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96% sign in desert with mountains in distance

96% Chance Your Website Is Not ADA Compliant

David Gibson

The results of the latest report from the WebAIM team at Utah State (makers of the popular WAVE web page accessibility tester) revealed that 96.8% of the top million homepages failed ADA compliance testing. And these didn't just have one or two missing barriers. Each had an average of 51.4 violations.

So. Assume your website is not ADA compliant.

Fact is, unless your website has been properly audited and remediated to conform to the Web Content Accessibility Guideline (WCAG 2.1 A, AA), it simply isn’t ADA compliant. 

Why ADA Compliance Matters

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 trolls seeking easy settlements.  

DEI - Diversity, Equity and INCLUSION, includes the rights of people with disabilities to digital inclusion. 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 who carry $548B in discretionary spending and who also share similar challenges with vision, hearing, cognition and fine motor skills.

Tips for ADA Website Compliance

Accept that this is a new cost of doing business online. And realize that in pursuit of diversity, equity and inclusion, investing in digital inclusion is a great way to demonstrate your commitment to DEI. There is value in that, and in accessing a marketplace with over a billion consumers world-wide. 

Avoid Overlay Plugin Widgets - They are now the bullseye.

Overlay plugins and widgets (which rely solely on automation), may claim to make your website ADA compliant using... wait for it... Articial Intelligence; however these are simply false claims. Industry professionals and accessibility advocates strongly oppose these methods, which have been demonstrated to neither provide the accessibility claimed, nor protection from lawsuits. Not only are they failing to provide protection in the courts, but judges are even ruling against their use. So trolls have shifted gears and are targeting websites that use them. Needless to say, your better off without an overlay even if your underlying code is not compliant. More on this point here.

Why Automated Testing Tools Are Limited and Why Human Testing is Essential for WCAG Auditing

Automated testing tools are adequate for quick low-level accessibility testing. However, they are limited in their ability to identify many, if not most, accessibility issues on a website. The WCAG is nuanced and interpretive to begin with. And software is only good for binary testing. This is why even the best can only detect 30%-40% of WCAG issue types.

This is where human testing becomes essential. Human testers bring a level of nuance and expertise that automated tools cannot match. They can identify accessibility issues that may not be caught by automated tools and provide a more comprehensive evaluation of a website's accessibility. Human testers can also provide insights into the user experience of people with disabilities, which is crucial for ensuring that a website is truly accessible. While automated testing tools can provide a starting point for accessibility testing, human testing is necessary for a thorough and accurate evaluation of a website's accessibility.

How to Properly Audit Your Website for ADA Compliance

First, this is not a DIY project. Hire a reputable ADA website compliance consultant who will augment the limitations of automated WCAG testing software with manual and assistive technology testing by certified professionals. The key here is to find an auditor who is not only credentialed in WCAG compliance, but who also knows the front-side code - the html, css, and javascript. 

The more invested in quality reporting upstream will save time and money during remediation.  

WCAG Compliance Auditing Process

The process we follow begins with first assessing the site and identifying the "unique pages" of the site that include all templates and components. This number and their complexity determine the cost for us as well. 

  • Run automated testing - Index the entire site to capture low-hanging fruit
  • Manual testing by qualified human testers
    • UX review
    • Front-side code review
    • Assistive Technology testing - keyboard-only and blindfolded testing using top screen readers such as JAWS, NVDA, Zoom, and Dragon on desktop and then TalkBack on Android and VoiceOver on iOS.\
  • Reporting - We deliver our reporting and then provide a number of consulting hours during remediation. In our case, our reporting is written as a training guide and includes remediation guidance for each and every issue found, so we rarely even get any questions back from clients.
  • Remediation - Unless your development team is unavailable, don’t outsource remediation. It’s important for your team to learn from the process of remediation, and avoid web accessibility issues in the future.
  • Validation - Once remediation is complete, we then return to validate that all issues are completed.

ADA Website Compliance Costs

Making your website ADA compliant starts first with an audit to reveal the violations, followed by remediation, and concluded with a verification audit. That cost will depend on the scale of the website and the extent of issues to be remediated. 

Baseline costs for human auditing of a website can start as low as a few thousand dollars. Basic ecommerce websites can reach into the $20K-$30K zone. Our approach is to be pragmatic and work with the budgets that our clients have. Regardless of what that amount is, start by addressing the top priority issues that impact users the most (and those that trigger lawsuits). 

This is a smart investment, so invest what you can.

Wrap Up

Given that no brand wishes to unintentionally discriminate against people with disabilities, and given that no brand wants to deal with on-going ADA-related website litigation, this is a wise investment. The temptation is to take short cuts however. And that temptation must be avoided.

Best of luck. Let us help.