ADA Compliance for Websites: Avoid Accessibility Fails!

person holding open a book with graphics that says "ADA" and "Americans With Disabilities Act"

Imagine this: you’ve built a great website for your business that looks good, loads quickly, and you’re pretty sure it meets all of the latest web standards… but is it ADA compliant?

If not, you could be missing out on potential customers! That’s why understanding ADA compliance for websites is so important.

In today’s digital world, ADA compliance for websites is an absolute must, and we’re here to help you level up. Say goodbye to stress and confusion, because we’ve got the ultimate guide to arm you with all the knowledge and tools necessary to create an ADA-compliant website from scratch, or to uncover any compliance issues lurking on your existing site.

What is ADA compliance for websites?

ADA compliance refers to the practice of ensuring that online content and digital platforms conform to the accessibility standards established by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The ADA was created in 1990 to protect the rights of and prevent discrimination against people who have disabilities. It features a broad range of requirements that apply to physical spaces, products, and services. It requires businesses and organizations to provide accessible facilities and services, including their online websites.

Making a website ADA-compliant means you are making sure that users with disabilities can interact with and navigate your website without facing any barriers.

As you will see below, making a website accessible to all includes a bunch of different elements such as alternative text for images, proper contrast ratios for text, keyboard navigation, accessible forms, and more. When you adhere to these accessibility guidelines, you can create an inclusive online experience for all users while also minimizing the risk of potential legal issues.

Does my website need to be ADA-compliant?

In general, ADA compliance for websites is applicable to organizations and businesses that are considered under Title I, II, or III of the Americans with Disabilities Act. If you’re not sure where your company falls under that umbrella, no worries. We’ve broken it down for you. ADA compliance mandatory sites include:

Title I

Title one refers to private employers with 15 or more employees. It also includes employment agencies, labor organizations, and joint labor-management committees.

Title II

Title II refers to all state and local government entities. These entities are numerous, but some of them that you are familiar with probably include public schools and public transportation services.

Title III

Title III refers to public accommodations and commercial facilities. These places can be hotels, restaurants, retail stores, and theaters. These websites are expected to be compliant because they provide goods and services to the public or are part of governmental organizations. Just keep in mind that the specific requirements for website accessibility vary depending on local laws and regulations.

Sidenote: Even if your website does not fall under these categories, it is still a good practice to strive for ADA compliance. Not only will you make your website accessible, but you can create an great online experience for all users and potentially expand your audience reach. It also helps improve your website’s overall user experience, search engine optimization, and reputation as you will see below.

Office workers sitting around a desk smiling and discussing ADA compliance for websites

10 ways to achieve ADA compliance

Now that we know what ADA website compliance is and who needs to adhere to it, here are 10 easy ways that you can ensure that your website meets the highest standards of accessibility:

1. Provide alternative text for images

Provide a concise and descriptive alternative (alt) text for all images. Alt text helps screen reader users understand the context and content of the image. For example, if you have an image of a cupcake with the word “cupcake” in its alt text, it would be read aloud as “Image of cupcake.”

The alt text should convey the purpose of the image and not just describe it literally. We’ve found that short, descriptive alt text no longer than 125 characters is usually the most effective. To really become an expert, check out our Alt Text 101 blog.

2. Use proper heading structure

Organize your content using appropriate heading tags (H1, H2, H3, etc.) to create a clear structure and hierarchy. Headings like this help users with screen readers (which are used tools that read out your website’s content) understand the structure of webpages and skip from one section of a page to another. This blog is a great example of using heading structures in a helpful way!

3. Ensure keyboard accessibility

Make sure that all interactive elements of your website can be accessed and operated using only a keyboard. This is crucial for users with motor impairments who rely on keyboard navigation.

4. Offer transcripts and captions for audio and video content

Provide transcripts for audio content and closed captions for video content to ensure accessibility for deaf and hard-of-hearing users. Transcripts also help users with cognitive disabilities who may have difficulty processing audio content.

5. Implement proper contrast ratios for text

Ensure that your text has sufficient color contrast against its background, making it easier to read for visually impaired users. According to the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), it is recommended that you use a contrast ratio of at least 4.5:1 for normal text and 3:1 for large text.

6. Use descriptive link text

Avoid using vague phrases like “click here” for hyperlinks. Instead, use descriptive link text that clearly indicates the purpose and destination of the link, which helps users with screen readers to understand the context. For example for this article, instead of using “click here” we would use something like “Learn more about creating accessible content.”

7. Design accessible forms

Ensure that form fields are properly labeled, have clear instructions, and provide error messages that help users understand and rectify any issues. This makes it easier for users with various disabilities to complete and submit forms on your website.

8. Allow for adjustable text size and spacing

Design your website so that users can adjust text size and spacing without losing functionality or breaking the layout. This ensures that your content remains accessible to users with visual impairments who may require larger text or increased spacing. We’ve found that setting up a “zoom” option works well for this.

