Best Practices for ADA Website Compliance

computer and website browser with content icon graphic

The four best steps to preventing an ADA Website Compliance lawsuit in 2021 are:

  1. Manually audit and remediate (fix) your website in accordance with WCAG 2.0 AA (or, even better, 2.1 AA)
  2. Have your website user tested by persons with disabilities
  3. Get your WAVE checker errors to zero or very low
  4. Create a robust, custom web accessibility policy statement

Take care of these items and you can take a deep sigh of relief; it’s highly unlikely any demand letters will be arriving in your mailbox.

For larger entities, there are certainly other important considerations the more zealous you are about getting and staying in compliance with best practices:

  • re-audits
  • regular testing
  • documentation, statements of record
  • certification
  • training
  • appointing a coordinator
  • VPATs® for products and services
  • technical support
  • legal support
  • updating properties and new properties

Going back to the big four items, let’s talk in plain English about what each means.

Manual Remediation

The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) is a set of technical standards that tell you what you need to do to make your website accessible.

Some of the guidelines are easy to implement. Some your website probably already takes care of by default. And others are technically more difficult and you’ll need some help.

Courts frequently reference WCAG 2.0 AA as a measuring stick in determining whether a website is accessible.

Lawsuits increasingly reference WCAG 2.1 AA because it’s the latest version of WCAG.

WCAG 2.1 includes all of 2.0 AA + 12 more success criteria (things to do).

If you have an in-house development team or can hire an accessibility developer or agency that can remediate or fix your website so that it meets WCAG 2.1 AA success criteria, you’re in great shape.

My WCAG 2.0 vs. 2.1 breaks down how to view each.

Website remediation is never an instant fix. Instant accessibility is impossible so do not let any vendors deceive you on this.

To be clear, there is no JavaScript code — whether it be a toolbar, plugin, widget, or anything else — that makes your website instantly accessible.

For true remediation, there must be edits made within the content and at the code level of the website.

In some instances, it is easier to build a new accessible website than it is to retrofit an old website for accessibility.

Manual Audit

A manual audit actually precedes remediation.

A manual audit is where someone goes through a website (or other asset) and outlines any issues that fail success criteria set by WCAG. A good audit will also provide guidance on how to address each issue.

Developers then take the audit and implement the changes.

Because the end result — an accessible digital property — is the tangible, desired outcome, I’ve rolled an audit under the category of remediation.

User Testing

User testing involves having persons with disabilities actually review and inspect your website for inaccessibility.

The users will provide feedback and then you will implement changes based on that feedback to make your website even more robust.

Having testing done shows a genuine commitment towards accessibility and goes beyond the technical WCAG standards to address the practical side of accessibility — how well can users with disabilities access and engage with your website.

This is something you’ll definitely want to include and feature in your web accessibility policy as testing alone can ward off claims of discrimination with real evidence that users with disabilities can access your website.

WAVE Checker Errors

WAVE is a free website accessibility checker tool that is by far the most popular among plaintiffs’ lawyers.

If the error count is really high when a scan is run by a plaintiff’s lawyer, you will very likely receive a demand letter.

One of the best tips for avoiding a lawsuit is to get WAVE to show 0 or close to zero errors and warnings.

This is more of a practical measure as most accessibility issues cannot be found by running an automated scan. However, the results of this tool continually decide whether a lawsuit is threatened so it’s best if you can whittle the errors down.

Accessibility Policy Statement

An accessibility policy or statement is sometimes overlooked but, as I hit upon in the user testing section, your policy page matters (more lawsuits are mentioning a lack of a page).

Beyond user testing, you can bolster your policy with other supporting actions such as:

  • hiring an independent consultant or an agency
  • appointment of web accessibility coordinator
  • conducting regular audits
  • training staff on accessibility
  • investments made in furtherance of accessibility

Everything you do to make your digital operations more accessible helps. It’s not one single thing that makes your policy robust but the collective strength of your actions, especially the ongoing measures.

The more specific/detailed and tailored your policy page is, the better.

I’ve provided a template website accessibility policy in another article but you certainly don’t want to limit yourself to a generic policy if you’ve taken big, powerful steps towards making your digital offerings accessible.

You’ll want to update your policy page and might even want to consider maintaining a statement page (which formally states your level of accessibility) as you continue to maintain and improve upon your digital accessibility.

The four bullet points above are the very best practices for avoiding an ADA website compliance lawsuit in 2021.

As you unpack the remediation side of things, you’ll realize that meeting WCAG 2.0 AA and/or 2.1 AA will take a concerted effort.

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