Is Your Website ADA Compliant? Getting Accessible At Any Level

Starting Where You Are: WCAG-Led Equal Digital Access

Why Web Accessibility Matters

Accessibility, as an overall concept, refers to designing products and environments for universal use, such that they can be independently accessed, understood, and used by all people, regardless of their abilities. In the digital sphere, this translates to building or adjusting websites, online and digital content, applications and platforms, and digital or electronic interfaces, to make them usable by people with disabilities, including visual, auditory, physical, cognitive, or speech impairments. As part of the fairness and equality we would wish to have for ourselves and others, accessibility is critical in offering individuals with disabilities ways to access essential services and participate fully in society. People with disabilities deserve equal access to online information, services, and opportunities.


The Consequences Of Inaccessible Websites

In today's digital world, websites are gateways to information, services, and connection. However, inaccessible websites create significant barriers for people with disabilities. For instance, users with visual impairments might struggle with unclear text that leans on graphics they can’t see, or a lack of image descriptions. Complex menus or buttons requiring precise clicks can be frustrating or impossible for users with motor limitations. People with cognitive or learning disabilities may find challenges in unnecessarily complex language use, or forms with unclear instructions.

Inaccessible websites can limit:

Access to critical information, services and opportunities
Inaccessible websites can prevent people with disabilities from applying for jobs, booking healthcare appointments, or accessing educational resources.

Navigation and interaction
Convoluted layouts, missing keyboard shortcuts, or unresponsive design can make websites difficult or impossible for many users to navigate.

Comfort and confidence
Websites that are visually overwhelming, confusing, or lack predictable behavior can discourage people with disabilities from engaging online. They’re also likely to lead to a high bounce rate, even for users with typical abilities, meaning that people will get frustrated and simply click away.

Digital Discrimination, User Frustration, & ADA Website Compliance Lawsuits

By failing to prioritize accessibility, websites and their parent organizations shut out a significant portion of the population: the 2024 Annual Report on People with Disabilities in America estimates that as of 2022 data, approximately 13.9% of the civilian population living in communities in the United States have some form of disability. That’s 44,061,000 human beings at a glance, and we must assume the numbers have grown since then. And that’s just the official reports as disclosed to the Census Bureau, not including 2020 outlier numbers, and only referring to US residents. This is an enormous demographic even before extrapolating percentages to the wider world. Exclusion of such a large group of people from fair access to goods and services is undoubtedly wrong in and of itself.

It’s also not judged as merely an oversight in the view of lawyers and the courts. Inaccessibility can lead to real legal complications, and it is considered discriminatory towards people with disabilities. In some cases, websites that ran afoul of ADA requirements lost an accessibility compliance lawsuit against their holding companies. These businesses had to compensate litigants in settlement amounts that reached significant numbers. Although the exact sums are usually not disclosed, reliable sources tell us that the settlement amounts are steep indeed. 

The ADA: What It Is, & How To Stay On Its Good Side

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a United States law that was enacted in 1990, just before the emergence of the internet. It prohibits discrimination based on disability in all public spheres. While the act was originally intended to cover inaccessible physical structures and facilities, its governance expanded to include online and digital spaces. Many or even most businesses fall into the category of public accommodations under the ADA, obligating their web and digital content to either be in compliance or vulnerable to the risk of an ADA website lawsuit.

The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) are an independent, non-governmental benchmark providing technical standards for creating accessible websites. When a website is not accessible, it creates obstacles that can markedly disadvantage people with disabilities, in violation of the ADA's equal access provisions. Failure to meet accessibility standards as delineated by the WCAG and as mandated under the ADA can not only result in a loss of customer trust and potential revenue, it can expose businesses and other organizations to lawsuits. Organizations found guilty of these violations may face substantial settlement amounts, legal fees, and costly mandates to overhaul their digital infrastructure to comply with accessibility standards.

United States federal and state law alike require ADA-based accessibility for websites and other digital content and interfaces, such as mobile applications. Because there is this increasingly serious approach to web and digital accessibility, including expanded accessibility mandates at the state level, and because some ADA lawsuits against inaccessible websites have won damages, both private individuals with accessibility grievances and high-volume law firms have stepped up their efforts. In fact, lawsuits around ADA website compliance violations have spiked. 