9. Provide skip navigation links

Offer skip navigation links at the beginning of your web pages, allowing users with screen readers to bypass repetitive navigation menus and quickly access the main content. Skip navigation links are especially useful for long pages with multiple elements.

10. Test your website for accessibility

Regularly test your website for accessibility issues using automated tools, manual testing, and by consulting users with disabilities. This helps identify and address any potential barriers to accessibility and ensures that your website remains ADA-compliant. Some helpful tools for testing your website include Wave Web Accessibility Evaluation Tool, Siteimprove, and aXe.

Web designers standing around a desk planning an ADA-compliant website design using paper graphs

What if my website is not ADA-compliant?

Should you risk not having an ADA-compliant website? In our opinion, no! If your website is not ADA compliant, you may face several consequences including:

Limited accessibility

A non-compliant website can exclude users with disabilities, leading to a poor user experience for them and limiting your potential audience reach. By not providing equal access, you miss out on engaging with a significant portion of the population.

Legal risks

Non-compliant websites expose businesses and organizations to potential lawsuits or complaints for violating accessibility laws such as the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The number of website accessibility lawsuits has been on the rise, and settling or defending against these claims can be expensive and time-consuming.

Damage to reputation

Non-compliance with accessibility standards can harm your brand’s image and lead to negative publicity. Many users and potential customers view accessibility as an essential aspect of corporate social responsibility, and failure to address it may negatively impact your reputation.

Search engine optimization (SEO) impact

Many ADA compliance best practices overlap with SEO recommendations. When you ignore accessibility, you may inadvertently impact your website’s search engine ranking. This is because most search engines look for accessibility markers to rank websites in their search results.

Final thoughts

Follow the tips outlined above and you can ensure a more accessible website that helps you reach more users regardless of their ability. Just remember that web accessibility is an ever-changing process and it is important to regularly evaluate your website for any compliance or ADA issues. If you are ever in doubt, seek the help of an experienced web designer like DOS that can guide you through creating an ADA-compliant website.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do I certify my website is ADA-compliant?

There is no official certification for ADA compliance. However, you can take steps to ensure your website is compliant by following the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) and addressing potential accessibility issues. To achieve this, you can:
1. Perform automated accessibility testing using tools like axe, WAVE, or Lighthouse.
2. Conduct manual testing by checking keyboard accessibility, color contrast, and other accessibility features.
3. Seek input from users with disabilities to identify any barriers they may encounter while using your website.
4. Consult accessibility experts or professionals to review your website and provide recommendations for improvements.
5. Regularly testing and updating your website for compliance is key to maintaining an accessible online experience.

Have there been digital accessibility lawsuits?

Yes, there have been numerous digital accessibility lawsuits in recent years, targeting businesses and organizations with websites and apps that do not comply with ADA standards. These lawsuits claim that non-ADA-compliant websites discriminate against individuals with disabilities by denying them equal access to goods, services, and information.

What is screen reader software?

Screen reader software is an assistive technology that allows individuals with visual impairments or learning disabilities to access and interact with digital content. The software converts on-screen text, images, and interactive elements into speech or Braille output, allowing users to navigate and understand the information presented on websites, apps, and documents.

What are WCAG guidelines?

The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, also known as WCAG, are a set of international standards and guidelines created by the World Wide Web Consortium that provide a framework for making digital content accessible to users with disabilities. WCAG guidelines are organized into three levels of conformance: A, AA, and AAA. Level A is the minimum and Level AAA is the most stringent.

What is meant by public accommodation?

Public accommodation is a term that refers to private businesses or organizations that provide goods, services, or facilities to the general public. Under Title III of the ADA, public accommodations must ensure that individuals with disabilities have equal access to their offerings- both physical locations and digital platforms. Examples of public accommodations include hotels, restaurants, retail stores, theaters, and healthcare providers.

Further Reading

What is Semantic SEO? 10 Ways to Optimize Content for Semantic Search

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About Noelle Thuillier

Noelle is a Content Specialist for DOS. She writes and edits all business content, including blogs, press releases, social media posts, and technical writing pieces. With over ten years of experience writing, Noelle has been published on many reputable sites during her career, including and Before coming to DOS, she worked as a News Director at KWHI in Brenham, Texas. Noelle oversaw the newsroom writing stories, producing content, and being an on-air personality. In addition to her bachelor’s degree in Political Science, Noelle holds a Master in Arts degree in Communication and Media Studies from the University of Greenwich in London, England. Noelle’s other passion in life is her family. She enjoys spending time with her husband, Joe, daughter, Frankie, and English Bulldog, Alvin. She also loves to travel, with her favorite destinations so far being Ireland and the Czech Republic.

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