Working The Web - Methods and Tools to Help you Achieve an ADA Compliant Website

Courtesy of Wikipedia
By Hector Cisneros

Last week I shouted as loudly as possible about the multitude of problems that the website industry has with ADA compliance. Truth be told, this compliance issue is not just related to the ADA guidelines. For the most part, following the best practices for web page construction would make most websites around 80 to 90 percent compliant. For that matter, it would also make them mobile friendly, because they would be using responsive formatting which includes alternative text, titles, views, etc.… But here are the facts. Most website owners (and even some website builders) are still stuck in 1999 when it comes to making sure that all the T’s are crossed, and I’s are dotted by strictly following W3C guidelines. In this episode of Working the Web to Win, we will provide a detailed outline of what websites need to adhere to the new ADA guidelines. We will also discuss the need to meet responsive guidelines (i.e., mobile-friendly) as well as basic requirements that are often left unfinished by amateur and even so-called webmaster site builders. So, take out your notepads and get ready to create your own website compliance checklist as we explore the latest ADA website guidelines published by the W3C.


In the past, we have written many articles about web page design and compliance. There are three elements to webpage design. All are very important, and all are dependent on each other for producing the ultimate goal of success. First, are the look and functionality of the site. It must look professional and be pleasing to the eye. It also must be easy to use; navigate and find the items a visitor wants. Second, it must be W3C best practices compliant. The W3C guidelines are there to help make sure your website will not only rank easily; they also ensure that the website will provide a higher measure of usefulness to visitors to that website. Following website, best practice guidelines will make sure your website performs well both for people visiting as well as search engine spiders scanning the site for indexing and ranking purposes. The third design element is what we call trust factors. On-page elements provide useful information and content that help the visitor to choose your site over others. On-page elements can include items like; videos, testimonials, easy to find contact information, relevant product/services information, a compelling offer, and on-going fresh content provide reasons to come back.

The many articles we have written were created to help business owners get past the misinformation often circulating about website development. Here is a list of articles we have written about in the past. They focus on best practices that make sure your website meets all three elements, even though they do not address the ADA guidelines. However, it is important to note that even if a website is ADA compliant, it still may not build trust or compel someone to act. So, I am not trying to make light of the ADA rules; I am just saying that these other elements are important as well. Here is the list of articles.

 The W3C guidelines help with the overall functionality of the site. That’s why we believe in following them even though they have never been mandated. Even today, there is no written law in effect that “actually states” you must follow the W3C guidelines. We have judges that are legislating from the bench and have Presidential Executive Orders that have basically frozen current regulations, but no actual laws currently give us crystal clear rules to follow. Having said that, the W3C guidelines are the only guidelines we really have.

Since the Department of Justice and liberal judges are allowing lawsuits to move forward without any definitive compliance laws in place, we need to study the guidelines in depth. The W3C guidelines (AKA WCAG 2.0 or Web Content Accessibility Guidelines). There are three levels for these guidelines - A, AA, and AAA. The A stands for minimal conformance. Level AA means a high level of conformance and level AAA is currently going above and beyond compliance standards to help the end user.

There is also the Section 508 Amendment to the U.S. Rehabilitation Act (which is a law) that
webmasters need to implement as well. Several of these guidelines overlap (partially or in full) and fulfilling one guideline sometimes also provides compliance for others. For example: providing alternative text for non-text content (i.e., Pictures, videos, etc.) address item 1.1.1 of the WCAG 2.0 from the W3C. It also addresses the 508 Amendment item 1194.22 1a. These guidelines have been a “best practices” item for a long time, even though it has been ignored by many webmasters who are just too lazy to key in the alternative text.
Courteesy of Wikimedia Commons

The following section lists the primary guideline (of which there are many subsections). In all, there are 64 guidelines (some of which are part of the 508 law), so I won’t have enough space to cover every item in these checklists. I will provide the main category and also state if that category has A, AA or AAA standards. However, I will provide a direct link to the W3C accessibility checklists which provide lots of the nuances, examples and detail on all three lists. Here is the link; Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0.