Some business owners and organizational leaders might feel that the rising number of web accessibility lawsuits are excessive and unfair, particularly for smaller businesses that cannot keep up with accessibility consulting or design and development updates that may be out of their budget. However, these lawsuits are in fact quite reasonable in the larger perspective, although they may not feel that way to the business owner. Such accessibility lawsuits serve to uphold both legal requirements and ethical business practices by establishing a baseline of equal access through ADA and WCAG compliance: they create an accepted expectation of digital information and opportunities as being available for everyone, including people with disabilities. Just as some business owners in the past may have balked at the expense of adding a wheelchair access ramp to their premises, but nevertheless acceded to the legal requirements, web and digital accessibility must now be regarded as a normal cost of doing business online.

It is a fact that a very tiny minority of such lawsuits are unfounded, or are brought by more aggressive law firms without an accessibility violation directly experienced by an individual with a disability. Knowing that the courts may not see such litigation as frivolous, it is wisest to make your websites and digital content as fully accessible as you can, as quickly as you can. Besides for the actual advantages of accessibility, taking action towards improving accessibility is also seen as an act of good faith that improves your chances of having a meritless case dismissed.

Accessibility is a valuable business advantage. If you’re a business owner, you may have planned on putting it into place at some future point. However, to serve all your customers well, and to protect your business funds and reputation in the face of possible lawsuits, we suggest you get to it sooner than someday.

Getting Out Ahead: Proactive Accessibility Evaluation & Improvement Measures 

There are multiple ways even small businesses or organizations on a minimal budget can improve web and digital accessibility and compliance with reference to ADA regulations and to WCAG benchmarks without running up prohibitive costs, and without incurring the risks of even larger expenses due to legal repercussions following an accessibility lawsuit, justified or unjustified. We’ll discuss some of them below.

Accessibility Compliance Checkers: A Time-Saving Tool

Accessibility compliance checkers are automated software tools that scan websites and identify potential accessibility issues, identifying obstacles that might prevent people with disabilities from fully accessing and navigating the site. They may provide brief or more extensive reports and insights on areas of non-compliance. Some of these tools will also provide suggestions for corrective actions. These “rule-based” tools are valuable because they can review large amounts of content quickly, comparing live content and interfaces with required accessibility criteria and checking for a match or mismatch, saving significant time and resources compared to manual testing. Their speed and thoroughness make regular assessments feasible even for larger sites, where manual review would take an unsustainable amount of team bandwidth.

Compliance checkers can be particularly helpful for businesses or institutions that lack in-house accessibility expertise, which as a whole is the case for a large proportion of organizations. Pre-programmed with accessibility guidelines, these evaluation tools can highlight potential problems and offer recommendations for improvement that can be understood and implemented even by those without extensive knowledge of accessibility standards. While not a substitute for comprehensive manual testing, accessibility compliance checkers are a valuable first step in identifying and addressing accessibility barriers on websites.

Without automated, user-friendly tools like accessibility compliance checkers, many websites might never undergo an accessibility review, leaving barriers in place. Clearly, accessibility compliance checkers and other such automated tools can be used to effect a wide-ranging improvement in web accessibility, making the digital world more inclusive.

Ways To Check Web Accessibility

There are two main approaches to checking web accessibility:

Manual Audits

    Performed by accessibility experts who have a thorough grounding in accessibility standards and principles as well as a broad familiarity with relevant technologies, using specialized tools and techniques, these in-depth evaluations provide comprehensive insights into website accessibility.During an accessibility audit, these professionals manually navigate and interact with the website to identify issues that might not be evident to automated tools. They assess visual design, user interaction, and content structure for accessibility compliance.

    1. Automated Tools

    Software programs can scan websites and identify potential accessibility issues. These tools are fast and efficient, particularly for identifying common problems.These accessibility testing tools are effective for quickly reviewing large volumes of web content and identifying technical issues such as missing alt text, improper semantic HTML use, and inadequate contrast ratios. Some automated tools may also offer features to automatically correct a portion of the detected issues, simplifying the remediation process for web developers and designers.

    Both of these methods are important in the web development process, with manual evaluations providing detailed insights and automated tools ensuring broad coverage and efficiency.

    The 1-2 Combined Approach

    Employing a combination of these strategies is recommended to achieve the highest level of accessibility compliance. For organizations that can budget for it, regularly scheduled manual accessibility assessment is well worth the outlay of effort and expense, bringing in return both better protection against possible legal costs or complications arising from accessibility lawsuits, and a panoramic as well as rigorous review of all assets, which can lead to breakthroughs in dealing with stubborn accessibility roadblocks, and transformative improvements in true accessibility and usability.

