Do Websites Have To Be ADA Compliant? | Compliant

Equal opportunity is the cornerstone of most civil rights legislation. Typically, equal access to jobs, housing, and education is at the forefront. However, equal access to information is just as important.

In our day, the majority of information is found and consumed in the digital environment. Much of communication and commerce is done on the internet. But, many people are unaware that the internet comes with its own access barriers.

Sometimes, website visitors with disabilities and impairments cannot access web content with the same ease as their peers. That is why accessible design is so important when it comes to web pages.

Thankfully, civil rights legislation exists to protect individuals with disabilities from discrimination when it comes to the digital environment.

What Is the ADA?

Civil rights law helps pave the way for equal access for those with disabilities. One of the most important laws was the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990. The focus of the disabilities act was to prohibit discrimination against Americans with disabilities within the public sphere.

Provisions outlined in the ADA include local, state, and federal agencies, schools, transportation, telecommunications, and the workplace — both public and private entities. Essentially, this legislation guarantees individuals with disabilities have equal access in these areas.

The ADA was updated and amended in 2008 — ADA Amendments Act (ADAAA). The legislative language was updated and strengthened when it came to defining the legal term “disability.’

Although exemptions do exist, which mainly apply to religious organizations and construction measures of historic buildings, compliance is far-reaching in both the public and private spheres.

Why Is ADA Compliance Important?

ADA compliance depends largely on the entity and area of public access. Again, this can extend from the state and local governments down to private businesses, or in this case, a website owner. The provisions for compliance are outlined in the five titles of the ADA.

Title I of the ADA deals primarily with equal employment opportunities for individuals with disabilities. It applies to state and local government agencies as well as private employers with more than 15 employees.

It ensures a person with disabilities cannot be discriminated against while applying for jobs or during the hiring or firing process. Also, reasonable accommodations must be made for the employee during job training or daily duties.

Title II addresses government activities and services and relates to public transportation that receives federal funding.

Title III of the ADA

In terms of web accessibility, Title III of the ADA is the most applicable. ADA Title III addresses areas of public accommodations and commercial facilities. Places of public accommodation include any area open to the public, whether privately-owned or leased. This includes movie theaters, restaurants, hotels, and more.

The provisions deal largely with compliance related to accessibility in public spaces or a physical location (e.g., wheelchair accessibility). However, a recent court ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals extended the scope of public accommodations to include informational websites of places of public accommodation.

Overall, ADA compliance is important because it ensures equal access to individuals with disabilities. This includes having an ADA-compliant website. These regulations are enforced by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ).

What Does ADA Compliance Mean for Websites?

At its inception, the ADA had no clear language as it related to maintaining an accessible website. But, in order to accommodate the growing digital environment, standards for accessible design were adopted in 2010 — the ADA Standards for Accessible Design.

This mandates that all communication and information technology (e.g., websites) be made accessible. This included all government agencies, most private employers, and entities of public accommodation. Basically, any entity that falls under Title II and III has to make their website ADA compliant.

But, when it comes to ADA website compliance, there are no clear rules within the law itself. The ADA in and of itself does not provide guidelines for website accessibility. Most organizations opt to follow the international accessibility guidelines outlined by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). These are known as the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG).

What Happens If My Website Is Not ADA Compliant?

As stated, ADA compliance is required for entities that fall under the jurisdiction of Titles II and III of the ADA. Failure to comply with ADA guidelines can pose some risks, the most severe being lawsuits.

For example, a civil action lawsuit — Gil v. Winn-Dixie — was filed against Winn Dixie supermarket by a plaintiff in 2017 in the State of Florida. In short, it was found that Winn Dixie violated the ADA because its websites were found inaccessible to visually impaired individuals.

According to the ruling, Winn Dixie failed to offer the plaintiff “full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, or accommodations.”

Of course, this is only one court case out of many. When it comes to websites, public entities that fail to comply with ADA regulation can find themselves in court, having to shell out the cost of attorneys’ fees. Fines are also possible.

How Do I Know If My Website Needs to Be ADA Compliant?

In short, ADA compliance is required for:

  • State and local government agencies (federal agencies fall under Section 508)
  • Private employers with 15 employees or more
  • All entities operating for the public’s benefit and in the public space (including brick and mortar businesses with websites)

Again, if your organization falls under Title II or III, it applies to you.

How Can My Website Be ADA Compliant?

For ADA compliance, it is best to follow the accessibility guidelines mentioned above, specifically WCAG 2.1. These guidelines contain best practices for all elements of website design.  

They offer three levels of conformance:

  • Level A is considered the bare minimum requirement to avoid an inaccessible website.
  • Level AA is the standard level of accessibility for most organizations to meet legal requirements.
  • Level AAA exceeds accessibility requirements and is often the standard for federal websites.

Review the Website Content Accessibility Guidelines

The web accessibility standards are guided by four principles, the website and content must be: Perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust.

All content and informational elements must be perceivable by all users and should accommodate a range of disabilities. An example of this may include providing captions for audio content or audio descriptions like transcripts for other multimedia.

The website should also be easy to navigate and operate for diverse users. An example might include optimizing the user interface to accommodate keyboard navigation instead of a mouse.

Also, the content and elements of the website must be understandable. The content and information should be presented clearly and contain no unnecessary barriers to understanding.

This could include an accessible color palette and color contrasts for those with visual impairment (e.g., color blindness).

Finally, the content must be robust, meaning it can be interpreted by a wide range of assistive technologies, such as refreshable braille displays and screen readers used by blind individuals.

Use Alt Text

Utilizing and providing alt texts and alt tags is crucial for all complex images and elements (icons, logos, etc.), conveying meaning and providing context to understand the content. Not only do alt texts help enhance search engine optimization, but it also ensures everyone (specifically those with visual impairments) aren’t missing out on important content and information.

Include ADA-Friendly Styles and Design Elements

Also, utilizing ADA-friendly styles and design elements within the HTML and CSS layout is important. This may include utilizing color (contrast ratios, sans-serif font, 12 point font for body texts) to enhance meaning — not distract from it. The W3C provides helpful tips to get you started with WCAG guidelines for design and style elements.

Conduct an Audit

While there are numerous automated accessibility checkers to audit your website for accessibility errors, the W3C does offer some basic steps to manually audit and review the accessibility of your website for the first time. They also provide further resources for selecting effective web accessibility evaluation tools.


So, it is vitally important for websites to be ADA compliant, especially if you fall under Titles II and III. But, even if you don’t, these guidelines provide best practices for web accessibility for all to follow.  

Under the WCAG, these practices can not only help bring your website up to compliance, but they can help provide equal access to web content for all users.

So, having an ADA-compliant website doesn’t sacrifice innovation; it provides a way for more people to appreciate your content.