- Website Accessibility Compliance: Making digital content perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust for people with disabilities by conforming to legal guidelines that remove barriers and ensure equal access
- Purpose: Conforming to guidelines that remove barriers and ensure equal access for people with disabilities
- Core Values: Inclusion, equal opportunity, and non-discrimination
- Standards: ADA, WCAG 2.1 AA, and Section 508
- Requirements: Alt text, captions, keyboard navigation, and color contrast
- Origins: Legal obligations, ethical duty, and social responsibility
- Priorities: Compliance, usability, and discoverability
- Benefits: Expanded audience, legal protection, and better UX for all
- Risks: legal penalties, lawsuits, damaged reputation, and lost revenue
- Results: Higher conversions, positive branding, and future-proofing
Table of contents:
In today's digital age, a company's website is often the first point of contact for customers and a primary channel for conducting business. However, many websites fail to comply with legal requirements and accessibility standards, putting the company at risk of lawsuits, penalties, and missed opportunities.
This concise guide equips managers to make smart decisions for legal compliance, risk reduction, and tapping new revenue streams to create accessible websites. Follow straightforward tips to ensure that your website welcomes all visitors instead of excluding users and exposing the business to liability claims. Let's make your website ADA compliant and set an accessible path forward.
Regulations for Website Accessibility
To operate legally and ethically, company websites must comply with federal and state laws and guidelines requiring accessibility for people with disabilities. Key regulations include the Americans with Disabilities Act, WCAG compliance standards, Section 508, Section 504, and state laws.
Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Compliance
The ADA prohibits discrimination against disabled individuals and requires equal access to information and services. Under Title III of the ADA, websites are “places of public accommodation,” so ADA compliance guidelines apply to site accessibility.
The Department of Justice (DOJ) can investigate claims of non-compliance and levy financial penalties. Out-of-court settlements often require companies to revamp sites, pay damages, and submit to audits.
WCAG (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines)
Announced by the World Wide Web Consortium, also known as W3C, the authoritative web standards organization, WCAG outlines technical compliance criteria for making web content accessible. These evidence-based guidelines help ensure people with diverse disabilities can perceive, understand, and navigate your website, interact with it, and contribute to its content.
WCAG organizes accessibility requirements into three conformity levels — A, AA, and AAA — representing minimum, medium, and maximum standards. Most experts advise organizations to implement WCAG 2.1 AA standards at a minimum. Key requirements include:
- Adding text alternatives to describe non-text elements like images, graphics, multimedia, and PDFs
- Providing accurate captions and audio descriptions for rich media
- Ensuring information remains understandable when colors are unavailable
- Logically organizing pages through semantic markup and navigation mechanisms
- Maximizing compatibility with assistive technologies like screen readers
- Accommodating limited mobility and manual dexterity through keyboard access
Staying updated on the latest WCAG requirements is also critical for compliant websites, and adapting to these guidelines ensures more users can access content as the web evolves.
Section 508 Compliance
Stemming from a 1998 amendment to the Rehabilitation Act, Section 508 requires electronic and information technology of federal agencies to be accessible to people with disabilities; this includes government websites.
While Section 508 legislation does not directly impact private companies, following these federal accessibility standards is considered industry best practice. Many organizations mandate Section 508 conformity from technology vendors and contractors.
Section 504 Compliance
Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities from federal funding recipients and federal executive agencies. All organizations that receive federal financial assistance must ensure equal access.
Courts have ruled Section 504 obligates covered organizations to make their online presence accessible. Universities, hospitals, transportation agencies, and other recipients risk losing federal funding for non-compliance.
California Unruh Civil Rights Act Compliance
California’s Unruh Civil Rights Act entitles all people to equal accommodations in business establishments within the state. Legal experts affirm the California Unruh Civil Rights Act considers websites places of public accommodation, binding businesses in the state to accessibility standards.
As Unruh bans exclusion by businesses, its provisions strengthen disabled residents’ ADA Title III rights to non-discriminatory web access. Courts increasingly cite Unruh in accessibility disputes involving Californian companies, underscoring the urgent push towards web compliance in the state.
New York Human Rights Laws
Under New York State Human Rights Law, it is illegal discrimination to deny individuals with disabilities access to public accommodations. State courts consider websites with public-facing operations to be public accommodations.
Commercial sites must thus provide effective communication and ensure interface compatibility with screen readers, keyboard controls, and other assistive technologies. Organizations have faced legal repercussions in New York for insufficient web accessibility investments.
Potential Risks of Not Having an ADA Compliant Website
Contrary to some misconceptions, the ADA does not exempt small businesses or religious and nonprofit organizations from website compliance. As evidenced by 8,694 Title III lawsuits in federal courts filed in 2022, all commercial sites face substantial legal and financial risks due to inadequate accessibility measures.