    The WCAG, The ADA, & Accessibility Compliance Checkers

    Accessibility compliance checkers can help identify website features that don't align with the World Wide Web Consortium's Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). The W3C’s WCAG guidelines are internationally recognized recommendations for making web content accessible to people with disabilities: most accessibility laws in the United States and around the world use the WCAG as a foundation for their requirements. Following WCAG guidelines is important for complying with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) regulations on web accessibility. By using compliance checkers to find and fix accessibility issues, businesses can reduce the risk of ADA lawsuits.

    A Quick 5 Step How-To Guide: Using An Accessibility Compliance Checker


    Choose A Compliance CheckerThere are many free and paid accessibility compliance checkers available online. Research and select a reputable tool. Based on recommendations and reviews, find one that aligns with WCAG guidelines and is known for reliability.


    Enter Your Website URLOnce you've chosen a checker, enter your website address into the designated field. Some checkers work by examining a single page at a time (most free checkers), while others (usually paid versions) can run through multiple pages or even large websites based on a domain name, your “www” address.


    Run The ScanInitiate the scanning process. The tool will analyze the web page or site and identify any accessibility issues.


    Review The ResultsOnce the scan completes, review the report provided, noting down identified accessibility problems.


    Prioritize And FixFocus on the most critical issues first, and address them according to the checker's recommendations, if the accessibility compliance checker used offers a prioritization list. If you are not sure which items to action first, or if you don’t have a way to implement suggested fixes yourself or with the help of team members in your organization, seek outside assistance from an accessibility expert or an experienced developer.

    Common Accessibility Errors Detected

    Automated compliance checkers can identify a wide range of accessibility issues, some of which appear in many places throughout the page or site. In the case of recurrent errors such as inadequate color contrast, fixes can cause a positive ripple effect, raining down accessibility improvement throughout the site. Other issues may require more individual attention. Some of the most common accessibility obstacles include:

    Missing Alt Text
    Many sites fail to include alternative text, also known as “alt tags”, for images and graphic elements like icons. Images without alternative text descriptions can be a barrier for people who use screen readers.

    Meaningless Alternative Text
    Some sites may add alternative text for images, or may rely on automated tools that pull in the names of the images as alt text. However, if the text does not clearly describe the image, it isn’t helpful. Examples of poorly described or meaningless alt text:

    • File name alts such as homepage_header.jpg, graph-for-article.svg, or product87855434.gif. For people who can’t visually see the image, this doesn’t tell them what the image is showing.
    • Irrelevant or generic alts such as dog.jpg. If it’s a news article with a dramatic photo of a “family dog rescuing a toddler from a house fire”, use that as the alt text. If it’s a pet pedigree website, a useful alt might be “Airedale Terrier wins Best in Show at Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show”.

    Lack Of Keyboard Navigation
    Websites should be fully functional using only a keyboard; without comprehensive keyboard navigation options, they are inaccessible to users who cannot use a mouse.

    Inadequate Color Contrast
    Low contrast between text and background colors can make content difficult to read for all users, especially those with visual impairments. Trendy color choices or placing text over a photo may make your website look cool, but if your visitors can’t read the text, the content is not accessible. Tools like color contrast checkers are available to help verify that your site meets recommended contrast ratios.

    Empty Links
    Links without descriptive text can be confusing for users who rely on screen readers.

    Missing Form Labels
    Forms without properly linked labels are likewise problematic for screen readers users.

    Unstructured Headings
    Websites should use a logical heading hierarchy to structure content and improve navigation for users with screen readers or cognitive disabilities. For example, don’t use a header style on a sentence in the middle of a block of text, even if you want to pull out a quote or make the text more noticeable. Instead, use CSS styling to change the look of the text, while keeping the heading listed as body text or a subhead style.

    Non-Semantic HTML
    Improper use of HTML elements can negatively affect how assistive technologies interpret the site.

