Building ADA Compliant Websites For Your Customers

Does your business or organization have an ADA compliant website yet? If not, the time to take care of this problem is now…

Not next week or when you get time—NOW. There are good reasons for this, as we’ll discuss in this article.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) became law in 1990 (with subsequent amendments) to protect those with physical or mental disabilities.

Its purpose is simple: to give all Americans with disabilities the same rights and opportunities as everyone else.

But, because no one imagined then that the internet would quickly become an integral part of day-to-day life today, the U.S. Department of Justice recommends that people extend ADA to websites as well.

But how can businesses and organizations tell their site is ADA compliant or not? How do you make websites ADA compliant?

The ADA is clear in its mission and becoming clearer in its enforcement—for very good reasons. This article will discuss how and why to make ADA Compliant Websites.

Understanding the Americans with Disabilities Act

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a law that was enacted in 1990 to prevent the discrimination of people with physical or mental disabilities.

The ADA was modeled after the Civil Rights Act of 1964, to serve as an “equal opportunity” law for those with impairments.

To be protected by the ADA, a person must exhibit signs of a disability, whether that be a pre-existing or existing physical or mental impairment or a history of impairment.

What is ADA Compliance?

The Internet was still getting off the ground at the time the first iteration of the ADA was passed. Not surprisingly, the law lacked anything specific about effective website design.

Websites were just experimental at that time. Nearly 30 years later, a lot has changed!

The two aspects of websites most affected by ADA are design, meaning the overall look and user interface, and development, meaning the coding that makes the site functional.

ADA compliance is important at both levels.

Standards for Accessible Design

Two federal agencies have taken on a great deal of responsibility for implementing the provisions of the ADA: the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Department of Health & Human Services (HHS).

Historically, defending and supporting the rights and needs of diverse groups have fallen within the purview of one or the other.


“The Department of Justice (DOJ) published the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Standards for Accessible Design in September 2010.

These standards state that all electronic and information technology must be accessible to people with disabilities.”

These standards apply to websites themselves, and any files they might host or link to—including sound and/or video files.

They will also apply to Internet-based technologies that are new or haven’t even been developed yet.

In fact, the DOJ and the HHS have produced and distribute many documents explaining the steps to take for ADA Compliant Websites.


Another important entity producing guidelines and documents to solve technical problems with web access by disabled people is the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C).

The WC3 has produced the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), which are aimed at improving web accessibility worldwide.

These guidelines are said to be the “best means of making your website useful to all of your users.”

These guidelines explain how to solve many problems faced by users with disabilities.

While they don’t cover all the possible issues, they cover quite a few, and are internationally recognized and adopted standards.

WCAG 2.0 (and its revisions) provides detailed checklists so web developers can code specific adaptations, such as making non-text content (e.g., photos) visible as descriptive text.

U.S. government agencies like the DOJ and HHS have relied on the WCAG Guidelines in several instances–as discussed in the following section.

Constantly Refining?

In the interests of diversity and inclusion, “constantly redefining” should be the goal of any guidelines in support of ADA.

However, in 2018, there was some concern about the number of legal actions being filed. Most of these actions claimed that this or that website didn’t comply with ADA standards.

The debate circulated around the word “flexibility.”

The DOJ has consistently held that the absence of a specific regulation doesn’t justify claims of noncompliance with legal requirements.

With the ADA and websites, they asserted that there were viable ways for disabled people to get any information they might need.

This supports an unfortunate belief that, for example, a website may be accessible and usable by most disabled people without fully complying with ADA.

The pertinent legal concern in a website accessibility lawsuit is not whether the site adheres to written guidelines…

It’s whether disabled people should be expected to access “a public accommodation’s goods, services, and benefits” through the website, or in some alternative fashion (such as an 800 number).

This works only as a temporary solution—and not a very good one. It hardly addresses an access problem that will only grow as Internet technology becomes more complex.

We can only hope that web developers will be up to the challenge of making website adaptations toward the goal of a greater level of ADA compliance.

In other words, they should strive to make each website as inclusive as possible.

