How to Certify a Website as ADA Compliant

Because there are no governing bodies (i.e., legal authorities) that certify websites as “ADA compliant”, the best paths to website accessibility certification are a conformance statement, provider certification, and user testing report.

Website accessibility service providers usually offer their own certification documentation, but the value varies based on the provider. Additionally, depending on your circumstances, you may also be interested in a VPATĀ® or ACR.

We’ll explain each form of certifying your website below.

The market demand for certification in 2024 has grown tremendously for websites, mobile apps, platforms, and other software/applications.

If you need help with certifying your website or other digital asset, contact us and we can provide the documentation you need, including a video recorded user testing session by a professional who is blind or visually impaired – this is tangible evidence that your website does provide meaningful evidence.

Conformance Statement

A conformance statement is a construct of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) under their Web Accessibility Initiative or WAI and must be be issued using their 5 requirements for a statement of conformance.

The most important requirement is that all of the URLs / pages listed as conformant must be fully conformant with a version of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (e.g., WCAG 2.1 AA conformant).

A conformance statement can only be issued after an audit and remediation takes place.

User Testing

User testing is conducted by one or more accessibility professionals with one or more disabilities is a more informal but highly practical way of certifying your website as accessible.

User testing is usually conducted by a professional who is blind or visually impaired and is using screen reader assistive technology.

The more documentation that you assemble, the more robust your digital asset will be against any doubt that your asset isn’t accessible. For private website owners, this tangible evidence is quite compelling and can result in a lawsuit being dismissed.

VPAT

Note that a Voluntary Product Accessibility Template “VPAT” (or, more correctly, Accessibility Conformance Report “ACR”) is not traditionally for websites.  However, if a website is considered part of the procurement process of an ICT product or service, a VPAT can be issued for a website.

In this case, a VPAT doesn’t necessarily “certify” a website as accessible.  Rather, a VPAT would provide an accounting of the website’s accessibility.  That said, if the website was mostly accessible / conformant, it would provide another means of informal certification.

Of course, VPATs are more often used for certifying digital products such as software, applications, and mobile apps. Again, if you have a clean VPAT, it can serve as a certification that your product is accessible.

However, if you issue your own VPAT or have a company with a bad reputation issue one, it can cast doubt about the accuracy of the document, leading you back to where you started.

Provider Certification

Provider certification is usually similar to that of a conformance statement, but whereas a conformance statement is a more sterile document because of the W3C requirements, provider certification can add helpful additional details such as environments tested, testing process, etc.

Still, the document needs to be specific and not generalize your website’s accessibility as “substantial compliance” or “mostly accessible.” General claims are unhelpful because they do not provide the precision or certainty when certification documentation is examined or displayed.

Even though provider certification is similar to a conformance statement, take both documents as they reinforce your accessibility and the certification can provide details that the conformance statement does not.

Keep in mind that provider certification varies in format and details.

Credibility

One important aspect to these reports is they must be issued by a digital accessibility company with credibility and standing.  If a company such as an overlay vendor (seller of accessibility widget) issues certification, the report will be questioned.

Relatedly, certification should never be able to be purchased.  There may be a fee for certification on top of audit / remediation work, but you shouldn’t be able to purchase a certificate of accessibility.

Best Practices

Let’s now cover some best practices and recommendations when working through certification.

Freshness

Certification doesn’t necessarily expire, but it does lose its freshness. The moment anything on your website is changed, the certification technically no longer certifies the accessibility because that change now needs to be evaluated.

However, the more recently a document was issued, the more potency it has. The older a document is, the less compelling it is. For example, a certification document that is 2.5 years old would generally be considered dated.

Re-Certification

Inevitably, you’ll want to certify your digital asset again. A good timeline for most organizations is every one to two years. Or if you have made significant changes to your asset (e.g., completely rebuilt your website).

Again, if no changes have been made to your asset, your document is still fresh as the original certification still stands.

Storage

Once you receive your documentation, whether it is a document or video, it is best to store all files in a dedicated folder for accessibility documentation.

It is generally recommended, that you maintain this folder as it allows you to easily provide evidence of your efforts and consistency.

Accessible.org

If you would like to certify your website or other digital asset, contact us for a quote on services.

We provide audit, remediation, and user testing services as well as consultation. We can also provide VPAT / ACR documentation.

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