Guide to Choosing an ADA WCAG Website Designer
It should be crystal clear now that all commercial websites must comply with the American Disabilities Act (ADA) and adhere to the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.0 or now WCAG 2.1) for website accessibility, or face increasingly high legal risk while missing out on a significant market as well. As the demand for ADA compliant website designers and developers grows, the challenge is to find web designers with the expertise to ensure your website conforms with WCAG. Since this is new and hot, many website companies are quickly jumping on this and making claims that fall short of providing clients with adequate protection. What is the realistic risk if my website is not ADA compliant?
Legal Risk of Doing Nothing
So the obvious question here is what is my realistic risk of legal issues? My answer is to consider how prolific physical barrier ADA cases have been since the 90's. I can almost guarantee that every restaurant, movie theater, hotel, or commercial space has been visited by a "tester" hired by a law firm trolling for ADA violations. That process required law firms to pay these people to go out, take photos and measurements, document the findings, assess severity/opportunity, and then proceed with a legal action, or not.
In contrast, this is digital. Not only is there no distance barrier for a single law firm to troll any business anywhere, but they can do so in seconds and for very very little cost.
The business model that these trolling drive-by plaintiff firms use is quite simple. They use automated WCAG testing software to audit a website, and unless a website was specifically designed for web accessibility and meticulously maintained and tested, I can say with absolute certainty that the website will fail miserably. The audit will uncover hundreds, if not thousands, of WCAG violations.
Now, in most cases, the law firm will issue a demand letter versus a suit. The demand letter will force auditing and remediation of the existing site, along with a settlement amount to keep them from taking the next step with a suit. This is nothing more than extortion, and they can and will get away with it, because you have little choice. As your lawyer will very likely tell you, you can't win this, so pay. Or better yet, avoid the risk altogether.
Is there a WCAG compliant app or module or theme that I can simply apply to my website?
Short answer is no. There really isn't a short cut. You can find plenty of claims to the contrary. This is the wild west still and companies are making all sorts of bogus claims. Here is a guide to web accessibility shortcuts to avoid.
How do I find an ADA / WCAG compliant website designer or web development company that specializes in web accessibility?
Of course you can Google "ADA WCAG compliant web designer" or "accessible website designer", but you'd be best off getting a recommendation from someone that specializes in website accessiblity auditing. They see the code and can tell which developers get it. You might also search out lawyers that specialize in web accessibility (a rapidly growing number) for referrals.
What should I include in my RFP regarding website accessibility?
If you're at that point in your website's lifecycle that it makes more sense to rebuild rather than audit and remediate, you definitely want to make sure that your RFP clearly makes it a requirement that your next website complies with the Web Content Accessibility Guideline (WCAG 2.0 or better yet, 2.1). There are three levels of WCAG: A, AA, AAA. You should require A and AA level.
Does my website need to adhere to the new WCAG 2.1 standard?
It doesn't now, but if you're in the process of developing a new website, it makes sense to adopt the new WCAG 2.1 standard that was introduced in June 2018. WCAG 2.1 added 17 new criteria (see WCAG 2.1 Overview) but they are not especially onerous and will not add significant cost to apply these in the rebuild process.
How do I assess whether a web designer or website development company has ADA and WCAG compliance expertise?
There are always "tells" that provide clues. The first would be to assess the web development company’s own website, and any other website that is claimed to be ADA compliant - although in fairness, realize that the website owner also shoulders responsibility (content). A quick two-step process should quickly reveal its level of conformity.
First, test the site for keyboard-only accessibility. Open the homepage and simply hit the [tab] key. Does that first trigger a “skip to content” option to bypass the navigation? As you continue tabbing, does a “focus indicator” show you where your cursor is?
Then you can test the homepage on Web Aim’s WAVE page tester. Look for A and AA level issues. You might find one or two even on a well produced page, but there shouldn’t be many.
What is really important is to learn about the web designer's web accessibility process. How do they test for accessibility? Expect there to be testing in the design phase for color contrast and color blindness issues. Expect there to be full site WCAG auditing once all content is in, and ask what their methods are for testing. While the best practice is a 3 factor test that includes, automated, manual, and assistive technology testing; most will rely on automated. What auditing tool do they use? How much does it cost? You get what you pay for.
A few additional recommendations
- Don’t expect a website provider to offer any guarantees. Remember that your content team shares in affecting conformity.
- An accessible website takes more time to create and test, and there are few specialists in this area, so expect to pay at least 10% more.
- Websites aren’t static, so plan for periodic (quarterly to semi-annual) accessibility audits.
What's always important is finding a web design partner who is ahead of the curve and has a long track record of great service and solid work. This is no longer a place for graphic designers and all-in-one agencies. This is an area that requires specialization and expertise. Choose wisely.
Here at Propeller, we have a separate team of dedicated mobile app and website accessibility experts under the brand accessibility.works. Each with more than 16 years in digital accessibility. Together, with our team of WCAG web designers, we design, build, and maintain beautiful WCAG compliant websites that entice, engage, and convert.