Secure Your Business and Improve Your Website with ADA Compliance

Rachelle Kuramoto
Rachelle Kuramoto
VP of Brand & Content
Published Feb 22, 2022

If you’re managing a website — or an organization with a website — how much attention are you paying to accessibility standards? In the U.S. alone, there are approximately 61 million people for whom certain colors, font sizes, and layouts prohibit their ability to take in content, merely because they can not see or decipher them clearly. That’s about 18% of the population. (Not a small chunk of your potential audience.)

This is a problem that The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 addresses. Specifically, the civil rights law prohibits discrimination based on disability. In addition to ADA compliance, there are two standards — Section 508 and Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) — that are important to understand. 

If you aren’t paying attention to how you’re designing, displaying, and developing your content, chances are your users are not going to pay attention to you. Or if they are, they are going to pay attention to feeling excluded. There are a host of reasons why it’s important to follow these rules for your website and mobile applications, ranging from it being good for business to potential financial ramifications for noncompliance.

But before we delve into why and how to ensure your digital presence is compliant, a bit of education. 

What is the difference between ADA Compliance, Section 508, and WCAG?

Achieving compliance for your website or mobile property content can depend on your sector or industry. Here are the terms and rules you need to know.

ADA

As we noted above, ADA is a civil rights law prohibiting the discrimination of people with disabilities in all areas of life. It ensures all areas of your business (like building exits and hiring processes) do not discriminate against people with disabilities. It includes their experience using electronic and information technology. The following parties must follow and meet ADA guidelines:

  • Nonprofits
  • Businesses
  • Local governments
  • State governments

Section 508

This federal law requires federal agencies to maintain and engage information and communications technology that people with disabilities can use. The following parties must follow and meet Section 508 rules:

  • Federal agencies
  • Federal departments

Again, this law extends beyond digital properties. Federal agencies and departments must make sure other areas of their operations meet 508 compliance standards. 

WCAG (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines)

This is an ISO (International Organization for Standardization) set of guidelines for creating an accessible website for people with disabilities. Because these are guidelines, not regulations or laws, businesses need to develop a guide or checklist for WCAG standards. There are three levels of compliance: A, AA, and AAA.

  • Level A: A site that some users can access.
  • Level AA: A site that almost all users can access.
  • Level AAA: A site that all users can access.

Most organizations stop short of complying with Level AAA, striving instead for AA. Because this is a progressive list, to conform to AA standards you also have to conform to all of the A standards.

Why Pursue Compliance?

As we mentioned, there are a lot of reasons a company should care about and proactively seek to meet ADA requirements. Most notably, building products that everyone can access is one of the most fundamental ways we can and should celebrate diversity and inclusivity. Here are a few other reasons to make a commitment to assessing and updating your digital properties if needed.

  • It’s the right thing to do. Being ADA compliant is responsible. The law seeks to prohibit discrimination, people love companies that do good, and it just feels good.
  • It can protect your brand. Did you hear about the Domino’s lawsuit or that Beyonce has been sued for compliance? No one wants their brand dragged through the mud (especially if you simply didn’t know better before getting in trouble).
  • It’s good for business. Compliance could widen your audience by (see math above) close to 20%. Not a bad opportunity for brand growth.
  • It’ll put you in “good” with Google. Google will give your site SEO “juice” for compliance. 

If those aren’t reasons enough, there is a very real “Business Case” for compliance, and it’ll hit you right in the wallet. The cost of a lawsuit could be upwards of $1,000,000 — 10 times more than the cost of compliance.

And the chances of getting hit with a lawsuit continue to go up. The number of ADA Title III lawsuits, which require equal access to places of public accommodation, including digital properties, has skyrocketed over the past eight years. The rise in cases has more to do with the accessibility of websites than physical spaces, particularly as so much of our activity — especially in the wake of the pandemic — has moved online.

ADA Title III Federal Lawsuit Filings Hit An All Time High, February 18, 2022

What should you do next (or first)?

For starters, don’t panic! This is an opportunity to make some improvements to your digital engagement experience, improve your brand presence, widen your audience, and know you’re doing right by the world. Achieving ADA compliance is a pretty straightforward process if you have the right resources. And a few changes can make a big impact. 

The best way to gain assurance that your website and/or mobile platform is compliant is to have an expert perform an ADA compliance audit, provide you with a comprehensive list of updates, and update your property/ies accordingly. Our team of UI and UX specialists recommends that most organizations consider adhering to WCAG 2.0 AA compliance. 

Areas of AA compliance review and updates include:

  • Text contrast minimums 
  • Test sizing and resizing
  • Alt tags and image captions
  • Video captions
  • Audio captions and descriptions
  • “Multiple ways” (More than one way is available to locate a web page within a set of web pages, except where the web page is the result of, or a step in, a process)
  • Clarity of headings and labels
  • Logical and standardized navigation
  • Removal of text in images

Check yourself based on this list. How confident are you in the ability of your digital properties to include all users?

If you’re not sure and you’re a DIY sort of person, here are a few ways to get started on your compliance journey.

  • Self-development with third-party site audit tools, including:
    • The A11y Color Contrast Accessibility Validator checks the contrast on a given web page, displays the color combinations that fail the WCAG guidelines, and suggests solutions to fix any issues.
    • Accessibility Insights for Web is a Google Chrome extension created by Microsoft to help developers and web designers find accessibility issues or errors on their site.
    • The CynthiaSays tool helps users find accessibility errors in their web content, compares them to section 508 and WCAG guidelines, and provides feedback on specific web pages.
  • Implement paid or free monitoring tools and managed solutions, including:
    • AccessiBe, a cloud-based service that runs constantly and assesses the useability of all of your sites with a scan every 24 hours.
    • Level Access is accessibility management software that identifies accessibility issues on a website and displays them in the form of reports.
  • Engage third-party ADA modules and services like site plugins, ADA site clone services, and embedded script/site converters

If you’re more CYA than DIY in your attitude toward mitigating legal risk, we recommend taking a slightly more rigorous approach to the audit and fixes.

  • Determine your comfortable level of compliance (and risk)
  • Talk to legal counsel about your specific liability/ies
  • Find a third-party certified, experienced partner to help you get to compliance and remain compliant over time

With either approach, you’ll want to establish and document your status and processes for ongoing assessment and assurance. 

Remember, compliance and inclusion are good business. Your brand reputation depends on the experience you offer. And compliance is about 10X cheaper than litigation. In fact, depending on the size of your digital property, a budget of between $15K and $25K will secure an expert third-party Dragon Army ADA compliance audit, update, and maintenance plan.

Don’t take chances. A small amount of effort and investment has the very real potential to keep your brand and your bottom line safe. Get in touch and we’ll get started. ​​