The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) has been in effect since 1990. Because of its comprehensive nature, it has been cited in a number of landmark accessibility cases. Until recently, though, experts and jurists did not exactly agree on what the ADA said about websites and digital accessibility. With the Department of Justice issuing a Final Rule for ADA Title II entities, website owners, developers, and legal departments now have a definitive set of website accessibility guidelines and the steps they need to take to achieve ADA compliance.

This article will discuss the ADA and its provisions on website accessibility. You will also learn how your organization can avoid a potential ADA compliance website lawsuit under the new guidelines.

What does the ADA say about website accessibility?

Before April 2024, there were no clear-cut rules regarding digital accessibility. Courts across the country had different interpretations of the ADA, with some judges ruling that websites were a public accommodation under Title III of the law, while others ruling the opposite. As a result of contradictory rulings from different courts, businesses and other organizations instead chose to settle with the plaintiffs who filed cases against them.

Aside from settling with the plaintiffs, entities have also adopted the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) as a web accessibility standard, following Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act, which adopted WCAG in 2018. The WCAG is used in other countries and international organizations as the basis for their accessibility regulations. The Justice Department’s Final Rule, issued in April 2024, formally requires Title II entities (federal, state, and local government agencies) to refer to WCAG 2.1 Level AA as they map out and implement their digital accessibility strategies. The same standards are also likely to apply to private entities soon.

How can your organization comply with the ADA?

At this point, ADA compliance is almost synonymous with WCAG compliance. Let’s look at how your website can comply with the WCAG.

WCAG compliance strategies commonly combine two approaches. The first approach is manual accessibility testing. This involves a human tester to gauge your website’s usability by simulating the user experience for an individual with disabilities. For instance, the tester may try to navigate the website without a mouse or pointing device, using keyboard navigation or a screen reader instead. The downsides of this method include cost and downtime. It is also impractical if your website hosts thousands of pages.

The second method is automated accessibility checking. An AI-powered software scans your website’s HTML code and identifies potential WCAG violations including text-background color combinations without sufficient color contrast or missing or inaccurate alt text and video captions. This approach helps your web developers locate common violations quickly and generates an accessibility report that can be useful when creating accessibility remediation plans. Some accessibility providers also offer customizable widgets that allow users to adjust text size, font, and color, among other features.

Combining manual and automated accessibility checking will help your organization achieve and maintain WCAG compliance while reducing maintenance costs. A combined approach also ensures that new content is accessible before it goes live on your website.

ADA compliance: Keeping online content accessible

The Justice Department’s new ADA Final Rule is the most significant move towards establishing a comprehensive set of accessibility standards across both government and private entities. By officially referring to the WCAG as its accessibility benchmark, the ADA aligns itself with both US and international standards. Complying with the ADA signifies that your organization takes digital accessibility and inclusivity seriously and makes your content available to a larger audience.