calculator and spreadsheet for estimating website ADA compliance costs

How Much Does An ADA Compliant Website Cost?

David Gibson

Last update 10/26/2020

What does ADA/WCAG website compliance cost?

The cost of WCAG compliance is a balance between risk tolerance and budget. Is your goal to just avoid getting sued, or is your goal to provide universal access to your website or mobile app?

As with most compliance issues, it becomes a matter of degree. 100% compliance would be very difficult and expensive to acheive, and this is why the standard to which websites are held are WCAG 2.0 (2.1) A, and AA...  not AAA. 


Bigger question: What is the cost of ignoring web accessibility?

If you haven't already been hit with at last a demand letter so far, consider yourself luckily. But how lucky do you really feel? When luck runs out, you'll be facing these same audit and remediation costs. Then add legal costs for both you and the plaintiff, inevitable settlement costs, lost productivity, and then the immeasurable hit to your brand's reputation when the news gets out. After that, the PR cost to clean it up. Should I go on? 


First Decision: Rebuild a Fresh Accessible Website or Audit & Remediate Existing Website for ADA Compliance?

Before you invest considerable time and money into an existing website, consider where you are in the lifecycle of your current website. Is your website more than 4 years old? If so, its likely that its time for a redesign. 


How much does a new ADA compliant website cost?

After 4 years, a website tends to fall behind in design and performance. Given this litigious climate, it makes more sense to just rebuild for many. The question is how much more will this cost? Of course, its dependent upon the scale and how complex your website is. The added testing and remediation ads significant time, which generally translates to an increase of 10%-20%.


How much does it cost to audit and remediate an existing website?

If you're happy with your current website, then you need to assess the costs to audit and remediate. This can range dramatically based on the size and complexity of your website, and the depth of auditing you pursue.  The best practice for ADA compliance testing is a 3 step approach that tests against the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). Since the WCAG is nuanced and interpretive, it’s important not to rely on automated testing alone.

  1. Automated Website Audit
Such an audit scans the entire site for WCAG violations, and needs to provide reporting that identifies every issue in a report that you can save for record keeping, and use for remediation. Unfortunately automated testing can only detect ~30% of violations.  
  2. Manual Testing
Code of templates and unique pages is reviewed for WCAG compliance. 
  3. Assistive Technology Testing
Templates and unique pages are tested using screen readers and tools that people with disabilities use to access websites and mobile apps. 

When gauging these services, it’s important to focus on the resulting reporting. You want full-site documentation of all violations, and then remediation guidance for each.

The cost for all three steps can easily go beyond $10K and large complex sites can run beyond even $30K, so many take a phased approach starting with automated testing. Just be sure not to feel overly secure until you’ve remediated against auditing by all three steps.


Website ADA Compliance Remediation Costs

Once you have the results of the audit, your website partner can estimate the remediation costs. The remediation process will likely start with design adjustements to colors, font sizes, and contrasts. Websites are largely built on templates, which means that many fixes can easily be made globally. Tables, forms, and complex functions require deeper work. It can become significant, which is why I started by asking whether it might make more sense to scrap the current site and rebuild with a reputable and experienced web design firm that specializes in building accessible ADA compliant websites (hint hint).


Buyer Beware

If you're expecting a quick fix or a plug-in of some type, prepare to find many snake-oil salesman claiming they can easily make your website complaint. Buyer beware.

Beware of "overlay" or "widget" solutions. These make very strong promises but fail to provide actual accessibility and fail to provide significant legal protection, regardless of claims. Even with artificial intelligence, they still can't detect more than 30% of WCAG issues. Disability groups oppose them because they force the user to adopt their tools and even block the user's native assistive technologies. Also, they fail to provide legal protection, because the original underlying code is exposed by default, and again, they can only fix the easy issues and leave the remaining 70% of issues exposed.

And absolutely avoid anyone that suggests creating a separate “accessible website”. This may open you up to additional liability as these fail the “full and equal enjoyment” clause of the ADA because separate is not equal. It was a bad idea of mobile and it’s worse idea in this case.

More on why to avoid these approaches.


Final Thoughts 


Even durring the pandemic, the legal risk continues. Anecdotal stories suggest that law firms that specialized in ADA litigation are keeping their staff working from home quite busy. And considering how easy it is to create these copy-and-paste cases, and the ease of digital testing, nobody expect this trend to slow down.

Consider this as a wise investment during a time when companies and their values are under the greatest scrutiny.