black n white gears - metaphor for drupal website accessibility - auditing & remediation

Drupal Accessibility: WCAG & ADA Compliance Guide

David Gibson

The pandemic has not slowed the unending surge of web-related ADA demand letters and lawsuits. So unless your Drupal website was specifically designed and built to be accessible you are very likely in violation of the ADA, as well as state laws that require that websites are ADA compliant. 

The key to making your Drupal website ADA compliant is to first have accessibility consultants conduct a thorough WCAG website audit, followed by website remediation by specialists versed in both accessibility and Drupal.

What are the ADA standards for website accessibility?

Both the ADA (commercial websites) and Section 508 (for public/gov websites) are in practice held to the Web Content Accessibility Guideline as the de facto standard for web accessibility. The current version of the WCAG is 2.1 and comes in 3 levels: A, AA, AAA. To conform to Sect 508 and the ADA your website must meet WCAG 2.0 A, AA levels. 

How do I make my Drupal website ADA compliant?

By complying with the WCAG you will ensure your website avoids violating both Sect 508 and the ADA, as well as state laws such as California's Unruh Act. There are best practices to follow, and short-cuts to avoid. There is a growing number of providers claiming quick cheap fixes - such as accessibility overlay toolbar plug-ins; these should be avoided. If it sounds too good to be true, it is. The best practice is to first have a reputable accessibility consultant provide a comprehensive WCAG audit of the entire website. With reporting that shows where and what the violations are, along with guidance to fix each issue, your Drupal development team will be able to remediate the website and meet WCAG compliance.

Step One : 3-Factor WCAG Drupal Audit

Regardless of who does the work, what will save you much time and expense of remediation is to have a thorough WCAG audit conducted by experts in both the code and digital accessibility first. The best practice is a 3-factor audit that combines the results of automated, manual, and assistive technology into one comprehensive audit. Do not even consider relying solely on an automated audit. Even the best can only detect ~30% of WCAG issues, because these issues are nuanced and interpretive. To do this right you need to also add manual and assistive technology testing (screen readers, etc) of unique pages/templates to capture the other 70% of issues. Further, you want to be sure that the consultant you use, provides remediation guidance for each and every item. This is what we do, and we even include relevant screen-shots. Quality reporting at this level will greatly reduce the number of false positives, and well written remediation guidance will greatly reduce the time/cost impact on the remediation team. Learn about our web accessibility auditing services.

Step Two : 508 / ADA Drupal Remediation

The first step is to segment the audit results based first on task category and then severity or priority. In our reporting, we indicate the severity of each item and then assign a priority level to guide project management. Issues then fall into three category buckets: design, content, development. 

Design issues will include items such as color, contrast, size, spacing, and page structure. 

Content issues will include items that can be addressed through Drupal. These would include items such as image labels (alt tags), or the structure of headings (H1, H2, H3, etc). The content team would also handle captioning video content. Content remediation is not technical but tedious and makes good work for interns. 

Development issues will include the bulk of issues found in the front-side code : the CSS/HTML/Javascript layer. The good news is that Drupal websites are built using templates, shared modules, global libraries, etc... so one issue found on every page in a header element for example can potentially be eliminated with one fix. If the audit reporting is thorough and provides strong remediation guidance, a team of experienced developers should be able to address most issues on their own. Otherwise you may want to consider bringing in a team of remediation specialists - such as us.

PDF Remediation

If your website includes PDFs, these also must comply with the WCAG. There are companies that specialize specifically in PDF remediation. They are set up to do these in bulk with discounts for volume. If you have more than a handful, we’d recommend using such a company.

Finding Drupal Accessibility Consultants

You can start by asking for references from an attorney specializing in web accessibility or an experienced WCAG website consultant. Or Google Drupal Accessibility Consultants. What you’re ultimately looking for is an individual or team with experienced Drupal developers who also understand the WCAG and how people with disabilities using assistive technologies navigate websites. That’s not your average Drupal developer. That is us though.

Web Accessibility : What to Avoid

There is a growing breed of too-good-to-be-true “overlay” solution providers who claim that by adding a Drupal plugin or javascript snippet they can automagically make any website WCAG compliant. Without naming names, these rely on automated tools that can only detect ~30% of issues in the first place. As the term “overlay” reflects, these methods fail to fix the underlying code. They also need to be manually turned on by the end-user. Attorney Richard Hunt of Hunt Huey PLLC was one of the first attorneys to specialize in digital ADA cases. He recently wrote in his post Is there a silver bullet for ADA website accessibility? Sorry, but the answer is no.  on March 31, 2020: "If your business wants to avoid getting sued under the ADA because of an inaccessible website an accessibility overlay or widget isn’t going to help you. I can say this with some certainty because in the last two weeks alone five lawsuits have been filed against businesses that use an accessibility widget or overlay on their websites."


Looking Ahead

I have been speaking with many attorneys that specialize in digital accessibility, and have been asking what they see looking ahead during the pandemic. Consensus is that legal actions will grow. With so many lawyers, paralegals and serial plaintiffs at home with much less to do, they are filling that time generating demand letters. Demand letters are very effective and cost less than filing suits. The court system is at a stand-still anyhow. And since these cases are basically unwinnable, defendants only want to settle as quickly as possible, so we can expect to see a new surge in demand letters as we look ahead.


We can provide everything needed to ensure your website meets current standards for website accessibility.