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ADA Compliant Websites and Web Accessibility

Website ADA Compliance is becoming increasingly common, and in some cases, it’s actually mandatory for organizations to act in accordance with these accommodations. From appropriate alt tags and link destination descriptions, to removing flashing images or arranging form fields in a particular order, Title III (and for government websites, Title II) of the Americans with Disabilities Act has outlined specific changes you must make to your online presence to ensure your website is accessible and user-friendly for everyone, regardless of disability or physical limitation.

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What is ADA Compliance?

Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) specifically “prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in the activities of public accommodation” and as such, the ADA requires that state and local governments, businesses, and nonprofit organizations “provide goods, services and programs to people with disabilities on an equal basic with the rest of the public.”

As for ADA compliant websites, these accommodations are largely aimed at people with visual, hearing, and mobile disabilities. For example, people with blindness will often use screen readers to navigate the internet. These tools verbally translate the content in front of them by analyzing the website’s code. For this reason, it’s important for designers to ensure their HTML accurately depicts what is on the screen.

What Makes a Website ADA Compliant?

The Web Accessibility Initiative (W3C) has become the gold standard for ADA Compliance. While the list is extensive, it’s broken down into three areas of accessibility: 

  1. Design: Interface & Visual Design
  2. Writing: Writing & Presenting Content
  3. Developing: Markup & Coding


Many design requirements have to do with color and contrast. For instance, there is a minimum contrast ratio for text on images, background gradients, buttons, and many other elements. Currently, the ADA recommends a “luminance contrast ratio” of 4:5:1 to ensure appropriate accessibility.

Design specifics also include stipulation on how to use colors and numbers properly to help readers differentiate elements and provide additional identification for those with color perception impairments. Beyond identification, there are also guidelines for headings, spacing, linking, navigation, and other procedures for images and media.


The information that you provide on your website can often be even more important than how you display it. W3C recommends page titles always state the subject of the page before the name of the organization.

This critical text should help visitors decide if the current information is relevant to them or not.

Moreover, if you have pages that are part of a multi-step process or sequence, be sure to include the current step in the page title. W3C guidelines also outline proper heading structure, anchor text, alt text, and transcripts of videos, among other content specification that provide accessibility to all users.


W3C also includes best practices for developing accessible content for people with disabilities. Because many internet users navigate websites with screen readers and other devices, it important for you to associate a label with every form control. For example, if a person with blindness is required to enter his or her username, it’s important that developers use the proper code snippet to help the reader understand the required information.

W3C also recommends providing attributes that identify page language, add additional markup for clearing meaning, and match reading order with code order. Lastly, it’s important that your website can adapt to the user’s technology, similarly to how most developers code for mobile friendliness.

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Do All Businesses Need An ADA Compliant Site?

The original intent of ADA regulations was to prosecute the unfair accommodations of physical spaces (i.e. schools, storefronts, recreational facilities, etc.). However, lawmakers are actively pursuing ADA compliance on web property as well. While everyone should strive to enhance their online accessibility, financial institutions, schools (including colleges, universities, and daycare), healthcare offices, and government websites should be most concerned about adhering to Title II and Title III, as they could be more susceptible to litigation than small businesses.

On the other hand, Seyfath Shaw, an extensive ADA Title III law resource, found that nearly 50% of lawsuits files as of August 2017 were actually directed at retail sites. The runners up were also a somewhat of a surprise, as the study revealed the other top industries under scrutiny included:

  • Restaurants (25%)
  • Hospitality (8%)
  • Medical (6%)
  • Entertainment (4%)

Why Does ADA Compliance Matter?

From a human standpoint, maintaining ADA compliance is simply the right thing to do. It’s important that every business strive to enhance their website(s) to accommodate all of their visitors fairly. What’s interesting is that these ADA accommodations may actually have some SEO benefits (more on this in a moment).

In addition, there is the issue of legality. In fact, research by Seyfarth Shaw indicates an 18% increase in ADA compliance lawsuits between 2016 and 2017. By April 30 of this year, 2629 cases were filed. However, this increase shouldn’t necessarily come as a surprise considering nearly one in five Americans has a disability, according to the United States Census Bureau.

ADA Compliance Is Just Good Practice

If you’re reading this and panicking about litigation, take a deep breath, you have time. However, you should seriously be considering how and when you’re going to make ADA compliant changes to your website.

As of July 20, 2017 the Trump Administration released its first Unified Agenda of Federal Regulatory and Deregulatory Actions and placed “Nondiscrimination on the Basis of Disability; Accessibility of Web Information and Services of Public Accommodations” on the Inactive Actions. Although this seems like it should be a relief to businesses, this lack of legal initiative could make things even more difficult for businesses. This is because without regulation, disorganized and inconsistent court decisions are made about ADA compliance.

Eliminate the Issue

While government websites are already being held responsible for their accessibility, small businesses and nonprofits are not far behind, and much of the current research is pointing to the first quarter of 2018 as a time frame in which to establish ADA compliant website regulation.

That being said, beyond the warm fuzzy feeling of doing the right thing, these accommodations could actually have a huge impact on your SEO. It’s not that ADA compliance in and of itself boosts a site’s authority, however, specific page titles, alt tags, and clean code can all give your trust and citation flow a nice boost in Google’s eyes.

If you’re curious and want to learn more about ADA compliance, click here to contact us today. We’re always happy to help build a more accessible web experience for your customers.

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