The Essential ADA Compliance Website Checklist

The Essential ADA Compliance Website Checklist

Accessibility for people who are disabled came to the forefront about 30 years ago when George H. W. Bush signed the American Disabilities Act into law in 1990, but it did not have legal implications for websites until decades later. Today, website accessibility has risen to prominence for several reasons, one of which is the advent of costly lawsuits. An ADA compliance website checklist can help businesses assess and then implement a plan to bring their websites into compliance.

61 million Americans live with a disability according to the CDC. Of those Americans, 10.8 percent have cognitive disabilities, 5.9 percent have hearing issues, and 4.6 percent have visual difficulties.

These 61 million people are not only entitled to the equity of access to web information, they’re also consumers.

What is ADA Website Compliance

ADA website compliance compels that all web content, whether visual or prose be accessible to blind users, deaf users, and any other person who must navigate a website by voice, screen readers, or other assistive technologies.

Many use the terms “compliance” and “accessibility” interchangeably, but there is a subtle difference. Compliance speaks to the legal side. Is the website in compliance with the law? Accessibility refers to technology, and how well people with disabilities can access the content on a website.  When a website is accessible, it is ADA compliant.

Why is ADA Website Compliance Important?

  1. It’s the law. The ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) requires accommodations be made for people with disabilities to have access to the same information accessible to those without disabilities.
  2. Accessibility is a civil right.
  3. It’s good for business.
  4. It’s the right thing to do.

A Brief History of ADA Compliance

The Americans with Disabilities Act is a civil rights law prohibiting discrimination based on disability. Originally, its purpose was to protect individuals against discrimination for employment, access to state and local government services, access to public places such as stores and schools, and transportation.

By the late 1990s, many of the services outlined in the ADA could now also be found online. As this shift to online continued to grow, it was deemed that Title II and Title III of the ADA also applied to government and public websites.

In 1999, the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) published their Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) to serve as a roadmap for web creators and managers to make their websites accessible. The adoption of these industry-wide guidelines paved the way for legislative action addressing online accessibility, and in 2017, Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act made it mandatory for federal agencies to provide online accessibility. This was quickly followed by the U.S. Justice Department deeming that WCAG guidelines also apply to public websites of any kind.  

Steps To Make Websites ADA Compliant

Almost all businesses have an online presence. As of 2020, there are more than 400 million active websites and all of those websites that conduct business in the United States are legally required to be accessible. Here’s how to begin:

  1. Learn about accessibility and compliance. The first step towards accessibility is learning. Website owners, creators, and managers need to make themselves knowledgeable about what is required and how to implement the technologies and practices necessary.
  2. Conduct a website audit. Use the WCAG ADA website compliance guidelines as a roadmap. These guidelines provide three levels of compliance. A is the bare minimum of accessibility. AA is the target level most websites use to meet legal requirements. AAA exceeds requirements.
  3. Create a plan. Making a website accessible is no small project and there are no shortcuts. Depending on what is learned from an ADA website compliance audit, there are several ways to organize a plan. Some correct what is most egregious first. Others organize by gathering like tasks together. How tasks get parsed is based on team preference and resources.

WCAG 2.0

WCAG 2.0 is a technical standard for ADA website compliance guidelines and is broken into four principles sites must adhere to. To have an accessible website, these four principles must be met.

  • Perceivable: Website content should be presented in an easily perceivable manner. This refers to offering alternatives such as audio or sight-assistive technologies.
  • Operable: Website navigation should be organized in a manner that is easy to follow. Interface elements such as controls, buttons, and navigation should be operable by keyboard alone.
  • Understandable: Content should be easy to understand, using predictable patterns of usage and design.
  • Robust: Web content should be able to be interpreted by various devices and platforms. For example, you want to ensure content is compatible with user agents like assistive technologies. 
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How To Check A Website For ADA Compliance

There are three ways to conduct an ADA website compliance audit.

