ADA and Website Accessibility Overview

The Americans with Disabilities Act via Title III requires that all "public accommodations" (retailers, doctors, malls, restaurants, hotels, and ski resorts) provide facilities and equipment that are readily accessible to, and usable by, people with disabilities.  Through litigation, proponents have worked to extend access from the physical world to the web.

Lacking clear standards or compliance regulations, the Dept of Justice and others refer to the World Wide Web Consortium's Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2. 0 (WCAG). The guidelines come in three degrees (A, AA, AAA). The commonly acceptable level of conformity is WCAG 2.0 AA.

Since this has not been a requirement for website developers, unless you specifically contracted for ADA "compliance" and have had your site audited, assume it will not pass. Achieving ADA compliance requires a concerted effort in the design and development process, and then once launched, it requires on-going vigilance as content is added and changed.

Following is a summary of what ADA & WCAG 2.0 compliance looks like, and then how to test and remediate your site to become ADA Friendly.
 

WCAG 2.0 Website Accessibility CONFORMITY

The standards break down to 4 basic principles: Perceivable, Operable, Understandable, Robust. The following overview includes limited examples for the sake of providing an "overview". Refer to the WCAG 2.0 for all details.

Perceivable - Information and user interface components must be presentable to users in ways they can perceive.

This means that users must be able to perceive the information being presented (it can't be invisible to the senses).

Operable - User interface components and navigation must be operable.

This means that users must be able to operate the interface (the interface cannot require interaction that a user cannot perform)

Understandable - Information and the operation of user interface must be understandable.

This means that users must be able to understand the information as well as the operation of the user interface (the content or operation cannot be beyond their understanding)

Robust - Content must be robust enough that it can be interpreted reliably by a wide variety of user agents, including assistive technologies.

This means that users must be able to access the content as technologies advance (as technologies and user agents evolve, the content should remain accessible)

 

ADA WCAG 2.0 Web Accessibility TESTING 

There are three steps to producing a thorough audit for website accessibility. Depending on budget and level of risk management, one may choose to use just one or all three. 

  1. Automated Testing
    This provides a litmus test and captures 20-25% of issues, but these will represent 60-70% of the volume of issues. 
     
  2. Manual Code Review
    Here someone with an understanding of both WCAG 2.0 and website code can catch all that is missed by automated testing. One simple tip that doesn't require a developer is to go through the website using just your keyboard. This will reveal dead ends and many issues that automated testing will miss.
     
  3. Assistive Technology Review
    For those seeking the most thorough accessibility, the tester uses the actual tools (JAWS, ZOOM test, NVDA, Dragon Natural Speaking, etc) used by those with disabilities to use the website. 

The key output of testing is the reporting that will guide remediation. This can only come from a qualified ADA/WCAG website consultant. Automated testing can tell you where the issue is, but not how to fix it.

 

Website Accessibility Remediation

To make your current site ADA-Friendly takes teamwork with either your current developer, or a developer with experience in both ADA conformity AND the CMS/platform that your current website is built on. For this reason, if you have a good relationship with your current development team, stick with them. With the help of your ADA consultant with audit reporting that includes line by line guidance for remediation, your team should be able to simply implement those recommendations. 

It will take more than one generally to catch and remediate all issues. 

After the initial remediation is complete, anyone updating the site will need to be trained to maintain conformity. Periodic audits (quarterly or bi-annual) is recommended.