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ADA and WCAG Compliance - What does it mean?

We often hear a slew of complicated terms and guidelines when the conversation of website ADA compliance comes up. Jargon like WCAG 2.0, Level A, AA, and AAA and Section 508 standards. The list goes on! We’re not going to say this is easy to understand, but we’ll certainly attempt to break it down and make it easier to digest. Along the way we’ll provide you with some tools and resources to help test, fix and make sure your site is compliant.

What is ADA and WCAG?

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is the set of laws that organizations are required to follow to meet compliance for people with disabilities. For a business with a brick and mortar we tend to think of things like wheelchair ramps, widened doorways, and allowing service animals inside.

Section 508 are the laws under ADA that govern the accessibility of websites and other technology. The guidelines are outlined and maintained by The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) (basically a bunch of web nerds across the world who develop the standards of the web), who have created a set of international standards called Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.0) that are designed to to meet Section 508 standards.

To expand on WCAG 2.0, there are three levels of compliance. In order to meet the needs of different groups and different situations, three levels of conformance are defined in the guidelines: A (lowest), AA, and AAA (highest).

Should my site be compliant?

Currently there is little regulation online by the Department of Justice mainly because there is a lack of formal regulations. The DOJ has promised to release regulations, but haven’t yet delivered. Many experts believe that The DOJ will eventually adopt the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, but only time will tell.

Although the regulations are unclear, we see many government and state-funded organizations predominantly requiring WCAG 2.0, AA level compliance.

So when asking, “should my site be compliant?” it all depends on your audience and getting ahead of the curve. What we mean by your audience is that if a significant percentage of traffic coming to your site are users with disabilities, it would be in your best interest to maintain compliance so your users can better navigate your site. It may also create an opportunity for a complaint against your organization for not being ADA compliant. What we mean by “getting ahead of the curve,” is that eventually there will be legal guidelines required for compliance. Doing it sooner than later and being proactive may help increase the lifespan and health of your website.

What does my site need to be compliant?

This is by no means an exhaustive list of criteria, but rather some notable guidelines that are required to meet compliance:

  • Alternative text for all images on site
  • Ability to pause, play and/or cycle through image carousels or videos
  • HTML semantics is logical and organized
  • High levels of color contrast
  • Keyboard accessibility - can the user navigate page elements by only using a keyboard?

A complete technical list of the guidelines are located here: https://www.w3.org/WAI/WCAG20/quickref/

How do I know if my site is compliant?

Unless your site is ancient handwritten HTML created in the mid 90’s, chances are your site is compliant. However, the majority of modern websites that have any type of interactive functionality should be tested for compliance.

There are an abundance of testing tools on the market, but here are a couple of our favorites:

For a comprehensive list of tools provided by W3C please visit: https://www.w3.org/WAI/ER/tools/

What now?

Converting a site to meet compliance may vary in time depending on the complexity of functionality, code, images, content, and styling. If you feel like your site needs to be ADA compliant, our team has converted a wide range of sites to meet compliance, we would be happy to provide assistance or guidance on how to move forward, reach out to us, we’d be happy to help. 

Disclaimer: The information in this article is for general informational purposes only and is not legal advice. If you need specific legal advice, consult with an attorney who specializes in your subject matter and jurisdiction.

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