How to Make Your Website ADA Compliant

The best practice for making your website ADA compliant is to make your website WCAG 2.1 AA conformant. However, full conformance with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines can take 2-3 months even if you source the work to a service provider.

In this guide, we’ll talk through the top 10 steps to making your website ADA compliant in 2024 starting with my practical strategy for ADA compliance.

Strategy

When most people ask about making their website ADA compliant, they’re not asking how do I meet the legal standard under the Americans with Disabilities Act. What they’re really asking is how do I not get sued over website accessibility?

The answer is you need to prioritize the 15 accessibility issues that are most commonly claimed in complaints filed in court. These issues are what plaintiffs’ lawyers are almost always looking for when they decide to file a complaint or send a demand letter.

As you remediate or fix the top issues, you will reduce your risk of a lawsuit as you genuinely improve your website accessibility. Let’s go over the practical, step-by-step approach to website ADA compliance that will increasingly give you, the website owner, more confidence as you take action and start working on accessibility.

No Overlay Widgets

Installing an overlay widget – or anything billed as an instant solution – doesn’t work whatsoever. It doesn’t make your website ADA compliant or accessible. In fact, websites with widgets installed are specifically targeted by some plaintiffs’ law firms.

Just by not using a widget, plugin, or anything automated, you’ve won a battle that many website owners have lost. There are literally thousands of website owners who only find out about this after it’s too late.

We won’t count this as a first step, but it’s important we take care of the basics first.

Start with Your Top 5 Pages

You can only focus on so many pages at once so I recommend remediating the five pages that are most commonly visited or the five primary page layouts on your website.

You will always start with your homepage first and then continue on to other important pages. For example, a Shopify ecommerce website owner would start on:

  1. Home Page
  2. Product Search Page
  3. Product Page
  4. Cart Page
  5. Sign Up or Registration Page

When in doubt, target pages that are public-facing first. Public-facing means a login is not necessary to access the page.

Top 3 Accessibility Issues

The top three accessibility issues named in lawsuits are:

  • Missing alt text
  • Missing form field labels
  • Lack of keyboard navigability

If you fix these three issues, you’ve made added another nice chunk on your progress bar.

0 Scan Errors

Many people refer to website accessibility scans as ADA compliance checkers. They’re not – they only flag 25% of WCAG 2.1 AA success criteria for review, but it’s always a best practice to reduce your scan errors to zero / have a perfect score.

The great news is three widely used scans are available for free:

If you have zero errors on WAVE and AXE and a 100% score on Google Lighthouse, you’ve made really good progress.

Scans do flag missing alt attributes and missing programmatic labels for forms.

However, keep in mind that you can show zero errors for a success criteria that an automated scan looks for and still an accessibility issue for that very issue. Scans use simple rule sets to browse through code – they’re not intelligently evaluating for accessibility.

12 Accessibility Issues

We’ve talked about the top three accessibility issues claimed in complaints filed in court, now it’s time to work through the other twelve issues that are frequently named by plaintiffs.

My ADA Compliance Course tells you exactly what these issues are, how to find and fix them, and what order to fix them in. The step-by-step instructions are also provided for alt text, missing form field labels, and lack of keyboard navigability.

The course even has code examples that developers can use to model their fixes after. You can access the course now at ADACompliance.net.

Once you’ve completed the course and taken action on all of the lessons, you’ll be in extremely good shape. You can breathe a sense of relief.

WCAG 2.1 AA Conformance

Now that you’ve completed the ADA Compliance Course, we’re back to WCAG 2.1 AA conformance. The best practice is to be fully WCAG conformant and if you’ve made it through the ADA Compliance Course, you’ve advanced passed the most technically complex issues.

Of course, when you’ve made it this far, you’ll want to expand your scope of your beyond the five primary pages of your website into all of the primary pages, which is usually 10-15.

As we’ve already seen with the new website accessibility rule in Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act, WCAG 2.1 AA is extremely likely to be the legal standard when Title III regulation is updated so there’s an extra benefit in being compliant before the law is even updated.

Accessible.org has an entire page explaining the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines and you can download my WCAG 2.1 AA Checklist PDF for free. This checklist will give you really good overview of the requirements for WCAG conformance.

Accessibility Statement

Although DOJ didn’t mandate an accessibility statement in the new Title II rule, it’s still a best practice to publish an accessibility statement with at least one method of contact.

Some plaintiffs’ lawyers have noted the lack of a statement in complaints filed in court and the lack of a way to get quick and reliable support could practically lead to a preventable problem.

My customizable accessibility statement template can provide direction if you’re not sure what to write.

Independent Audit

Auditing your own website is very difficult if you’re not a technical accessibility expert with experience in screen reader testing. The only way to be sure your website is fully WCAG 2.1 AA conformant is to hire a service provider to audit your website. Note that audits are always a fully manual process (even though scans are used during audits, the scan results are manually reviewed).

When the service provider completes the website accessibility audit, you will receive a final report with all accessibility issues that remain outstanding.

Remediation

If your developer is new to website accessibility, the best path is to have a service provider with remediation experience to resolve all of the issues found in the audit. Remediation is also a fully manual process.

During the remediation phase, all code issues will be fixed. Content (images, video, audio, documents) also need to be remediated, but you may want to take on content remediation yourself to save on the cost.

User Testing

Although optional, user testing is a great finishing touch to remediation. With user testing, a professional with one or more disabilities – usually blindness or low vision – will test your website with (usually) a screen reader and identify any potential practical issues that exist.

If any issues do exist, a quick final remediation of any outstanding issues will render your website fully accessible.

Certification

After your website is fully remediated for WCAG 2.1 AA conformance, you are eligible for multiple certification documents including a conformance statement, provider certification, and potentially user testing certification if your website was user testing.

This documentation can be used to defend and refute any claims of inaccessibility.

Summary

Although the best practice for ADA compliance – WCAG 2.1 AA conformance – is simple and straightforward, the process of making your website ADA compliant is not. And, even if you go through a digital accessibility company, it will take months before your website is fully WCAG conformant.

However, there are steps you can take right now to immediately reduce your risk of an ADA website compliance lawsuit.

To learn more about how we can help you with ADA compliance, go to the Accessible.org home page.

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