How To Check If A Website Is ADA Compliant | Compliant

Most people are familiar with the civil rights legislation known as the Americans with Disabilities Act. This piece of legislation sought to address discrimination against those with disabilities in the public square.  

However, as technologies advanced, the public square widened to include the internet. These days, most public discourse, commerce, and information are derived from the digital environment.

That is why it is important to understand how the Americans with Disabilities Act affects communications and information technology. Website accessibility is essential for providing equal access to information for those with disabilities.

What Is the ADA?

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was signed into law in 1990 before the digital boom was in full swing. On the surface, the ADA prohibits discrimination against individuals and employees in the public sphere.

The ADA regulations apply to state and local governments and services, entities that receive federal funding, such as schools, transportation, and more.

Also, the law applies to both public and private businesses that are open to the general public, but only to employers with 15 employees or more.

In short, the ADA guarantees equal opportunity for those individuals with disabilities related to employment, government services, telecommunication, and public accommodations (areas open to the public).

ADA standards are covered in five titles. The one that relates most closely to web accessibility is Title III of the ADA. Title III covers places of public accommodation, such as movie theaters, restaurants, hotels, retail merchants, and more.

These entities must provide reasonable accommodations for those disabilities. An example might be wheelchair accessibility.

But how does this apply to websites? According to the law, informational websites fall under the category of places of public accommodations, which is backed by recent rulings in the courts.

ADA compliance with Title III is regulated and enforced by the Department of Justice (DOJ). Failure to comply with the regulations could bring harsh penalties, lawsuits, and a trip to court.

How Do You Know If a Website Is Accessible?

ADA has no specific standards as it relates to website accessibility. However, most organizations, including government agencies, adhere to the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) outlined by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) for accessibility standards.  

These are considered the go-to compliance standards for all web content and design. These accessibility guidelines were created to promote equal access in the digital environment for those with disabilities. The most recent set of guidelines is WCAG 2.1.

These accessibility guidelines are built on four principles: Web content and design must be perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust. Also, the WCAG provides success criteria for reaching conformance levels to help gauge whether websites are considered accessible and compliant.

  • Level A is considered minimal compliance and addresses the issues of inaccessibility.
  • Level AA is standard compliance, which would make a website understandable and usable for most people.
  • Level AAA is considered optimal compliance and is the aim for most government agencies; it is also the most difficult to achieve.

Having an ADA-compliant website depends on how closely the web accessibility guidelines are followed. But, the first review of web accessibility can focus on a few of the most common barriers to accessibility.


One of the biggest indicators of ADA website compliance is examining how texts are arranged and used on a website. This goes back to the principles of accessible design; visual information must be clearly perceived and understandable for all users.  

To make a website ADA compliant requires an accessible use of texts. This could include using accessible fonts, such as sans-serif typefaces, and choosing an accessible color palette.

The appropriate use of color is important to provide accessibility for those with visual impairments, such as low vision or color blindness — e.g., color combinations such as red/green are considered inaccessible.

Also, color contrast is important. Minimum color contrast ratios per the WCAG are at least 4.5:1 for texts and backgrounds. Texts should also be optimized for resizing without the use of assistive technology up to 200 percent without losing content or functionality.


The structure is another consideration as it relates to accessibility and website ADA compliance. For example, headers should be descriptive and follow a meaning hierarchy to be understood and make heading navigation easier for assistive technology.

For example, many individuals rely on keyboard navigation in lieu of a mouse; the structure of the content must be organized so it can be easily navigated, distinguished, and understood.


Visual content, such as images that provide information or context, should also be considered part of accessible design.

Providing alternative text (alt-text or alt tags) for images is not only a good SEO practice for the Google search engine; it is essential for making information accessible for those with disabilities, especially those with visual impairments that utilize screen readers.

Alt texts help convey the purpose of complex images, such as a graphic, an illustration, charts, graphs, or diagrams. They can provide context for crucial information and must be utilized to keep content accessible for all.

This also applies to both audio content and video content. Providing captions for videos or transcripts for audio is important for those with hearing impairments.

How Do You Test for ADA Compliance?

Ensuring your website complies with ADA and the WCAG standards can be done through automated or manual testing or a combination of both.

Evaluating where you stand using the WCAG standards is great for checking manually. Also, the W3C provides a listing of web accessibility evaluation tools for automated compliance testing.

Privacy Policies

The ADA does not regulate terms for privacy policies. Again, this deals with how the user accesses information.

However, suppose your website does collect personal information (including third-party tracking) from users. In that case, a privacy policy should be in place and should be easily understood and recognized by all users.

Accessibility Policies

The WCAG are considered international guidelines and are used for most web accessibility policies worldwide — as they relate to non-discrimination laws in the digital environment.

These should be understood throughout the organization. All should understand the conformance levels and scope of the accessibility policies.

Easily Identifiable Contact Information

Accessing informational content is important. However, ensuring your contact information is easily identifiable as well is equally as important.

This can be vital for allowing users to provide helpful feedback on the website and offer a chance to help you improve accessibility.

Clear Navigation

As mentioned above, accessibility relates to the content of a website and how the user navigates the website. A website that is not optimized for keyboard navigation or assistive technologies creates a real barrier to access for many.

One of the principles for accessible design is that a website is operable. This involves the functionality of the user interface and how the site and tools are used and navigated.

Multimedia Transcripts

All audiovisual and multimedia content should be easily accessed and understood as well; this includes anything that adds value or context to the information on the website. Again, most ensure accessibility by providing transcripts for audio recordings and other multimedia.

This allows assistive technologies the ability to describe important information presented in the multimedia elements.

Flash Alternatives

One element of accessibility that is often overlooked is providing Flash alternatives. More and more browsers are unsupportive of Flash; this can be a barrier to accessibility for multimedia elements. There are numerous Flash alternatives, such as H5P tools, HTML5, WebGL, and more.

Internal and External Audits

As mentioned above, accessibility testing tools provide a way for you to audit your website’s accessibility internally. Selecting the right accessibility evaluation tool is key.

Some internal accessibility audits can be run using plug-ins, while others can run external audits through online checkers or hosted services.

Again, most organizations opt to perform internal audits first, usually performed manually by adhering to the WCAG standards. Accessibility evaluation tools act as external audits and usually provide detailed reports.


The Americans with Disabilities Act is an anti-discrimination law that helps ensure individuals with disabilities get equal access in the public sphere. The scope of the disabilities act also extends into the digital environment.

Regarding website accessibility, the international standards outlined in WCAG set the bar for ADA website compliance and conformance. These provide best practices for ensuring website accessibility.

Thankfully, there are numerous testing and evaluation tools to run audits so you can ensure your website is ADA compliant and adheres to the standards outlined in the WCAG.