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Lowering the Cost of Website ADA Compliance

David Gibson

Today, websites, web applications and mobile apps in the US must be accessible and comply with the Americans with Disability Act, or face increasing risk of legal actions and/or the label of being discriminatory. While the cost of ADA compliance can be significant, the cost of legal actions and brand tarnish is much higher. 

For most companies and organizations, it’s these risks that motivate a digital accessibility program. Others realize that web accessibility can support sales, recruiting, communication, and DEI goals, and proactively invest in digital accessibility.

Digital ADA compliance is the same as security. You can never completely eliminate the risks, so you take an approach that balances risk and cost for what is appropriate for your organization and budget. And yes, the cost can be considerable, especially for smaller businesses and organizations. And very often this is a cost that is not budgeted for and is forced upon an organization in reaction to a demand letter or lawsuit. That can be quite disruptive and expensive. So let’s look at ways to balance cost and ADA compliance.

What are the standards for digital ADA compliance?

The confusing thing here is that there is no established standard in the Americans with Disabilities Act for digital accessibility. The Department of Justice has continued to abdicate its role in rulemaking for over a decade to set clear national standards. As a result, the courts have been forced to answer these questions. So what we have are different case-law in different jurisdictions. Even so, the Web Content Accessibility Guideline serves as the de facto standard. This was developed by the international digital standards body, the W3C. The WCAG is currently in version 2.1 with 2.2 expected in 2022. There are three levels, A, AA, and AAA. To be considered “ADA compliant” a website or app should minimally meet WCAG 2.0 A, AA. Here is a post that breaks down the current standards and requirements for ADA website compliance.

Best Practices for ADA Website Auditing and Compliance

Before we get into cheaper ADA website compliance solutions, let’s first establish what current best practices are. And this begins with first acknowledging the limitations of automated WCAG compliance auditing tools. As much as we’re used to assuming there is a widget or app for everything, this is an area where software falls short. The WCAG is nuanced and interpretive, and there are many use cases and technical limitations that cause automated testing tools to miss 70% of WCAG criteria. This is very important to understand. 

Automated WCAG testing tools are good for spidering an entire website very fast and catching low-hanging fruit. Once a site is properly audited and remediated, they’re good for on-going monitoring for content-based issues that may be introduced via the CMS. But they should not be solely relied upon for assessing full WCAG conformity.

Automated testing is always still used, but human WCAG testing should be used to augment the limitations of automated testing for ADA compliance. Human testing should include manual code review, manual UX testing, and testing with assistive technologies. Some may argue that it is important that people with disabilities be used in the WCAG audit process, however it is not necessary. A person that is properly trained and experienced is equally capable of using each assistive technology, and be disability-agnostic in their assessment and not skewed by a tester’s own disability. 

What determines WCAG audit cost?

Human testing is the source of cost. The number of pages that human testing is applied to becomes the cost factor. 

Websites are built using templates for different page types and in-page components or “widgets” are added for functionality such as an email capture form, or a booking widget on a hotel website.  In our process, we first identify all the unique pages of a website that include at least one instance of each template and component used on the site. Rather than conduct human testing on every page, we only test these pages. 

Now a basic ecommerce website will likely have 20-30 unique pages, and cost in the $20K-$30K range. That is a lot of money for small businesses. So how do we reduce that cost?

How do we reduce the cost of WCAG website audits?

The answer is simple. You cut the number of unique pages for which human testing will be applied. The degree of that cut is a decision your team must make, factoring risk and what you can afford. Taking a basic ecom site with 30 unique pages, cutting the page count and cost in half would not be a crazy idea. What’s just so important is to properly audit the header, footer, and primary templates as priority one. At a minimum, even human testing on just 5 or 6 pages will provide a tremendous amount of valuable feedback.

Lower Cost ADA Compliance “Solutions” to Avoid

Since automated testing tools miss 70% of WCAG criteria types, one should never rely solely on any automated solution.  And there are a number of bad actors out there that are spending tremendous amounts of money on digital advertising that claim and some even “guarantee” they can make your website “compliant” overnight. After adding some javascript and a cute widget, automagically your website is ADA compliant. Too good to be true? Absolutely. 

These are known as overlay “solutions”, toolbars or widgets. Their claims are simply not honest, and the industry is strongly opposed to their use. This blog post spells this out further and includes links to many other articles that validate

Overlay solutions are now targets for ADA trolls

Unfortunately, web developers and marketing directors whose budgets are affected, take the bait. But one thing that has changed is that the trolling plaintiffs looking for quick money are now targeting these websites that consistently feature an accessibility icon on each page. That icon is now a flag that says “my website is not accessible, come sue me”. 

Time of a fresh new ADA compliant website?

Given the cost of auditing and remediation, perhaps that money is better spent building a fresh new WCAG compliant website. There are a growing number of website development companies that specialize in web accessibility and follow WCAG methods for ADA compliance. And do not assume that accessible website design limits creativity. This is just not true. Accessible web design increases usability for everyone and will also improve SEO. So if your current website is stale or not otherwise performing, consider a new website first.



Photo by Amelia Spink on Unsplash