    7 Key Tips For Better Website Accessibility

    Accessibility is not an experts-only domain. Anyone can use their own roles, tasks and capabilities to improve accessibility in their organization’s web, digital and electronic assets. While in a perfect world we would all integrate accessibility principles, methods and features into all sites, applications and content from the earliest stages of their lifecycles, it’s rarely possible to start from zero, and it’s even rarer to come up with a perfect accessibility result. Do the next best thing: do better wherever and whenever you can. Below are some practical steps to get you started:

    Accessibility For Web Developers, Designers, Content Creators & Administrators

    1. Prioritize WCAG
      When designing and coding your website, and when updating or adding new content, prioritize meeting the World Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) standards. WCAG offers clear technical specifications to improve accessibility for people with disabilities. By meeting WCAG specs, you’re crafting accessibly, and you’re avoiding a potential ADA non-compliance lawsuit against your website and organization.
    2. Design Accessibly
      Design with accessibility in mind from the start, or from as early on in the process as possible. Consider how each element of your website's design can be accessed by everyone, integrating features that support ease of use for a diverse audience that includes people with disabilities. This approach also leads to more usable websites and interfaces and smoother user experiences for everyone.
    3. Meaningful Code
      Use clear, correct and descriptive code. Proper use of headings, sections, and other elements helps assistive technologies accurately interpret the structure and content of your website.
    4. Design Responsively
      Make sure your website functions well on various devices and screen sizes. Responsive design is critical for users who access the web with mobile devices and different technologies, including assistive devices.
    5. Educate Your Team
      Offer training for your developers, designers, and content creators on accessibility standards and best practices. An informed team is likely to make better decisions that consider the needs of all users.
    6. Accessibility Checkers
      Utilize accessibility compliance checkers to identify and address potential issues. These tools can be a valuable first step in improving accessibility, and can be helpful in validating compliance at any time.
    7. Accessibility Plugins
      Consider using accessibility plugins, extensions or widgets on your website, or with your website content management system (CMS). These automated solutions can offer some immediate accessibility boosts.

    Following best practices and employing automated tools may improve accessibility, but it's important to recognize achieving perfect accessibility can be an ongoing process, and these methods alone do not guarantee full accessibility or comprehensive legal compliance. The best approach combines these methods with regular testing, either automated or manual, to ensure ongoing compliance and a website that is truly inclusive for everyone. And, while we’ve suggested tips that address common accessibility obstacles, consulting a web accessibility specialist can provide a more in-depth evaluation and individualized solutions specific to your website and content.

    Free Online Website Accessibility Tools

    There are quite a few accessibility features or options that may be bundled with your browser, operating system, or content application, but they often are limited, and can be less user-friendly. Below are some free online accessibility checkers that work independently of these considerations, and are compatible with multiple browsers and systems.

    • WAVE: Web Accessibility Evaluation Tool
      This is a mini suite of testing tools, with browser extensions, an API, a testing engine, and a report option. WAVE is sometimes used by accessibility experts in conjunction with their manual accessibility evaluation.
    • A11y Color Contrast Validator
      You can use this tool to run through text and background colors for websites, applications, and design materials including color swatches. Typing in the hexadecimal codes for any given color pair will bring up a response on the contrast ratio and if it is acceptable for accessibility.

      Note: If you weren’t already familiar with it, “a11y” is a term often used to refer to accessibility practices, advocacy and principles. The number “11” stands for the eleven letters between a and y.
    • Axe DevTools
      These extensions work with multiple popular browsers to help run automated tests on websites, pages or applications. For certain specific issues, these may also be utilized by accessibility experts as they test.
    • AChecker
      Reviews web pages for accessibility standards compliance to provide feedback on how to correct issues.

    Building Inclusive Environments, Everywhere

    Creating digital landscapes and physical surroundings that are accessible and welcoming to people with diverse disabilities is something we should be doing because it’s right. Accessibility lawsuits may be the stick, but the inherent human sense of fairness is the carrot. And we can reach for it: it’s right there. Accessibility is not an unattainable ideal, it’s an everyday goal. When we embed inclusion in our processes consistently and with care, integrating accessibility into every facet of the spaces we make and maintain, we not only provide equal access as required morally and by the law, we help move society towards a brighter horizon. But it’s not just hazy potential we aim at. By committing to accessible practices, we can make a difference here and now. The future grows where we put our effort, and we can watch it unfold. The equality we build today sets the foundation for a better tomorrow.


    What accessibility issues could set off an ADA website compliance lawsuit?

    These lawsuits typically occur when a website’s inaccessibility makes it difficult or impossible for individuals with disabilities to use the site at all, or to complete important tasks, like reading critical information or completing a purchase. Serious obstacles will vary by website, but aside from overall accessibility testing, it’s a good idea to have users with disabilities or accessibility experts check through your site for major accessibility blockers.

    Top 5 Accessibility