ADA Regulations & Websites

While the ADA was made an official law, no one had ever considered that the internet would become an essential application for daily life, from the workplace to entertainment.

For this reason, there is a limited mention of protection online for people with disabilities.

However, although it is not explicitly mentioned in the ADA, the U.S. Department of Justice highly recommends that websites follow the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) set forth by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C).

The criteria mentioned in the WCAG are designed to make websites more accessible to those with disabilities, and therefore ADA compliant.

Why are ADA Compliant Websites Important?

You might be thinking, “Why should I make my website ADA compliant when there are other ways for disabled people to get information?”

“Don’t they have Braille, American Sign Language, and other ways to translate information?”

“Not to mention those 800 numbers, right?”

Feeling Excluded

Let’s imagine that commonly used websites appeared in Mandarin, not English. After all, native Mandarin speakers outnumber native English speakers by more than three to one.

Wouldn’t this be frustrating? Even seem unfair?

So do you think it feels for people with disabilities to have no access or only partial access to most of today’s websites?

Sometimes, even when accommodations are made, the sites don’t replicate the experience of other, non-disabled users.

Not doing everything possible to ensure fair access to modern communication technologies leaves a sizable portion of the population out of touch and denies them important opportunities for personal and professional development.

Being Self-Sufficient

It also limits their access to a wealth of information. New websites and new website content are created every day.

A phone line can’t even come close to matching this kind of coverage. Just look at what’s happened to library shelves since the Internet came into its own.

An important cornerstone of disability-related diversity initiatives is not only providing accommodations as needed but, even more significantly, building self-sufficiency.

Why shouldn’t an intelligent and visually impaired blind person be able to retrieve information from a home computer or smartphone just like anyone else?

Doesn’t society need that person to be fully functional? You bet!

Building Knowledge and Understanding

What would be better for a diverse and inclusive society than an Internet-savvy cadre of people with disabilities? Their goal would be to make the Internet more accessible for future generations.

And who would be better at defining future accessibility measures (surely a never-ending task) than those who most need them today?

We know that change can be difficult. But, as with any other marginalized group, you have to let these folks in through the front door like everyone else if you want them to work with you.

What’s in it for You?

There’s a lot in it for you, actually – whether your business or you personally. Here are five reasons we came up with in favor of making your website ADA compliant:

1. You and Your Business Won’t Get in Trouble for Lack of an ADA Compliant Website

In June 2017, the supermarket chain Winn-Dixie became the first commercial business to lose a lawsuit alleging that its website was in violation of the ADA.

It was one of 70 such suits filed by the same individual.

The plaintiff didn’t win monetary damages, but Winn-Dixie was mandated to make its website ADA compliant. Other businesses, take note!

2. Being Compliant Can Boost Your Reputation

Think of it this way: you were conscientious enough to add ADA website compliance to your to-to do list and actually did it.

You worked hard to give access to people who otherwise wouldn’t have been able to benefit from your site.

They’ll be back. And they’ll tell all their friends.

3. The More People Who Can Access Your Website, the More Traffic the Site Will Get

It’s sort of a chain reaction, wherein ADA compliance can boost SEO, SEO can drive traffic to your site, and traffic will help build your reputation.

4. It Can Improve SEO Success

Accessibility requires more and different defined tags, images (alternative text), and links. These are all are read by search engine crawlers and thus have the potential to boost SEO.

5. ADA Compliance Could Be the Backbone of Universal Design—Which is Good for Society

Universal design (UD) is “design that’s usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialized design.”

In an ideal future, UD (in conjunction with diversity and inclusion initiatives) would make the ADA all but obsolete.

Trending Towards Universal Design

Already, video transcription—initially a measure to help hearing-impaired students—has been adopted. It helps viewers to better absorb key points and review the material more thoroughly.

This has transformed the learning experiences of countless students, at all levels, regardless of disability status.

Similarly, electric eye doors, an obvious way to assist people using wheelchairs or crutches, have done a lot for people carrying grocery bags or small children.

And who wouldn’t want a walk-in bathtub or a shower without a door or a curtain to deal with?

These options are now popular with many people—and probably will become even more so after the prices come down a bit.

