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Accessible Web Design & ADA Compliance Q&A

David Gibson

As custom website designers that specialize in accessible ADA-compliant website design, I often get asked what is accessible web design? Do accessible websites look different than any other website? Does my website have to be accessible and will I get sued if it isn’t? What are some added benefits of making my website accessible?

All great questions.

What is Web Accessibility?

First, accessible and ADA compliant websites enable people with disabilities to enjoy the same access as others to websites to learn, connect, transact, and share. Over the years, precedent has been set in the courts that establishes that websites are also “places of public accommodations” like physical libraries, retailers, restaurants, hotels or most any business or public space. And instead of physical barriers, web accessibility barriers inhibit people using “assistive technologies” from navigating and consuming online content. Most common assistive technologies include screen readers for people with vision impairments or cognitive challenges, or keyboard-only for those unable to use a mouse. 

Of course these digital barriers are not installed on purpose, however unless a website is specifically designed and built by accessible website designer, or unless it was subsequently audited and remediated by qualified web accessibility consultants and remediation experts, you can bet your website is not accessible?

What is the standard of website accessibility?

The international standards organization, the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) established the Web Content Accessibility Guideline (WCAG) as a standards guideline for web accessibility. It has been widely accepted worldwide. In the US, while the Americans with Disabilities Act has yet to be amended to directly reference the WCAG for digital accessibility, in practice the DOJ and the courts consistently reference the WCAG as the standard for ADA website compliance. More about web accessibility standards and requirements for ADA compliance.

Does Web Accessibility and ADA Compliance Affect Website Design?

Do accessible websites look differently and do these standards hold back web designers? If by different, we mean legible and easy to use for all users, then yes. Do they hold back web designers from building creative custom websites? Hell no. From a design perspective, accessible websites ensure adequate contrast and text size that help all visitors consumer content. They must also consider colorblindness and avoid using color to indicate direction or functionality. But these considerations only lead to better usability for all visitors.

Does my website have to be accessible and will I get sued if not?

In 2 words, yes and yes. Whether your a private or public entity, few websites would not fall under the purview of the ADA or Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act,. Even most non-profit organizations would be exposed. In some jurisdictions, businesses without a nexus to a physical store location may not be subject, however any plaintiff can sue from any jurisdiction. Therefore despite laws in your state, with the web, you’re subject to laws of all states. 

What might be worse than a lawsuit would be to be labeled as discriminatory to people with disabilities. With such focus on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, such a label will leave lasting brand tarnish that can affect sales, employee retention, and employee recruitment. 

Is website accessibility and WCAG/ADA compliance expensive?

The cost of course depends on the scale and complexity of your website, as well as the degree of conformity you're striving for. If you have a fairly basic website and your goal is simply to avoid a click-by lawsuit by a trolling law firm, then you can take a limited approach that might cost less than $5K for an automated audit plus remediation of the code. A more complex ecommerce website that strives to go beyond basic legal protection and actually provide thorough accessibility might cost over $20K. More on website ADA compliance costs.

Added benefits of an accessible ADA compliant website.

The most obvious is access to over 62 million people alone in the US with disabilities. That’s one in five that self-report as such. Many do not self report and hide their disabilities. We also have the Boomer generation hitting an age where eyesight, cognition and motor skills are faltering. This is a huge market with a lot of buying power. 

The increase of usability for all visitors ensures that a broader audience can consume your content and engage with your brand. 

Search engine optimization (SEO) is a well known value-add as well. Well structured code with proper labeling of images in particular provides Google and other search engines with exactly what they want. 

How do I make my website accessible and ADA compliant?

The short answer is that you first need to decide whether to invest further into your current website, or instead invest in a new fresh ADA compliant website. If the later, then expect to pay an additional 10%-15% for the cost of testing and remediation, as well as the added value of having the skills (which we uniquely have). Else, you choose to audit and then remediate your existing site. Our Accessibility.Works web accessibility and ADA compliance consulting group, follows best practices that augment the limitations of automated auditing tools with human testing.

Contrary to what you might expect, in this case, automated solutions, widgets, plugins, etc are very limited and cannot even detect 70% of WCAG issues. And this is why overlay widgets and toolbars that advertise themselves to be a quick and less expensive solution fails to be true. These companies should absolutely be avoided. Their claims have been broadly debunked throughout the accessibility community, and today, there is a lot of evidence that using an overlay will trigger a lawsuit. Here is more reading on why to avoide overlay "solutions".


Pursuit of website accessibility is something every company can be proud of. Enabling people with disabilities to access your digital content is a very tangible effort to better the world and to serve our most vulnerable. So any step you make is a good step in the right direction.