ADA & Website Accessibility Overview

You are probably asking yourself, since when has ADA applied to websites? The fact is, the ADA was passed before the Internet. The Dept of Justice who's job it is to enforce the law has stated that websites offering goods or services to consumers are places of public accommodation and must be accessible to the disabled. However they have not provided actual rules for website accessibility. This has left this in the hands of the courts and many law firms looking for easy money are heading this way. 

ADA BACKGROUND

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).
 

WCAG 2.0 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 all of their 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)

 

CONFORMANCE

From W3C Directly:

"Conformance Level: One of the following levels of conformance is met in full.

  • Level A: For Level A conformance (the minimum level of conformance), the Web page satisfies all the Level A Success Criteria, or a conforming alternate version is provided.
  • Level AA: For Level AA conformance, the Web page satisfies all the Level A and Level AA Success Criteria, or a Level AA conforming alternate version is provided.
  • Level AAA: For Level AAA conformance, the Web page satisfies all the Level A, Level AA and Level AAA Success Criteria, or a Level AAA conforming alternate version is provided.

Note 1: Although conformance can only be achieved at the stated levels, authors are encouraged to report (in their claim) any progress toward meeting success criteria from all levels beyond the achieved level of conformance."

Note 2: As WCAG 2.0 states, "It is not recommended that Level AAA conformance be required as a general policy for entire sites because it is not possible to satisfy all Level AAA Success Criteria for some content." And further, "Note that even content that conforms at the highest level (AAA) will not be accessible to individuals with all types, degrees, or combinations of disability, particularly in the cognitive language and learning areas.”

More : Understanding Conformance