WCAG 2.0 Guidelines
“Provide text alternatives for non-text content (e.g. images, videos etc.) Level A compliance
Provide alternatives for time-based media (audio and video) - Level A, AA and AAA compliance
Content can be presented in different ways (e.g. through a screen reader) without losing info or structure - Level A compliance
Make sure content is readable and the foreground contrasts sufficiently with the background -  Level A, AA and AAA compliance
Make all functionality available from a keyboard - Level A and AAA compliance
Give users enough time to read and use content - Level A and AAA compliance
Do not use content that can cause seizures - Level A and AAA compliance
Help users to navigate, find content, and determine where they are - Level A, AA and AAA compliance
Text should be readable and understandable - Level A, AA and AAA compliance
Make Web pages appear and operate in predictable ways - Level A, AA and AAA compliance
Help users to avoid and correct mistakes - Level A, AA and AAA compliance
Maximize compatibility with assistive technologies (such as screen readers) and future browsers - Level A compliance”

Section 508 Amendment to the U.S. Rehabilitation Act - Standards for Web-based content (§1194.22)
“1a - Provide text alternatives for non-text content (e.g. images)
1b - Provide synchronized captions or audio alternatives for audiovisual content
1c - Color is not used as the only visual means of conveying info
1d - Documents are readable without requiring an associated style sheet
1e - Provide text links as an alternative to server-side image maps
Courtesy of W3C Accessibility Checklist
1f - Use client-side image maps instead of server-side image maps wherever possible
1g - Tables should have a header row or column
1h - Table header cells should be designated as the header of the row or column
1i - Page frames have a title attribute describing the purpose or content
1j - The screen should not flicker at frequencies between 2 and 55 Hz
1k - Provide a text-only version for inaccessible visual or multimedia content
1l - Content provided through JavaScript is keyboard and screen reader accessible
1m - Provide a link to download plugins or Java
1n - Forms are fully accessible to screen reader users
1o - Provide links to bypass repetitive navigation menus
1p - Users are warned of time limits and time limits can be extended”

Standards for software applications (§1194.21) These apply to application software that is deployed in or embedded on Web sites, using Flash, QuickTime and or Java applets.
“2a - All textually labeled functions can be controlled via a keyboard
2b - Known accessibility features are not disrupted or disabled
2c - The element with the current keyboard focus is visible and can be programmatically determined
2d - The identity, operation and state of all UI elements are available to screen reader users. Images used as interactive UI elements have a text equivalent
2e - When images are used for controls, status indicators and other UI elements, the same images are used for the same UI elements consistently throughout
2f - All textual information, including content, text attributes and caret location, is available to screen reader users
2g - The application does not override user-defined color, contrast and other display settings
2h - A non-animated alternative is provided for animations
2i - Color is not used as the only visual means of conveying info, indicating an action, prompting a response, or distinguishing a visual element.
2j - When the product allows the user to choose color or contrast settings, a variety of settings is provided
2k - No flashing or blinking text, objects, or other elements with a flash or blink frequency between 2 Hz and 55 Hz.
2l - Forms are fully accessible to screen reader users”

After reading these guidelines, you should have noticed how some are subjective. For example, this guideline from the WCA states; Text should be readable and understandable - Level A and AA compliance. What if some people understand it (because of their educational background) and others can’t (because of a lack of educational background). From the 508 guidelines, Item # 1o - Provide links to bypass repetitive navigation menus. How do you know what a repetitive navigation menu is? How often constitutes repetitive. Even the guideline which calls for; Maximize compatibility with assistive technologies (such as screen readers) and future browsers – is problematic. We cannot predict how future screen readers and browsers will interpret the web pages.  The Accessibility Checklist does give an example of what the guidelines intention and focus is, but these guidelines still leave room for interpretation (which means more lawsuits).
Courtesy of Wikipedia

