What is ADA Compliance?

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), is a 1990 civil rights law that aims to end discrimination based on people with differing abilities. This covers a wide range of disabilities from vision, hearing loss, learning disabilities, limited movement, speech disabilities and many more. While the ADA does not directly address website usage, its vision for accessibility has been constantly evolving the way websites are designed and developed.

What is the WCAG?

The WCAG, or Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, is a set of recommended standards for websites established by the W3C that aims to make web content more accessible to all users. The document is broken down in 4 main principles, consisting of 12 total guidelines.

The 4 Principles of WCAG Compliance

  1. Perceivable – Information and user interface components must be presentable to users in ways they can perceive.
  2. Operable – User interface components and navigation must be operable.
  3. Understandable – Information and the operation of user interface must be understandable.
  4. Robust – Content must be robust enough that it can be interpreted reliably by a wide variety of user agents, including assistive technologies.

WCAG Compliance Levels

The WCAG has 3 different compliance levels set forth in their individual guidelines. This means that not all items within each guideline are required to attain conformance.  As your conformance reaches higher levels, your content will become more accessible to a larger audience. The following are the 3 levels of conformance.

  • Level A (The minimum level of conformance) – To be considered ADA compliant, your website must comply to at least this level.
  • Level AA – Satisfies all criteria set forth in both Level A and Level AA
  • Level AAA– Satisfies all criteria set forth in Level A, Level AA, and Level AAA

What does the ADA say about websites?

The ADA never directly addresses websites. This has made the topic quite confusing for everyone involved. The relationship has been evolving for over a decade and has been filled with controversy and even court cases.

While not addressing how websites are required to tend to users with disabilities, it is filled with vague guidelines that people argue can be directly linked to website users. For instance, Title III of the American Disability Act states that:

“The ADA broadly protects the rights of individuals with disabilities in employment, access to State and local government services, places of public accommodation, transportation, and other important areas of American life.”

See anything curious in there? While President George H. W. Bush signed this into law in 1990 before the boom of internet usage for businesses, it can be argued that a businesses’ public website is a “place of public accommodation” and therefore that website should be accessible to everyone.

In 2010, the Department of Justice stated their intention to:

“Establish requirements for making the goods, services, facilities, privileges, accommodations, or advantages offered by public accommodations via the Internet, specifically at sites on the World Wide Web (Web), accessible to individuals with disabilities.”

In 2018, the DOJ followed up on this claim concluding that while ADA Title III’s requirement for places of public accommodation could apply, without specific regulations regarding websites, the claims cannot be seen as a basis for noncompliance.

It will be interesting to see in the coming years if any specific rules will be set forth to clarify this. For now, make your websites ADA compliant anyways. Your users will be happy, you’ll get more business, and you won’t run the fear of having to fix things later if and when these regulations are created.

About the Author

David May

Dave is one of our Front End Web Developers. When he's not keeping up with web development trends and furthering his knowledge of all things code, he's probably playing a video game, reading a book or sitting on the beach.

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