So let’s apply the same principles to ADA compliant websites.

Once more people see all the benefits this brings, we’d hope that ADA compliance becomes just another step in the processes of building and maintaining websites.

What Makes a Website ADA Compliant?

There are several things that website builders can do to make a website compliant to WCAG and ADA standards. However, at the very minimum, websites should be perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust to adhere to them.

Is it Perceivable?

First, to be compliant with WCAG—and therefore, ADA—a website must be perceivable. In other words, your site should make it easy for those with disabilities to find and process information efficiently.

  • Text alternatives. Websites should provide text alternatives for any format that is not text, such as audio, pictorial, or video content. For example, photos should have alternative text (alt-text) that briefly explains what is shown in the image. Videos with audio or audio-only content should include captions.
  • Time-based media. Sites should have alternatives available for content that would otherwise only be available in an audio or video format. For example, a substitute for a video could be a transcript easily read by a screen reader.
  • Adaptable. In addition, websites should have adaptable content that can be presented in different ways without losing information. This content should be compatible with assistive technologies such as NVDA or JAWS.
  • Distinguishable. Finally, ADA and WCAG compliant sites should have enough contrast present to make their content easy to see and hear for those with visual and hearing impairments. An example is using text to overlay a photo; there should be a contrasting background behind the text to make it easy to distinguish from the picture.

Is it Operable?

A website must also be operable, from its user interface to navigation.

  • Keyboard accessible. All functionality on a website should be keyboard accessible; in other words, users of your site should be able to navigate through your site content with the individual use of a keyboard, where different keystrokes can lead to different outputs. This is important because those with motor and visual impairments may rely on a keyboard to navigate websites.
  • Timing. Your website should also give users enough time to read and digest the content you provide, according to DBS Interactive. For example, if you have scrolling or moving content, the user should be able to adjust its timing or pause its movement.
  • Physical reactions. Avoid using content or features such as flashing lights on your site that can trigger seizures and other physical responses.
  • Navigable. A website should have ways to help users navigate and find information easily. It should also help them identify where they are on the site. To help with this, make sure your navigation bar is in an easily accessible area. Add headers and titles to each of your site pages.
  • Input modalities. The website should make it easy for users to access various parts of your website beyond just using a keyboard. For example, those using touch screens should be able to use your site just as easily as those using a keyboard.

Is it Understandable?

The information on your website should be easy to comprehend for all users.

  • Readable. Overall, your content should be readable and understandable. Some ways sites can make information digestible include making a text legible for applications and software to identify definitions of words, expanding abbreviations, or simplifying the content’s language.
  • Predictable. The website should be consistent in navigation and functionality compared to other websites. Include site maps and search functionality in your design so that users can get to different parts of your website easily.
  • Input assistance. If your site prompts users to type in information, it should make it easy for them to avoid or correct mistakes. An example of implementing this principle is by providing descriptive labels on a form so users and screen readers can identify which information they need to input.

Is it Robust?

Finally, an ADA compliant website should be able to adapt to meet changing needs.

  • Compatible. The website should continue to be compatible with updated browsers, screen reading software, and other assistive technologies. For example, your site should be accessible through the variety of browser options available, such as Firefox, Google Chrome, Windows Explorer (Microsoft Edge), and Safari.
  • Parsing. The content and its coding throughout your website should be complete with start and end tags while nesting other elements correctly. The correct parsing will ensure that assistive technologies do not experience issues due to display errors.

Testing for ADA Website Compliance

If you are not sure whether your site is ADA compliant, consider performing a combination of manual and automatic testing.

Manual screening involves observing your website’s overall design and content and asking whether it could be considered perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust.

Automated testing, on the other hand, requires the use of online tools or software that automatically goes through your site to identify places that need improvement to meet ADA and WCAG standards.

If you need help to determine whether or not your website is ADA and WCAG compliant, the W3C site has a list of web accessibility evaluation tools.

These tools are designed to help identify places where your website meets or does not meet the benchmarks established by the ADA and WCAG.

And that reminds us… We’re web consultants, did you know? If you need design help or inspiration for making your website ADA compliant, it would be great to hear from you!