Serve All of Your Customers and Don’t Get Sued! The Art of Website ADA Compliance

You might have heard about organizations such as Domino’s Pizza, H&R Block and Miami University being sued for failure to comply with the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) guidelines on web content.

Is ADA compliance something you need to worry about for your website?

We’ll answer that question in depth — spoiler alert, the short answer is that if you have customers or users in the United States, the answer is “yes!” — and provide some details to get you up to speed. By the time you finish this article, you’ll know exactly which steps to take to start making your website ADA compliant.

What is ADA Compliance?

Getting your website ADA compliant is as simple — and as difficult — as meeting version 2.1 of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, often referred to as WCAG 2.1.

WCAG 2.1 is a series of 70-something recommendations, published in 2018, that make your website usable for those with disabilities.

For example, a visually impaired person might use a screen reader software, which reads aloud the content you’ve published on your website. Screen readers can’t “read” images, so you need alternative text for pictures and graphics on your site to comply with this particular requirement.

In a nutshell, ADA compliance means ensuring the images on your site pass this test and that your site meets the 70+ other requirements on the WCAG 2.1 checklist.

Why Should You Make Your Website ADA Compliant?

There are no laws — yet, anyway — stating that websites must comply with ADA guidelines; however, the possibility of litigation is very real if your website fails to meet those guidelines.

Before we talk lawsuits, though, it’s important to consider the general user experience on your site, because first and foremost, you want your website to be usable for anyone who might visit.

To that end, your website should be user-friendly, anyway, and ADA compliance offers some significant silver linings in this area that we’ll dig into shortly.

But the reality is, large or small, your company is at risk of a lawsuit if your website fails to meet those WCAG 2.1 standards.

Since 2017, lawsuits for failure to meet ADA website compliance standards have exploded, nearly tripling from 2017 to 2019. New suits are filed almost daily, and thousands are filed each year.

Who Should Worry About ADA Compliance?

Short answer: Everyone with a website should be concerned about ADA compliance.

The ADA is a United States civil rights law, but that doesn’t mean companies outside the U.S. can afford to ignore the guidelines; if your website is available to and viewed by individuals in the U.S., you could technically face ADA-related litigation.

There is some anecdotal evidence that websites selling products or services have been more frequent targets for lawsuits, but there really isn’t a type of site that is safe from the threat of lawsuits: Large companies, small companies, traffic-heavy websites, eCommerce sites of all sizes, blogs — all need to comply with WCAG 2.1 or potentially face consequences.

Added Benefits of Making Your Site ADA Compliant

You want to serve anyone who comes across your website, and you don’t want to be sued; these are basic and fully rational reasons for making your website ADA compliant.

But there are also major side benefits to meeting the WCAG 2.1 standards.

Search-engine optimization is a key concern for many website owners. If your site isn’t SEO-optimized, your customers won’t be able to find you through Google searches.

We’ll get into SEO in depth in a separate article, but for now, just know that making your site ADA compliant and as user-friendly as possible is a fantastic way to begin improving your SEO.

In addition, Google is placing huge emphasis on its Core Web Vitals for search results, and we’ll delve into that in another article, as well. The key element of Core Web Vitals is optimizing user experience, and again, becoming ADA compliant will get you headed in the right direction.

3 Steps Toward Making Your Website ADA Compliant

Now that we’ve illustrated the importance of making your website ADA compliant, let’s take a look at three steps you can take right now to help get you there. 

Step 1: Read the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines!

As we noted, there are more than 70 recommendations in the WCAG guidelines, so any journey toward compliance should begin with a comprehensive understanding of the success criteria.
If you’re going to DIY this, we recommend going through each section of WCAG 2.1 to create a thorough To Do list for your site. There aren’t really any shortcuts to ADA compliance, and performing only a few of the recommended updates will still leave you vulnerable to lawsuits.

Step 2: Start with an Easy Win: Alt Tags

The guidelines are long and sometimes tedious, so we recommend kicking off your updates with a task that will be relatively straightforward but have a big impact. To that end, consider starting with the Alternative Text example we mentioned previously.

Section 1.1.1 of the WCAG 2.1 document addresses “Non-text Content” with the following introduction:

All non-text content that is presented to the user has a text alternative that serves the equivalent purpose, except for the situations listed below.

The World Wide Web Consortium has details and tutorials on many of the recommendations listed in WCAG 2.1, including a decision tree for using alt text. If you want to err on the side of caution, though, just add alt text to any image, graphic or logo on your site.

WordPress has an Alternative Text input field on every individual media file details page with a note beneath that reads “Describe the purpose of the image.” Add text into this field that succinctly describes the image without editorializing in any way, and don’t include “Image of …” or “Photo of …” in your description. For example, an image of a restaurant’s new breakfast special might include the alt text: “Stack of blueberry pancakes with maple syrup.”

Step 3: Add Captions to Video Content

Another straightforward update that will get you closer to ADA compliance is to ensure any video content on your site that includes sound has captions.

This is another recommendation that will serve multiple purposes — checking off an entry from the list of guidelines and also making your website content better for all users, particularly if you’re also sharing those videos on social media.

Captioning your videos will improve your SEO, make your videos easier for everyone to engage with and boost your overall audience attention, since many site visitors mute the sound on videos.

YouTube and Vimeo both offer the ability to add captions after the video file has been uploaded, meaning you don’t have to completely redo your existing videos to meet this particular requirement. Consult your video service’s particular settings for details on how to add captions or subtitles.

Final Thoughts

The above is not an exhaustive list of steps for complying with WCAG 2.1, but starting with these three steps will get you well on your way to ADA compliance. It’s a project that makes great sense in terms of protecting you and your business, and one that can help improve your online presence and grow your business.

Serve all of your customers and don’t get sued!