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ADA Compliance and Key Guidelines for Website Accessibility

Timothy Quinlan, Senior UX Architect

Accessibility allows everyone to access the same information, products, and services on the web. This includes people who have visual, hearing, cognitive and motor disabilities. Although there have been accessibility guidelines in place for decades, they have never been widely adopted or enforced. But all that has changed.


Between 2017-2018, the number of lawsuits filed under ADA increased 177%—a trend that is continuing into 2019. The legal requirements for accessibility have been part of a changing landscape, including the courts’ interpretation of how ADA applies to websites. But the trend is clear: businesses and organizations need to ensure equal access to their websites for everyone.

Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Compliance

ADA is the law that everyone is talking about, yet most people are surprised to find out that ADA does not actually include guidelines for websites (the law was passed in 1990 when the internet was a very different place). 

So how do you make your website ADA compliant? The answer is another set of guidelines called Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). WCAG is the only globally accepted set of guidelines that provide specific techniques for making websites accessible. WCAG defines these techniques in three progressive levels—A, AA, AAA—with Level AA being the most common target. 

WCAG Level AA is so important because nearly all outcomes of legal action settled in favor of accessibility require WCAG AA for remediation. The bottom line is, if you want to make your website ADA compliant, make sure it meets WCAG AA.


Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act
The other major player in the accessibility world is Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act. Section 508 is a US federal regulation that applies to government agencies, as well as contractors and businesses that work with or receive funding from government agencies. 

Unlike ADA, Section 508 is very specific about how defines accessibility for websites. In 2018, Section 508 was updated to specifically require WCAG Level AA compliance. That simplified things: now both ADA and Section 508 require WCAG AA.

Too Much of a Risk 
Although ADA and other laws are still evolving, it’s too much of a risk to ignore accessibility. Whole industries (health care, higher education, airline) have already been transformed by ADA lawsuits. Other industries (B2C, service industry, eCommerce) are far into the process. Outside the US, the trend is moving towards increased web regulations (remember GDPR day in May 2018?) 

Web accessibility and ADA compliance are often the source of fear and panic at organizations. But at R2i, we see it as an opportunity. Many techniques for making your website accessible also benefit SEO, user experience, and user engagement. An accessible website also reaches a far wider audience (the most common form of colorblindness affects over 10 million people in the US—that’s a big market share to ignore).  

Address accessibility head on. It’s easier, less expensive, and ultimately more effective. With the right accessibility strategy and implementation plan, you can protect your organization from legal action and ensure your website is accessible for everyone. 


This is the first in a five-part series on website accessibility. In our next blog, we will examine the assessment  process for determining how accessible your website currently is and determining what actions you need to take to pass the WCAG Level AA guidelines. In the meantime, if you need assistance in evaluating the accessibility of your website, contact R2integrated at www.r2integrated.com/contact
  


About the author: Timothy Quinlan

As the Sr. UX Architect at R2i, Timothy Quinlan’s expertise lies in user-centered design, driving usability for websites, user interfaces, and dynamic content systems based on user research.  Timothy has 8 years experience translating user and business needs into a strong strategic foundation and remaining involved throughout the project lifecycle to ensure a killer UX. He brings a deep knowledge of web accessibility, specializing in compliance, education, and training to empower organizations to meet accessibility guidelines across industries like higher ed, health care, B2B, and non profits and associations.

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