  1. Hire a professional who specializes in ADA compliance to review the website. While this is the most effective solution, it is also a costly one. There are many consultants out there who claim extensive accessibility knowledge but fall short. Credentials need to be carefully checked.
  2. Purchase one of several digital, web-based tools to run diagnostics such as Monsido. These tools scan a website and provide a dashboard where reports can be accessed. The problem with this type of solution, however, is that they pick up many issues that are potential problems as opposed to just the real ones. So there is a lot to wade through. On the positive side, the dashboard allows for several ways to organize the data presented, so a web developer or webmaster can choose to view alt tags only, for instance.
  3. Several free ADA compliance web checkers are easy to use such as WaveaxeSiteImprove Accessibility Checker, or TAW. Each will run a diagnostic and show you a report.

The W3C has an extensive list of web accessibility evaluation tools. Some evaluate an entire website. Others evaluate specific elements such as color and contrast. The most effective method is to use a combination of web-based and manual assessments. Both the purchased and free web-based tools can point out the majority of accessibility issues with a website. Once these are remedied, it’s a good idea to use a professional to do a final review to ensure compliance.

How To Check A Website For ADA Compliance Using A Comprehensive Checklist

The WCAG provides an extensive checklist with over 50 items to review for accessibility. One good place to start is by implementing the list of easy checks provided by the W3C. It will catch the most common accessibility issues such as images without alt-text, missing headings, and color contrast.

Here is a summary checklist using the four principles outlined above:


  • Provide text alternatives for non-text content. Use alt-tags.
  • Provide captions, text transcripts, and other alternatives for multimedia.
  • Create content presentable in different ways, including by assistive technologies, without losing meaning.
  • Make it easier for users to see and hear content.


  • All functionality should be accessible from a keyboard.
  • Provide users with enough time to read and use the content.
  • Do not use content that may set off seizures such as flashing text.
  • Help users navigate and find content using straightforward pathways and consistency.
  • Make it easier to use inputs other than the keyboard.


  • Make text readable and understandable by allowing users to choose type size, as an example. Use short sentences and maintain an easy reading level.
  • Make content appear and operate in predictable ways.

Access the full W3 2.1 checklist for a comprehensive and itemized list of compliance must-dos organized by task.

ADA Website Compliance 2020 VS. 2021

The current working version of WCAG ADA compliance guidelines is version 2.1 In the summer of 2021 WCAG 2.2 is expected to be officially released, adding new accessibility requirements to fulfill. These new criteria will include the needs of users of mobile devices and e-books. While 2.2 is not yet finalized, a draft version outlines the following:

  • Accessible Authentication (Level A) – Websites will be required to offer an alternative to the cognitive test Captcha to prove you are human.
  • Dragging Movements (Level AA) – Where dragging is required, an alternative such as tapping or clicking will be required.
  • Findable Help (Level A) – A website’s help option will be required to appear in the same place across the site.
  • Fixed Reference Points (Level A) – Online page numbers will need to match print page numbers for publications that are both print and digital.
  • Focus Appearance (Minimum) (Level AA) – Site indicators must stand out from the background.
  • Visible Controls (Level AA) – Controls will be required to remain visible instead of when you mouse over them.
  • Pointer Target Spacing (Level AA) – Linked icons will need to be at least 44 x44 pixels.
  • Redundant Entry (Level A) – Autofill should be available for form filling if the information has been entered previously.

ADA Compliance Benefits Business

The most obvious benefit of bringing a website into ADA compliance is the avoidance of getting hit with a costly lawsuit. However, there are other benefits that relate directly to a brand’s bottom line, putting a silver lining into the arduous task of compliance.

The 61 million Americans with some form of disability are consumers with an estimated $645 billion in annual disposable income. That’s a market too large to ignore. In addition, being accessible is an opportunity to grab market share in this often overlooked niche.

Accessibility is an enormous SEO booster. Many accessibility issues, like missing alt-text copy, are also SEO issues. Think of it this way – a website that a search bot can’t crawl won’t pass compliance tests either. Increasing web traffic and sales with an SEO-friendly website that also meets ADA compliance is a win-win.

Because websites are not static, keeping websites accessible takes ongoing effort beyond the job of first bringing the site into compliance. If you are just building a website or will soon be in a redesign, start with a CMS that is conducive to accessibility issues. WordPress has many compliant themes, for example. And, many now have a compliance checker that can check a page before publishing it on the website.

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