ADA Compliance: A vs. AA vs. AAA

If you’re unsure what ADA Compliance is, you may want to read our blog ADA Compliant Websites and Web Accessibility to better understand the scope of these regulations set forth by Titles II & III or the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The goal of these accommodations is to help ensure online content is equally accessible and user-friendly to all internet users, regardless of physical limitation.

To build an ADA compliant website, web developers (like us!) follow specific guidelines to accommodate people with visual, hearing, and mobile disabilities. A common example of compliance is confirming a site’s HTML code accurately captures the essence of the content being visually depicted on a given page. This allows people with blindness to better navigate your site with the help of a screen reader, a tool that verbally translates the content in front of them by analyzing a website’s code.

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Web Content Accessibility Guidelines

The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), an international organization that develops web standards to build rich interactive experiences, created testable criteria to help developers determine if their sites are easily accessible for people with disabilities. These standards are measured through a “stable, referenceable, technical standard” called the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 (*note: WCAG 2.1 is scheduled to be published in 2018).

WCAG has 12 guidelines that are organized under four principles:

  1. Perceivable
  2. Operable
  3. Understandable
  4. Robust

Each guideline also has a set of requirements, known as “Success Criteria.” In order conform to WCAG’s standards you need to test your website for any elements that violate the “Success Criteria.”

While most standards have only one level of conformance, there are areas of a website that warrant greater levels of accessibility. For this reason, WCAG 2.0 designated three levels of conformance:

  1. Level A
  2. Level AA
  3. Level AAA

Common factors that are evaluated when setting the level of conformance include but are not limited to:

  • Whether or not assistive technology can make the content accessible
  • The ability to satisfy the Success Criteria with a variety of topics and types of content
  • How reasonable it would be for a content creator to meet the Success Criterion
  • Whether the Success Criterion would impose limits on the "look & feel" and/or function of the Web page

The last of these factors is important to note as many businesses begin to panic at the thought of changing their branding to satisfy color and contract requirements. However, as we dive into some examples of Success Criterion below, keep in mind that logos/logotypes are (currently) exceptions to the WCAG’s visual accommodations.

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Accommodating Color Combinations

To get our feet wet with ADA compliance, let’s dive into some design elements. WCAG’s Guideline 1.4 helps developers create distinguishable content that is easy for user to see and hear. This includes the colors of a site’s background and foreground.

Level A

To meet level A requirements, web developers have to be sure that color is never the “only visual means of conveying information, indicating an action, prompting a response, or distinguishing a visual element” on the site. This is because many times, users with color deficits will see your content in grey scale as opposed to RGB color.

Level AA

To meet level AA’s Success Criterion, it’s important to aim for a contrast ratio of at least 4.5:1 for your background and foreground to display text and images of text compliantly. By meeting this visual accommodation, your site will successfully hit the minimum contrast criterion for fonts below 18 point. For larger fonts (18 point or higher) designers can use a lower contrast ratio of 3:1 and still successfully meet the AA contrast requirements.

In conjunction with color, it’s important that your text can be resized up to 200% without assistive technology without losing content or functionality. Moreover, text, as opposed to images of text, should be used whenever possible in the site’s visual presentation.

Level AAA

The Success Criterion for AAA has a few more challenges for web developers. Not only do you have to meet the minimum requirements for Level A and AA but your also have to enhance your contrast even further. Text and images of text must have a contrast ratio of at least 7:1.

Additional Level AAA Success Criterion for visual presentation are rigorous and oftentimes a skilled design and development team is necessary to meet these requirements. For instance, WCAG states that blocks of text must have a mechanism available to achieve the following:

  1. Foreground and background colors can be selected by the user.
  2. Width is no more than 80 characters or glyphs (40 if CJK).
  3. Text is not justified (aligned to both the left and the right margins).
  4. Line spacing (leading) is at least space-and-a-half within paragraphs, and paragraph spacing is at least 1.5 times larger than the line spacing.
  5. Text can be resized without assistive technology up to 200 percent in a way that does not require the user to scroll horizontally to read a line of text on a full-screen window.

However there are exceptions to these visual stimulations: larger fonts (18 point or higher) can have a lower contrast ratio of 4.5:1, purely decorative elements of the site are unrestricted, and text that is part of a logo is exempt. That being said, it’s important to note that images of text, unless purely decorative, should not be used to convey any information or be part of the presentation other than for branding and aesthetics.

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Do You Need to Be ADA Compliance?

It’s important that companies do their best to accommodate people with disabilities, be it in a physical space (storefronts, offices, restaurants, etc.) or online. However, financial institutions, government websites, healthcare offices, and schools (including colleges, universities, and daycare), should be most concerned about adhering to Title II and Title III, as they could be more susceptible to litigation than small businesses.

Research by Seyfath Shaw, an extensive accessibility law resource, found that the number of Federal ADA Title III lawsuits increase by 18% from 2016 to 2017, and this figure is only expected to grow in the future.

For that reason, it’s important that your website meets these ADA requirements before you find yourself in hot water. If you’re interested in talking to a development team that’s specialized in ADA compliance, click here to contact us today.

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