ADA Website Compliance: What do Business Owners Need to Know?

What You Need to Know about ADA Website Compliance?

Occasionally I am asked about website ADA Compliance. I have learned to spare the questioner the details that would make their eyes roll and then cross as mine have. Then I try to give an honest and brief answer.

This post is a short summary that, for now, will probably tell you enough to keep the bigger question at bay for a while—though not forever.

Regardless of the type of business you run or your industry vertical, you want to provide an easy browsing experience to your site visitors.

Providing a fuss-free user experience (UX) is not only crucial for making a great first impression and getting into Google’s good books. But there is more to the picture. Your website’s accessibility can also serve as the basis for legal action!

Indeed, not staying current and complying with prevailing standards for website accessibility could open your business to costly ADA lawsuits, financial liabilities, and damage to your brand reputation.

In this post, we will help you understand what ADA website compliance is all about and how you can bring your website to ADA compliance. Read everything carefully, so you can avoid getting a threatening legal letter in your mailbox sent by a wild pack of opportunistic lawyers.

About the ADA Website Compliance

The law that primarily governs accessibility in the U.S. is the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 or ADA (42 U.S.C. § 12101). This civil rights law prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities to ensure they have the same rights and opportunities as those without.

Though ADA does not mention websites anywhere, Title III of the act (Public Accommodations and Commercial Facilities) has been interpreted by U.S. courts to apply to websites.

Under Title III, no public/private places open to the public (e.g., hotels, restaurants, banks, public transportation, etc.) can discriminate against an individual on the basis of disability. To most people, this is perceived in a physical sense, such as wheelchair accessibility and Braille on elevator buttons.


In a more real sense, the law extends to electronic and information technology (e.g., websites).

Individuals with disabilities cannot be discriminated against online and must be given the same opportunity to access, engage with, and use online resources as anybody else.

How do you make your site ADA compliant?

To make your website ADA compliant, you must ensure that your site visitors—including individuals with vision or hearing impairments, or those with cognitive, language, or learning disabilities—can enjoy all features and functionalities of your website.

In other words, everything from the navigation to content to visual elements on your site should be “reasonably accessible” by everyone.

Okay. Now, how do you make sure your site is “reasonably accessible”?

Considering there are no federally codified directions regarding ADA website compliance, U.S. courts and the Department of Justice (“DOJ”) refer to the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (“WCAG”) as the standard to gauge whether websites are accessible.

You can search on “web content accessibility guidelines” and find a LOT of mind-numbing information, complete with copious detail, about the subject. You will also find free scans by companies offering to look at your site and make recommendations as to what you need to be in compliance.

This free scan is then followed by an offer to perform the services needed so your site will pass. In many cases, the cost to have this done is equal to or greater than what most small businesses pay to have the entire site done in the first place!

In my opinion as a website designer, website owner and small business owner it’s a difficult topic. It pits the interests of the vision impaired community against the interests of small businesses, and it doesn’t leave much room for compromise. Either ignore ADA guidelines and leave your site lacking for those who can’t read it, or absorb a lot of extra cost to make the site compliant.

So, Do Your Best

Some larger companies have been successfully sued for not meeting ADA website standards. Smaller businesses are generally flying below the radar because their sites don’t generate large traffic volumes. And, there isn’t as much financial upside to suing the local plumber or delicatessen.

Budget difficulties aside, there are some things small business owners can do to bring their website into conformance with WCAG. Help ensure that your website meets ADA guidelines by:

  • Designing the site with a consistent, organized site layout for easier navigation.
  • Creating alt tags for all images (and for videos and audio files if your platform allows) so that vision-impaired individuals can perceive your content. This involves in entering text in the ALT (think alternate) meta tag that describes the image. WCAG suggests this is optional if the image is purely decorative. (hmmm… who gets to decide the meaning of “purely decorative?”)
  • Posting text transcripts for video and audio files to allow hearing-impaired individuals to access your content.


Ensuring your website is ADA compliant can seem very daunting, especially if you frequently update your site’s content or there are dynamic visual elements on the site. That is why it makes much more sense to partner with a professional web design and development company that can help you create (or update) a site that adapts to any new changes or content added along the way.

If you want to make your website ADA compliant or learn more about the ongoing changes in compliance and how they might affect your site, get in touch with the Santa Rosa web design experts at New Paradigm Marketing today.