ADA Website Compliance: Does It Matter?

If you ask companies that have been threatened because of alleged ADA website compliance issues, they would say it does matter, and tell you that it would be wise to consult with your ADA attorney about your website, and look into implementing some optional accessibility enhancements. The American with Disabilities Act was signed into law in 1990. It "prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in employment, programs and services provided by state and local governments, goods and services provided by private companies, and in commercial facilities."1

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The ADA primarily concerns itself with physical access to physical buildings. Government offices and agencies, and businesses both large and small are affected by the ADA. Elevators and ATM machines now feature Braille instructions for people with vision disabilities. Sidewalks now have “curb-cuts” so that people using wheelchairs can easily cross the street without meeting curb barriers.

But what about your website?

In an opinion letter written by the United States Justice Department dated September 9, 1996, The U.S. Department of Justice stated that: “Covered entities under the ADA are required to provide effective communication, regardless of whether they generally communicate through print media, audio media, or computerized media such as the Internet. Covered entities that use the Internet for communications regarding their programs, goods, or services must be prepared to offer those communications through accessible means as well.”

What constitutes a covered entity? You should check with your legal advisors to see if your business or non-profit might be subject to these requirements.

But even more so, what constitutes effective communication? And what constitutes accessible means when it comes to a website? Unlike the ADA requirements for physical buildings, which are clearly described and documented, what exactly constitutes ADA website compliance and what the standards should be for testing ADA compliance on a website has not been defined by law.

One group, the WC3, has attempted to fill in this void by developing a proposed set of standards called the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.0). There are several levels of conformance, Level A, Level AA, and Level AAA, which are progressively more stringent, and for some web content, AAA conformance may be impossible. These proposed standards have not been adopted into the ADA as of the writing of this article, August 2015.

One way to partially protect your business or your non-profit may be to consider upgrading your website to WCAG level A compliance. Doing this does not necessarily guarantee ADA compliance as the official standards have not been clearly identified by Congress. It is likely that in the future, Congress may define ADA website compliance rules and tests that could be very different from those listed in the WCAG proposed standard. However, since the WCAG does a reasonable job of addressing key website accessibility issues, conforming to those standards can keep your website visitors happy, and may help to avoid ADA-oriented lawsuits.

Below is just a brief look at some of the items that need to be in place if your site is to be considered ADA website compliant. This is NOT a complete list. You should consult with a website development professional with ADA website compliance experience such as Trinet Internet Solutions. They will be able to meet all the standards set forth by the WCAG. Here is a short list of some of the items that need to be updated on your entire site:
  • If non-text content either presents information or responds to user input, there needs to be a text alternative.
  • If non-text content exists like multimedia, live audio or video streaming, a test or exercise that uses a particular sense or is designed to create a specific sensory experience, then a text alternative needs to be present in the form of a label at minimum.
  • Captions need to be provided for any media that is prerecorded.
  • Audio descriptions of video, or a full multimedia text alternative such as a transcript, needs to be provided for recorded video.
  • Sign language interpretation is provided for live multimedia.
  • Provide extended audio descriptions for any prerecorded video .
  • Text or diagrams, and their background, need to have a luminosity contrast ratio of at least 5:1.
  • The ability to turn off audio on a website without turning off computer speakers.
  • All functionality on a website is operable in a non-time-dependent manner through a keyboard without the use of a mouse.
  • Content on a site does not blink for more than 3 seconds.
  • Except during real-time live events, timing on a site is not an essential part of the interaction or activity presented by the content.
  • When an authenticated session expires, the user can continue the activity without loss of data after re-authenticating.
  • Content does not violate the general flash threshold or the red flash threshold.
  • Web elements do not have any components that flash more than three times in any 1-second period.
  • Each link has text with it describing the purpose of the link.
  • Titles, headings, and labels are descriptive.
  • All images on a page must have an alt tag with descriptive text.2

In short, for websites, ADA compliance is an issue that has not been clearly defined, but you can take some optional proactive steps, like upgrading to WCAG 2.0 Level A or higher, as a means to help protect your business or non-profit from possible ADA compliance lawsuits or threats. Contact Trinet at 949.442.8900 for more details relating to ADA website compliance and what steps you need to take in order to be compliant with the standards set forth by WCAG 2.0 Level A or higher.

1. See the U.S. Department of Justice "ADA Homepage" at
2. Appendix B: Checklist (Non-Normative)
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