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USB plug - metaphor for plugin and third party ADA compliance

Third Party Plugin Accessibility & ADA Compliance

David Gibson

Most websites today use plugins and third party components to deliver functionality that extends the capabilities of the native content management system. CMSs such as Wordpress, Drupal, Expression Engine, Shopify, Magento and many many others all rely on external third parties to create plugins that provide specific functions such as events calendars, email capture, appointment scheduling, ecommerce, and an endless number of features. 


Some are plugins and some are more extensive systems that don’t plugin to your CMS, but run independently. A lodging room booking system, an ecommerce system, or a spa reservation system would be good examples.


Most plugins and third party systems were not designed or built to be accessible however. And it can be very frustrating for website owners and their developers to make these systems on their websites accessible, because these providers typically offer limited degrees of access for your developers to modify them. In most cases, one can only modify style sheets to control colors and fonts. But most often that stops there, leaving the elements that affect accessibility behind locked doors to your developers.


What is the standard for website accessibility?

The de facto standard for ADA compliance is to meet the requirements of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines. The WCAG has been created by the W3C, an international digital standards consortium, and it is currently in version 2.1. 2.2 is expected to be published at the end of 2021. The WCAG is broken down into 3 levels: A, AA, AAA. The current minimum requirement is to meet WCAG 2.0, A, AA. More on web accessibility standards.


Do third party components and plugins need to be ADA compliant?

The short answer is yes. The website owner takes on the liability of every element of a website that lives within domain. And that’s a key determining factor. Does the third party component or system live on your domain, or on a separate domain from the provider? 


In the hospitality space for example, you may have a booking engine that includes a booking widget that takes the guest's initial arrival, departure, and number of guests and sends the user to the provider’s domain to see room availability and place the booking. In this case, the arguable limit of liability would be just the initial booking intake widget. Once the user leaves your domain, your technical liability ends. But that doesn’t mean that consumers will see it that way.


Web Accessibility in the age of DEI

Consumers today are choosing to align with brands that reflect their values. Report after report shows the importance of value alignment between brands and consumers, and today commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion is top of mind for consumers. And whether a feature on your website is built by you or a third party provider is irrelevant. In the consumer’s eye, if your website is not accessible, then you’re discriminating against people with disabilities.


How to assess ADA compliance of plugins

While there are some plugin providers that have come to understand these requirements and the competitive advantage that ADA compliance can give them, most have not. This can be a very big issue for those that rely on third party providers for site functionality. 


So when building a website, one must add WCAG 2.1 A, AA compliance to the set of requirements for any third party system used. In this process, what one must look for initially are claims of website accessibility, ADA/508 compliance and specifically WCAG 2.0 A, AA at a minimum. Next, contact the provider, if possible, and learn from them what their process is for ensuring WCAG compliance. 


Secondly one should test some samples. Use a free page tester such as WebAIM’s WAVE plugin for Chrome. While automated testing is limited, it should provide an initial pass/fail test. 


Should you wish to take a step deeper, have a qualified expert in digital accessibility run a human test.


Final thoughts

As the volume of web-related ADA lawsuits and demand letters in particular, continue to proliferate there is a very real legal exposure. This combined with consumer demand for brands to align with their social justice values, means that ensuring that your brand’s website is not discriminating against people with disabilities is very important.


Let us know if we can help.



Photo by Lucas Hein on Unsplash