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2024 ADA Web Accessibility Standards & Requirements

David Gibson

In 2024, the importance for websites to meet current ADA website compliance standards and WCAG requirements is more pronounced than ever. Yet, surprisingly, the vast majority of websites are not up to the mark. The fact remains: unless a website is expressly designed and built with web accessibility and ADA compliance in mind, it typically fails to meet these essential standards. Ignoring these ADA requirements puts your website at risk of lawsuits, brand tarnish, and missed opportunities. This post aims to provide an in-depth discussion on the ADA website compliance rules, highlighting the critical WCAG requirements for websites in 2024.

How ADA Compliance Requirements Apply to Websites

Although the The Americans With Disabilities Act was established before the Internet, its designers intentionally designed it to evolve. The notion of “places or public accommodation” is a core element of the law and a perfect example of its flexibility. As technology has evolved, we today find that websites and mobile apps are essential places to shop, learn, share, and connect, and thus protected by the ADA. 

The evolution of the ADA has led to a new legal environment where website owners are increasingly held accountable for compliance. Legal actions arising from both legitimate plaintiffs and those aiming for quick settlements have become more frequent, particularly in states like New York, California, and Florida. This trend underscores the importance of adhering to ADA website compliance standards to avoid legal pitfalls.

Why Is Website Accessibility Important?

Legal - Almost all websites are covered by either the ADA or Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act. And in addition to legitimate plaintiffs and advocacy groups actively defending web accessibility rights, there is also a throng of serial plaintiffs and attorneys seeking easy settlements.  

DEI - Diversity, Equity and digital Inclusion, includes the rights of people with disabilities to access digital as well as physical places of public accommodation. Nothing has highlighted the value of digital access and the disparity of access better than the pandemic, when the world turned inward to the Web for nearly everything. 

Opportunity - Not only are there 61M people with a disability in the US, but also consider the 71M Boomers carrying $548 BILLION in discretionary spending and who also share similar challenges with vision, hearing, cognition and fine motor skills.

(New for 2024) AIO - The advent of AI technologies like Bing and ChatGPT introduces new considerations for website accessibility. These AI models, while intelligent, encounter barriers akin to those experienced by assistive technologies. This similarity makes WCAG adherence an effective strategy for AIO. This blog post redefines the new term AIO and outlines its new role for website marketers, and this post dives into how AIO can add value to WCAG compliance. MOre about WCAG compliance and optimizing for AI.

Assessing Current Website Compliance in 2024 

Despite the clear ADA website compliance requirements, the reality is that a vast majority of websites remain non-compliant. Data from Utah State University’s Web AIM Million Project in 2023 revealed a startling trend: 96.3% of the top million homepages did not comply with ADA standards, each exhibiting an average of 50.0 barriers to accessibility. This statistic is not just a mere number; it represents the widespread and profound issue of non-compliance in the web landscape, demonstrating both the breadth and depth of the problem. 

What Are the WCAG Requirements for Website Accessibility and ADA Compliance?

The Department of Justice (DOJ), responsible for rulemaking to provide clear compliance requirements, has been notably slow in setting specific technical standards for web accessibility. However, there's been a shift under the Biden administration, signaling a renewed focus on web accessibility. The DOJ's "Guidance on Web Accessibility and the ADA" issued on March 18, 2022, marks a return to the perspective prevalent during the Obama era, considering commercial websites and website-only businesses as subject to Title III of the ADA.

The Web Content Accessibility Guideline: De Facto Standard for Digital Accessibility

The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), developed by the international web standards group, the W3C, stand as the de facto standard for digital accessibility. These guidelines, in their current version 2.1, are recognized and adhered to in various legal contexts. Although WCAG 2.2 and the anticipated WCAG 3.0 are on the horizon, the practical standard for digital accessibility, especially to avoid litigation and ensure web accessibility, remains WCAG 2.1 A and AA levels in the United States and Canada, and will be for years. Learn more about the new WCAG 2.2 standard.

Understanding WCAG Website Compliance Standards

Website accessibility is built upon four foundational principles: Perceivable, Operable, Understandable, and Robust. These principles ensure that web content is accessible and usable for all, including those with disabilities. They include guidelines for providing text alternatives for non-text content, ensuring all functionality is available from a keyboard, making text readable and understandable, and ensuring content compatibility with current and future user tools. Adherence to these WCAG standards is not only a compliance requirement but also a step towards creating a more inclusive and accessible digital world. Refer to the WCAG 2.1 for details

How Do I Make My Website ADA Compliant?

