should not mean the context has changed. User must actively choose to activate an item before a change happens (like hitting “submit” on a form, opening a new window, going to a new page).
  • 2.2 On Input: Just because a user inputted something into a field, does not mean anything should change (forms cannot auto-submit just because fields are filled out – users must click submission button).
  • 2.3 Consistent Navigation: Navigation links should be kept the same across all webpages – same links, same order.
  • 2.4 Consistent Identification: Components with the same functionality are identified consistently (but not necessarily identically). For example, two check marks can indicate two different things as long as their function differs – one indicates approved on one page but “included” on another. Another example is a “search” button on one webpage and a “find” button on another webpage may both have a field to enter a term and list topics in the website related to the term entered. In this case, they have the same functionality but are not labeled consistently.
  • 3.1 Error Identification: Form errors should be easy to identify, understand, and correct.
  • 3.2 Form Labels and Instructions: All input fields should be labeled so users know what input and format is expected.
  • 3.3 Error Suggestions: Suggestions for correcting input errors should be provided when errors are detected.
  • 3.4 Error Prevention on Important Forms (Legal, Financial, Data): Webpages with legal commitments, financial transactions, or other important data submissions, one of the following is true: 1.) submissions are reversible, 2.) the user has an opportunity to correct errors, and 3.) confirmation is available, allowing the user an opportunity to review and correct before submission.
  • 1.1 Parsing: HTML code should be clean and free of errors, specifically missing bracket closes. Make sure all HTML elements are nested correctly.
  • 1.2 Name, Role, Value: For all user components (including forms, links, components generated by scripts), the name, role, and value should all be able to be programmatically determined. Components should be compatible with assistive technology.



  • 4.2 Page Titles: Website pages must have a unique and descriptive title.
  • 4.3 Focus Order: Websites must be able to be navigated sequentially in a logical order that preserves meaning.
  • 4.4 Link Anchor Text: The purpose of each link should be determined from the link text or anchor text (anchor text is the text that is hyperlinked). For example, don’t write “click here”, instead, write “visit the WSI home page.”
  • 4.5 Multiple Ways: There should be multiple ways to access various pages or information on the website (i.e.: navigation menu, search bar, breadcrumbs, links or buttons in content, sitemap, etc.).
  • 4.6 Descriptive Headings and Labels: Headings and labels describe topic or purpose – they don’t need to be long but should be descriptive.
  • 4.7 Focus Indicator: “User interface control” elements that receive focus from a keyboard user should indicate that focus on the current selected element (i.e.: add visible border around a text link).
  • 1.1 Website Language: Set the language for your website.
  • 1.2 Language Changes: Indicate any language change on any page or in any content

This is just a short outline of the ADA compliance for websites. The WCAG document is long, and difficult to read and understand. However following the items listed above will help you get on track towards meeting compliance.

In addition there is actually another set of legal best practices for ADA compliance. This includes having a web accessibility policy page, making a web accessibility statement, training, and appointing an accessibility coordinator as well as hiring an independent consultant and getting feedback. For a small business having both a coordinator and consultant may not make sense and is too expensive. For larger businesses we would suggest becoming more thorough with your accessibility efforts.

Beginning the Journey to ADA Compliance

If you are ready to begin working on ADA compliance for your site, below are some things you need to know.

  1. Work with an accessibility expert to manually review your site -we can help you in that effort. It takes a lot of time and some of those online automated services you find on Google are scams!
  2. There is no “automatic” or “instant” accessibility scan. Manual reviews cost anywhere from $1,000 to $12,000 depending on how big your site is. Statements on ADA websites range from $5,000 to $50,000+.
  3. There are some site changes that you can do yourself, others will require a web development team to implement the changes.

If you need help we can provide guidance. Read the information on our site page ADA Compliance Website Service. Contact us today and let’s get started on making your website ADA compliant.


About the Author

Howard Walker is a Digital Marketing Consultant and owner of WSI Smart Web Marketing. He serves as a manager and strategic advisor and uses his experience, expertise, and knowledge from many years of experience in the tech industry as a product marketing engineer and project manager. His experience with digital marketing services and the use of online analysis tools allow him to implement strategies and recommendations that provide the best-in-class services and results for clients.

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