7 Steps to make your website ADA compliant

Last Update: Jan 24, 2017

Website accessibility is rapidly becoming a must-have for all website owners as litigation spreads rapidly across the country.  

Going into this process, I suggest first approaching your website development team as partner. Until now, these standards have not been widely known or followed. This isn't their fault, and since most issues are content-based, your internal team adding photos and content are likely responsible for the bulk of issues as well.

The following steps provide what I hope is a pragmatic approach to making your site ADA or WCAG 2.0 "Friendly".
 

1. ESTABLISH A WEB SITE ACCESSIBILITY OWNER AND POLICY

First you will want to establish someone to lead this and ongoing efforts. That person will need to understand the basics of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.0) which serve as the de facto standard which the Department of Justice and plaintiffs reference. 

  • Select an internal web site accessibility owner
  • Establish an web accessibility policy
  • Publish a web accessibility statement on the website (this is key because it signals plaintiff law firms that you are already in process, so they cannot claim that your actions are the result of any actions they take - to collect resulting legal fees)
  • Begin documenting all steps towards website accessibility conformity
  • CHECK WITH YOUR INSURANCE CARRIER. You're likely not covered for this.
     

2. HIRE A WEBSITE ACCESSIBILITY CONSULTANT

Although parts of remediation can be done internally, its very important to have someone with the tools and experience to first audit your site and produce remediation guidance reporting, and then to guide that remediation while its in process. This person should have strong technical understanding of how websites are programmed and how content management systems work. This person will need to provide strategy, web accessibility compliance testing, and remediation guidance to both internal teams remediating via the CMS (content), and the developers that will handle all issues that cannot be addressed via the CMS. They can also train both those teams to ensure that future website updates are compliant.
 

3. CONDUCT WCAG 2.0 WEBSITE ACCESSIBILITY TESTING & REPORTING

First things first, you need to audit the site to find all the issues to address. There are automated auditing tools, but what's key is the reporting output. Tools like WAVE are fine for testing an individual page, but what you need is an auditing tool that scans the entire site and then produce audit reports that you can then use in a remediation workflow. Here, you'll find the most value in utilizing a website accessibility consultant to produce actionable reporting that speaks clearly to developers who will remediate your site. 

There are three steps to this process. Here I list them in order practical priority, if you do not have the budget for 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. The good news here for those with tight budgets, is that its these tools that these law firms will use to troll for targets. 
     
  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. 
     

4. REMEDIATE ITEMS & MAINTAIN RECORDS

Once you have your audit reports, I suggest putting all these issues into a spreadsheet that will become your working document. Segment the spreadsheet into those items that can be addressed via CMS versus those that you'll need a developer to tackle. Most of the CMS issues should be addressable by an internal team to save money. For each issue, establish ownership and record completion dates. 

5. RE-AUDIT THE WEBSITE

Once the first round of remediation is complete. Run the tests again. The process of remediation might cause new issues to surface.
 

6. TRAIN CONTENT PROVIDERS

To avoid continuing to make the mistakes again, establish or use existing training guides to teach people contributing to your website to not just add alt tags to every image, but also to make sure the headings (H1, H2, H3, H4...) are used sequentially for example. 
 

7. ESTABLISH A SCHEDULE FOR ONGOING TESTING AND REMEDIATION

As part of your web accessibility policy and plan, establish a schedule and document all results.