The path to website accessibility is a two step process. The first step is to conduct a WCAG audit, and the second step is website remediation based on the audit results. 

Step One: Website Auditing Best Practices for ADA Compliance 

First its essential to understsand that you cannot rely solely on automated audits because the WCAG is nuanced and interpretive. AI or not, automated tools can only detect ~30% of WCAG issues. Therefore, human testing is essential.

  1. Automated WCAG Testing - This stage includes a complete crawl of the website to identify basic compliance issues.
  2. Manual WCAG Testing - A deeper analysis through human review of code and unique page use-cases, given that automated tools can only detect about 30% of WCAG issues.
  3. Assistive Technology Testing - Using screen readers and other tools to assess the real-world accessibility of the website.

Key Qualifications of Effective WCAG Compliance Testers

The challenge is to find an accessibility expert with deep broad enough experience to be qualified.  Such an accessibility consultant must have expertise in all of the following in order to accurately assess the WCAG conformity of a website and provide technical guidance for remediation. Such an accessibility expert must understand:

  • The many combinations of use-cases for users with disabilities
  • The assistive technologies used by people with disabilities
  • The website code
  • The WCAG 
  • The legal awareness of which issues have greatest likelihood of triggering legal actions.

Prop Tip: The key is to receive an in-depth WCAG audit report that not only identifies what and where WCAG violations are, but most importantly, how to fix them. Ask for sample reporting.

Is it essential to have my website audited by people with disabilities?

This is debatable. Some may have such a preference, but ability will not affect the quality or thoroughness. What's important is to select an auditing consultant who not only has the experience and qualifications as a WCAG auditor, but also has a command of website code in order to provide technical remediation guidance. In our case, our team are all ability-agnostic and have extensive experience and training to provide effective cross-ability testing, as well as code-level guidance.

How Much Does A WCAG Audit Cost?

The cost of a WCAG audit can vary greatly, depending on factors such as the size and complexity of your website or app, and the extent of auditing required. Options range from full comprehensive audits to more budget-conscious phased approaches. Typically, costs can range anywhere from $3,000 to $30,000. It's essential to balance the objective of minimizing legal risks with the commitment to ensuring the broadest accessibility. There are various approaches to take, just be sure to include some degree of human testing and avoid any AI overlay "solutions". 

How to Reduce WCAG Auditing Costs

For many website owners, a full audit can be a significant investment. To manage costs, consider options like a "keypage" audit, which focuses on a smaller yet representative set of pages, or start with an automated-only audit for an initial overview. The insights gained from human auditing of key sections can provide valuable guidance for broader site improvements. Here is a guide on web accessibility costs that includes pragmatic ways to reduce the cost of reaching your accessibility goals.

Step 2: Website Remediation for ADA web compliance

With the audit in-hand the design, development, and content teams can break-down the tasks and implement the recommended solutions. If the reporting is good enough, this may be all your team needs. Else, you may also require on-going guidance from an accessibility specialist.

Although our Propeller Media Works web design team is well qualified to provide web accessibility remediation, we always recommend that you have your existing web team perform this work. It's a crucial learning experience that is best to retain.

Caution Against Over-Reliance on Quick-Fix Solutions

It's important to be wary of solutions like "overlay solutions, toolbars, or widgets" that promise quick ADA compliance. These often fail to address the underlying issues and can leave your site vulnerable to legal challenges. Authentic compliance involves a more thorough and considered approach.

Using overlays may even trigger lawsuits and demand letters. Since overlays cannot correct the underlying code, and provide only a leaky bandaid, trolling lawyers know they are not compliant and are now targeting these sites. More details on why overlay solutions fail and increase legal risk with links to supporting articles.

Maintaining Web Accessibility and ADA Compliance

Ensuring continuous compliance with ADA website compliance standards and WCAG requirements is an ongoing commitment. Regular audits, particularly after significant updates or changes, are crucial. Until significant changes to the interface are made, you can use automated auditing tools to check on new pages, products, and blog posts. Once significant changes are made, manual and assistive technology testing should be conducted on affected pages/templates.

Final Thoughts

While the path to ADA website compliance may appear daunting. Understand that it can be approached in phases. Please reach out to us and we can help formulate a pragmatic plan that balances the legal risks and the costs to help you reach ADA compliance. 

Related Resources

Web Accessibility FAQs
WCAG 2.2 Standards Overview Guide
Benefits of Web Accessibility & ADA Compliance
Budgeting for Web Accessibility: Process & Costs of ADA Compliance
Why AI Overlay Toolbars, Widgets & Plugins Fail On Every Level



photo credit : Farzad @unsplash