UPDATED 7.14.16 

The topic of ADA website conformity is suddenly a very hot topic thanks to the aggression of one law firm in particular. You are probably asking yourself, since when has ADA applied to websites? The fact is it hasn't applied. The crazy thing about this is that there is no clear set of rules based on law, and basically no website conforms 100% to the rules that organizations focused on accessibility have established. The Federal Governments' websites - even the DOJ or ADA sites are not close to conformity. Yet that won't stop certain lawyers from making a fast buck. One law firm has gone after over 600 businesses since January 2016 with demand letters that extort substantial legal and remediation fees that can easily move beyond the $50K mark. Fighting is a PR nightmare, so almost all will settle. The scary thing is that the barrier to entry is very low for these tactics. All it takes is an automated testing program that spits out a report that gets added into a stock demand letter and out it goes.... literally printing money. So brace for a wave of copycats.  

The best advice is to hire an ADA website accessibility specialist to work with your existing development and content teams. Set and document a strategy that addresses issues in strategic order to get your website out of the crosshairs as quickly as possible. 

Now I know this will sound defensive, but let me respond now to "why didn't our web developer make our site compliant in the first place".  First, before pointing fingers, understand that many issues relate to how a website owner enters content to the website. Second, this isn't based on established law or rules set by any federal or state agencies. Neither team broke any laws or commonly industry conventions. Remember these are rules that are not based on any established law. This isn't about that anyhow. Its frankly a profit scheme that leverages fear and momentum created by previous suits and settlements against the likes of Home Depot and JC Penny, Patagonia, Ace Hardware, Bed Bath & Beyond, Estee Lauder, etc, to now get targeted companies to roll over and open their wallets. Maddening.

So know this and engage your developer as a partner to deal with this.


ADA Background

 Blind person using braille keyboard attached to laptop

The Americans with Disabilities Act via Title III requires that all "public accommodations" (retailers, doctors, malls, restaurants, hotels, and ski resorts) provide facilities and equipment that are readily accessible to, and usable by, people with disabilities.  Through litigation, proponents have worked to extend access from the physical world to the web.

Lacking clear standards or compliance regulations, the Dept of Justice and others refer to the World Wide Web Consortium's Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2. 0 (WCAG). The guidelines come in three degrees (A, AA, AAA).

WCAG 2.0 Conformity

The standards break down to 4 basic principles: Perceivable, Operable, Understandable, Robust. The following overview includes limited examples for the sake of providing an "overview". Refer to the WCAG 2.0 for all details.

Perceivable - Information and user interface components must be presentable to users in ways they can perceive.

This means that users must be able to perceive the information being presented (it can't be invisible to all of their senses)

Operable - User interface components and navigation must be operable.

This means that users must be able to operate the interface (the interface cannot require interaction that a user cannot perform)

Understandable - Information and the operation of user interface must be understandable.

This means that users must be able to understand the information as well as the operation of the user interface (the content or operation cannot be beyond their understanding)

Robust - Content must be robust enough that it can be interpreted reliably by a wide variety of user agents, including assistive technologies.

This means that users must be able to access the content as technologies advance (as technologies and user agents evolve, the content should remain accessible)



From W3C Directly:

"Conformance Level: One of the following levels of conformance is met in full.

  • Level A: For Level A conformance (the minimum level of conformance), the Web page satisfies all the Level A Success Criteria, or a conforming alternate version is provided.
  • Level AA: For Level AA conformance, the Web page satisfies all the Level A and Level AA Success Criteria, or a Level AA conforming alternate version is provided.
  • Level AAA: For Level AAA conformance, the Web page satisfies all the Level A, Level AA and Level AAA Success Criteria, or a Level AAA conforming alternate version is provided.

Note 1: Although conformance can only be achieved at the stated levels, authors are encouraged to report (in their claim) any progress toward meeting success criteria from all levels beyond the achieved level of conformance."

Note 2: As WCAG 2.0 states, "It is not recommended that Level AAA conformance be required as a general policy for entire sites because it is not possible to satisfy all Level AAA Success Criteria for some content." And further, "Note that even content that conforms at the highest level (AAA) will not be accessible to individuals with all types, degrees, or combinations of disability, particularly in the cognitive language and learning areas.”

More : Understanding Conformance


Testing for Conformity

Automated tests are a place to start, however they will only catch 20-25% of issues (see list below). Using an automated test will provide a litmus test and a benchmark, but ultimately one seeking conformity should work with a ADA compliance specialist (which I am not) that uses human testing. That specialist will guide your internal content team and your web development team on steps to conform and to ensure you continue to conform.


ADA WCAG 2.0 AA Info

Automated Testing Tools

  • Accessibility Management Platform (AMP) by SSB Bart Group (starting at $13K/yr) 
    • Very thorough and used by remediation experts
    • Very expensive
  • Wave : ADA Validator - Free
    • Page by page
    • Issues are overlaid on page
    • Good for non technical people
  • Tenon.io : Full Site ADA Auditor 
    • Multi-page audits and reporting - they are currently working on a full-site audit spider due in August 2016, but until then one can get a listing of all pages on the site and load that for full site auditing.
    • Great for developers
    • API
    • Monthly rates as low as $19/mo
  • SortSite Accessibility Validator by Power Mapper
    They offer two versions: Desktop ($149-$849/user) and Cloud ($49/mo/user)
    • Checks an entire site and provides Excel and Word reports
    • WCAG 2.0 117 tests at A, AA, and AAA levels

Web Accessibility Consultants
Given the growth in demand, not just price, but capacity must be considered.

  • SSB Bart Group - California 
    • $150/hr
    • Produce AMP - a leading automated testing tool listed above.
    • Workforce is all internal and they sometimes have capacity restraints
  • Axia Group
    • Used by US Park Service. Janet Zeller highly recommends Meredith Stevens. 
  • Deque Systems Inc
    • $150-$200 per hour of audit. $170 per hour Training
    • They can scale quickly because they have a consultant stable which they grow as needed.
  • The Paciello Group
    • $250/hr for all work
    • Powerhouse in the category with accessibility pros like Steve Faulkner and Karl Groves. 
    • Best for complex challenges.
  • Freedom Scientific
    • New to the audit space but not the accessibility space as they are the leading tools developer with JAWS screen Reader and recently acquired Zoom Text automate testing tool.
    • They just started their client services department and are entering the audit and remediation services space. Their prices will be far more reasonable than others.

Related Info

Note that I am not claiming to be an expert in ADA conformity, and am not qualified to offer legal advice - so nothing should be construed as such. CYA complete.