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A container of Vermont Maple Syrup next to Vermont Maid fake syrup

Website Accessibility vs ADA Compliance

David Gibson

Here in Vermont, we take our maple syrup pretty seriously. Yes, sure, you can put flavored corn syrup on your pancakes, but this just isn't where anyone who really cares about full and equal enjoyment of the pancake experience would cut corners. I'll be the first to admit that my metaphor here could use some butter and bacon, but have a seat, roll up the sleeves and dig in anyhow.

Allow me to set the table first. On one plate, we have a tall stack with web developers pouring on the Vermont Maid thinking they've checked that ADA compliance box and can call it a day. On the other plate, we give those fine pancakes the love they deserve with real Vermont maple syrup. Because this is about ensuring the sweetest user experience for all of our guests at this, or any table.

The Nuances Between WCAG / ADA Compliance and Website Accessibility

The goal of "website accessibility” is to ensure everyone, regardless of their abilities, can use and interact with a website. This includes people with disabilities such as blindness, deafness, mobility impairments, cognitive disabilities, and more. What's more, the growing population of seniors also are more likely to need to use assistive technology such as screen readers, magnifiers, and keyboard-only. It helps to think of disabilities on a spectrum, and when we think of it that way, we can all expect to have some form of it at some point in our life whether that is in the form of mobility, cognitive function or some level of vision impairment due to aging.

In contrast, many pursue “ADA compliance” measured by the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) as the finish line. However, while the WCAG is an excellent start, these guidelines are far from perfect. And checking all the WCAG boxes will not guarantee accessibility. Yet, it’s a great goal to start with that we can only hope more will pursue.

Few probably realize just how bad website accessibility actually is. According to the latest report from the WebAIM team at Utah State, makers of the popular WAVE web page accessibility tester, 96.8% of the top million homepages failed WCAG compliance testing. This is an alarming number that reflects the scale of the technology gap that seniors and people with disabilities face. 

This web accessibility gap affects not only the 61 million adults living with some form of disability, but also 50 million seniors in the US who also face similar challenges and use similar devices to overcome them.

Given the massive number of websites that are neither ADA compliant nor accessible, any and all efforts to reach WCAG conformity is a fantastic first step. 

WCAG Conformity As The ADA Compliance Yardstick

In order to achieve 508 or ADA website compliance, web developers and owners turn to the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines. These guidelines were developed by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) as a set of guidelines for making web content more accessible to people with disabilities. They're in version 2.1 now. 2.2 has been delayed and is expected later this year. WCAG 3.0 is a few years out.

The Testing Gap for WCAG / ADA Compliance

I'll put down a gallon of VT Liquid Gold that 99% of website managers do not even know whether their own sites are or are not WCAG compliant. Even those that have made efforts and believe they're in compliance are most likely wrong. This is simply because of they lack accurate tools to measure compliance. Whether using entry level tools such as Google Lighthouse, or even the best AI driven enterprise accessibility management platforms, it must be understood that currently no system can detect better than 35% of WCAG issues in the first place. 

The only way to know whether a website is WCAG compliant is to have it audited by credentialed professionals that make up for the gap in automated testing tools with human testing that includes manual code review and assistive technology testing. And only committed companies that recognize the risk, value, and realities invest in consultants like us.

Recognizing the Gap Between WCAG Compliance and Full Website Accessibility

While WCAG compliance is a crucial aspect of website accessibility, it's important to remember that compliance doesn't necessarily guarantee accessibility for real people with disabilities. A website can meet all the WCAG requirements and still be inaccessible to people with certain disabilities.

For instance, a website that's fully keyboard accessible may still be inaccessible to people with motor impairments who use alternative input devices such as joysticks, head pointers, or eye-tracking devices. Similarly, a website that provides closed captions for videos may still be inaccessible to people with cognitive disabilities who may find it difficult to comprehend complex content.

Website accessibility is not a one-size-fits-all solution. To ensure that websites are accessible to all, it's important to take into account the diverse needs of people with disabilities and tailor accessibility solutions accordingly.

Here are some important accessibility considerations that go beyond WCAG compliance:

  1. Accessibility must first be established as a requirement that should minimally meet WCAG standards. Designers must study the principles of accessibility and “universal design”. Front-side developers should also understand the principles of accessibility, WCAG requirements, assistive technologies (screen readers in particular), and understand the limitations of automated testing tools.
  2. AI remediation tools known as “overlays” widgets, plugins, and toolbars should always be avoided. Despite their claims, they not only fail to make websites “ADA compliant”, today they actually attract trolls.
  3. Assistive technology support: Websites should be designed to work with a wide range of assistive technologies such as screen readers, speech recognition software, and alternative input devices. Developers should try using such tools.
  4. Clear and simple language: Websites should use clear and simple language that's easy to understand for people with cognitive disabilities. This includes using simple sentence structures, avoiding jargon, and providing clear instructions.
  5. Use qualified third-party auditors to properly test your website using manual testing methods that make up for the limitations of automated testing by utilizing a full range of assistive technologies.


If the pandemic has taught us one thing, access to the web is much more than a convenient “nice to have”. The web delivers crucial access to medical information, news, education, entertainment, shopping, family and community. Access to websites is crucial to life today.

Every website owner, designer, developer, and content producer shoulders a responsibility to ensure their website at the very least meets WCAG conformity for ADA compliance, and always strives to look past that threshold and ensure that all visitors and all abilities can receive effective communication, and full and equal enjoyment.


Now. Somebody pass the butter please. 

- Dave Gibson | President