Disabled individuals and advocacy groups file hundreds of web accessibility lawsuits annually under the ADA and state laws. 2021 saw a record 11,452 ADA website accessibility lawsuits nationwide, a 4% increase over 2020. California accounted for over half that total with 5,930 suits.
Settlements often reach tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars. Lengthy litigation drains company resources. Plus, adverse verdicts can establish costly legal precedents moving forward.
Defending these lawsuits requires hefty legal expenses, even if ultimately dismissed. In California, the Unruh statute lets successful plaintiffs recover reasonable attorney’s fees from the defendant on top of damages. Most cases settle to avoid further costs.
In California, each instance of denial of web access to a disabled resident counts as an ADA violation with a maximum fine of $150,000. Class actions stemming from single inaccessible website features can thus prompt hundreds of thousands in civil penalties.
Beyond lawsuits, the DOJ can launch official investigations against websites based on ADA complaints received. Typically, conciliation agreements to remedy accessibility issues carry monetary compensation, too.
Many web accessibility lawsuits and settlements result in court orders requiring companies to take specific steps for compliance:
1. Website audits to identify barriers
2. Creation of accessibility policies
3. Employee web accessibility training
4. Upgrades per WCAG standards
5. Quarterly audits to confirm progress
Failure to carry out these court orders on schedule exposes organizations to contempt of court charges or additional financial liabilities.
Department of Justice (DOJ) Investigations
Unlike private lawsuits, Justice Department investigations can scrutinize whether organizations intentionally avoided ADA requirements for website accessibility; this raises the specter of criminal charges for willful non-compliance.
Charges often get dismissed through negotiated settlements and corrective measures. Still, federal inquiries further tarnish reputations and divert resources from business needs towards managing legal crises.
Damage to Reputation
Beyond direct legal action, news coverage of web accessibility lawsuits generates negative press highlighting ways companies allegedly exclude the disabled community.
Poor reputation with disability rights groups also prompts boycotts and online backlash. Apologies and policy improvements in the aftermath may fail to regain community trust.
In building non-compliant websites, organizations also lose out on revenue streams from millions of customers requiring accessible interfaces. The global online market serving people with disabilities already generates billions in sales.
ADA regulations for websites continue evolving. However, managers should recognize digital accessibility as a competitive advantage rather than just legal risk management. Identifying upfront investments in inclusive design prevents future losses.
Benefits of Implementing Website Compliance Measures
Aside from mitigating legal hazards and reputational damage, proactively optimizing websites for accessibility guidelines directly enhances organizations’ digital capabilities and market growth.
Expanded Customer Base
Accessible sites open doors to America’s leading minority group, improving outreach to the over 60 million people with disabilities nationwide, according to the CDC. 16% of the world's population, or an estimated 1.3 billion people, live with a disability, according to World Health Organization. More customers mean increased sales and commerce opportunities.
Building inclusive online experiences fosters stronger community relations and demonstrates corporate social responsibility, earning customer loyalty beyond just the disability market.
Reduced Page Loading Time
Following web development best practices for accessibility also speeds up page loading. Minimalist code, browser-compatible standards, and lean multimedia lower data demands. Faster response times improve visitor experience metrics that factor into search rankings. Quicker page loads additionally convert more website visitors into customers according to detailed analytics.
Increased Website Traffic
W3C estimates that optimizing web accessibility boosts site audience by 12%. Optimized journey flows mean expanded search crawler reach for indexed pages. Higher-quality visitor experiences, in turn, reduce exit rates and boost session times for organic growth.
Better User Journey
Compliant information flows assist all site visitors in better perceiving, navigating, and interacting with content interfaces. Enhanced understandability and ease accelerate user task completion. A structural organization using semantic HTML headings, color contrast, logical page layouts, and customization options facilitates usage needs varying across tech setups, abilities, and learning styles.
Automated checkers use WCAG criteria to assess site quality and test your website. Meeting benchmarks raises search rankings and visibility for relevant queries. Conformity also means ADA compliance shows up under SEO analysis—a reputation asset.
Disregarding rules and guidelines governing web accessibility poses considerable legal, financial, and competitive risks. On the other hand, implementing inclusive design earns organizational rewards.
Treat digital accessibility as a fundamental infrastructure for how your company reaches customers and carries out e-commerce in the modern age. Conduct ADA website compliance audits of your current website. Catalog and prioritize any detected flaws using WCAG’s three conformity levels.
Construct accessible interfaces upfront in website redesigns. Continually revisit policies and monitor user metrics across all browser platforms to identify shortfalls. Stay updated on emerging international and state standards that expand equality online.
Most importantly, recognize ADA compliance for websites as furthering user rights rather than imposing burdens. Enable full participatory access for disabled individuals in how the organization facilitates communication, community, and commerce through the Internet. Advancing website accessibility ultimately benefits both businesses and their customers.