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Disclaimer: This post is for educational purposes only. It is general information, giving a general understanding of the law, not specific legal advice. Our blog should not be used as a substitute for legal advice from a licensed professional attorney in your country or state. 

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) provides civil laws about access in public and private spaces for individuals with certain limitations. These standards apply both in the physical world and online. Therefore, having an ADA-compliant website is mission-critical, especially for busy eCommerce platforms.

The goal of ADA website compliance is to ensure every visitor to your site has an easy experience. While it’s the law, it’s also good practice. The same standards that keep your site within ADA guidelines will also make it user-friendly. Win-win. In case you need more info on how to be ADA compliant online, read on. 

So, What is ADA Compliance?

The Americans with Disabilities Act was signed into law by former President George H.W. Bush on July 26, 1990. At its core, it aims to prevent discrimination. 

ADA Title III states: “No individual may be discriminated against based on disability with regards to the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, or accommodations of any place of public accommodation.” Keep in mind that “public accommodation” includes stores, educational institutions, restaurants, recreational facilities, and much more. 

In a digital-first world, the term “much more” has come to mean websites. As a result, site owners now have a legal and ethical obligation to fall in line with ADA requirements.

On-Demand Webinar: Learn How to Create an Accessible eCommerce Website

Why is ADA Compliance Such a Big Deal Now?

Back in the ‘90s when we were all wearing Dr. Martens and fanny packs weren't just for tourists-a “business” was simply a physical store. ADA Compliance meant implementing accessibility requirements for buildings and public places. Items such as ramps, wheelchair-friendly bathrooms, etc. 

Now, the world shops online. In fact, eCommerce is expected to make up 22% of global retail sales by the year 2023. However, ADA compliance means that online retailers have to implement practices that make it easy for anyone with any limitation to use their site. 

And that’s not only SME (small-to-medium enterprise) owners. Even multi-billion dollar companies like Netflix have made the news for issues related to ADA compliance.

Back in 2011, the case National Association of the Deaf (NAD) v. Netflix made the press because the streaming platform didn’t have closed captioning. This was a violation that limited access to people who were hard of hearing. This landmark case started a socially conscious conversation about how ADA impacts digital properties and online-only businesses.

In 2019, a blind man sued Domino’s because he was unable to order food from the website or mobile app, even when using screen-reading software.

The takeaway from these and numerous other incidents is that, now, even online-only businesses must create open access to all people, regardless of disabilities. This is essential for any site owner of any kind of business to understand.

What Makes a Website ADA Compliant?

Accessible websites need to adhere to the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG)

The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) has set these guidelines and has defined three different ADA Compliance levels with success criteria at each level progressively harder to achieve.

  1. Level A Compliance (Minimum)

Websites that reach this level have the most basic web accessibility features. The checklist for achieving Level A compliance includes:

  • Not relying on color as the only way to convey a message
  • Your website must be fully operable using a keyboard
  • Elements on your webpage must have descriptive titles

Here’s the full WCAG checklist for Level A compliance

  1. Level AA Compliance (Mid-Range)

Achieving Level AA compliance requires a bit more commitment and means that you have a website that’s accessible for most users with a disability. In addition to the items on the Level A compliance checklist, you need to implement additional requirements:

  • Contrast ratio of at least 4.5:1
  • Audio captions for all audio content
  • Conveying information with text instead of images
  • Resizable content for up 200% without using assistive technology

Here’s the full WCAG checklist for Level AA compliance

  1. Level AAA Compliance (Highest)

In the web accessibility world, achieving Level AAA compliance is the elite ring. Websites that reach this level are as accessible as possible to everyone. Standard websites don’t typically target Level AAA compliance, due to the criteria being extremely strict. It is good to understand the criteria and identify possible areas that you can implement and easily meet. 

Requirements for the highest level of compliance include the following:

  • Low or no background audio
  • Lower secondary education reading level
  • Contrast ratio of at least 7:1

Here’s the full WCAG checklist for Level AAA compliance

What are the Benefits of Having an ADA-Compliant Website?

Achieving ADA Compliance is a big deal for any business website. Aside from the obvious benefit of welcoming anyone with any limitation, here’s why focusing on digital accessibility is good for business: 

  • Build a more inclusive brand-Having a website that’s accessible to everyone makes it clear that your brand is for everyone. 
  • Improve your brand reputation-Having an ADA-compliant website shows that you’re a business that cares for all its customers, which is always a good thing.  
  • Improve your SEO rankings-Most improvements that improve accessibility are also SEO best practices, which means higher ranks and more traffic for your website. 
  • Boost your sales-building a website that’s easy for people with disabilities to use means that you’ll convert more customers from this segment, which includes as many as 24% of adults in the US. 
  • Avoid discrimination and legal action-According to research by Seyfarth the number of ADA Title III Filings slowed down in 2020 but they predict that 2021 could be a record year.

TL;DR

ADA website compliance is not something that only conscientious brands do, nor is it an above-and-beyond gesture. Whether you’re building a new website or have one that has been up for years, website accessibility should be a top priority. 

The best way to ensure your brand is ticking all of the boxes is to work with an eCommerce agency. It’s worth enlisting a knowledgeable guide to get you through the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) compliance process. When you have a website that aligns with all the web accessibility standards, your customers will love you for it. You’ll sell more and increase your organic traffic. Good stuff.

Register for our free webinar with industry experts Accessible360 to learn more about website compliance:

On-Demand Webinar: Learn How to Create an Accessible eCommerce Website