Now let’s look at a few of the free and not so free tools on the market to help with compliance. The W3C provides a list of Tools on their website linked here. There are literally over 100 tools listed (over 70 to check single webpages alone), so take your time and check out as many as possible. The first one we have already mentioned, The W3C - WCAG 2.0 Accessibility Checklist. It provides your primary focus on what needs to be present. Next, I want to mention a free plugin that works with both Chrome and Firefox browsers called “WAVE”. Although this free plugin is not a comprehensive tool, it can give you a “quick and dirty” idea as to whether or not you need to get to work fixing either a website that is extremely non-compliant or one that just needs some touching up. I have used this tool to look at hundreds of websites and have noticed that most websites have some compliance issues. If you live in the Apple Camp, there are tools for Apple users who engage in web development. One such tool is the a11y tool for Safari and the MacOS. One allows you to use your iPhone for audit work and the other allows you to use your computer.  Another tool we use is Google Accessibility Developers Tools which is an add-on plugin for chrome. Google recommends that you also look at their Lighthouse Audits Panel in chrome details as they plan on removing the Accessibility Developer tools from the Chrome web store at a future date. Keep in mind that if you're fixing a website for ADA compliance, you should also make sure you address the issue of mobile-friendliness as well (AKA multiple device responsiveness). There are no fully automated, comprehensive tools that a webmaster can use to fix a website’s ADA issues yet. Even the best professional tools still recommend that you double check by going line by line looking for problems. Most also recommend using screen readers and other ADA browser tools to check your results.

The primary focus of the ADA law is to provide accessibility for people with special needs to have access to facilities, products, and services that the general public take for granted. I am all for this. By the same token, I am also a businessman, and as such, I need a clear set of rules (guidelines, if not a law) to follow. Most all business owners feel this way. Businesses need to understand the cost associated with running, managing and marketing their business. Right now, the lack of clearly focused written laws is creating a field day for lawyers who know how to milk the system. We need Congress to pass a clear-cut law to make it easier for everyone (business, web developers, consumers and those with special needs) to participate in the blessings that the web has to offer. Currently, there are web platforms that have billions of users who are not ADA compliant. Facebook, Google Search, and YouTube come to mind. Also, most social media sites and many of the build-your-own-websites like WiX are not fully compliant. I don’t look at this as any kind of conspiracy or lack of respect for people with special needs; I look at it as a lack of guidance by law. If you ask most business website owners about ADA compliance, you will get a look of disbelief because they have never even heard of this issue. Write our President and your congressmen and ask them to create clear and concise laws that provide a reasonable grandfather timeline for all to become compliant, (time to comply with a new law is always reasonable). If we can get our government to act, we can make this a step forward that will eventually make the web a better place for all.

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That’s my opinion; I look forward to reading yours.

This article provides many details of the W3C, WCAG 2.0 (web content accessibility guidelines) to help webmasters and business owners understand and comply with ADA guidelines. This article also provides links to the detailed WC3 guidelines, links to other articles which address, website best practices, and links to over 100 ADA compliance tools needed to bring websites closer, to what will one day, become ADA compliance law.

If you feel your business could use some help with its marketing, contact us at 904-410-2091. We are very good at creating websites that are not only compliant but also productive and profitable. You can also fill out the form in the sidebar of this blog where we will provide a free marketing analysis to help you get better results.  We claimed to fame is that we are one of a few companies who actually provide real guarantees.

If you found this article useful, please share it with friends, family, and co-workers. I recommend checking out the links on the blog, along with checking out other related articles on our Show Notes Page.  Also, don’t forget to listen to the BlogTalkRadio show on this subject.  If you have a related useful comment or opinion about this article, leave it in the comment section of this blog. Also, don’t forget to plus us, on Google+ and share us on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn as well.


Hector Cisneros is COO and Director of Social Media Marketing at Working the Web to Win, an award-winning Internet marketing company based in Jacksonville, Florida.  He is also co-host of the weekly Internet radio show, "Working the Web to Win" on BlogTalkRadio.com, which airs every Tuesday at 4 p.m. Eastern. Hector is a syndicated writer and published author of “60 Seconds to Success.” 


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