How to Ensure ADA Compliance for Government Websites

ensure ADA accessibility for government websites

By Sam Stemler

Accessibility requirements for government websites are intended to allow everyone equal access to online resources. This includes web pages, blogs, event pages, videos, PDF tax files, an online form to apply for a dog license and everything in between. These online accessibility standards for government websites are mostly put forth by Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). However, the ADA does not specifically mention websites, which has left some ambiguity as to how to ensure ADA compliance for government websites. In this blog post, we’ll provide helpful resources to make ADA compliance easier, and provide an outline to ensure ADA compliance for your state or local website into the future.

Is My Website ADA Compliant? How Do I Know?

While the ADA itself was designed before websites were common information resources, recent case law has shown that websites fall under the ADA umbrella. The Department of Justice (DOJ) and ADA have offered guidelines and resources to help governments make their websites accessible.

These guidelines, similar to other accessibility guidelines like the WCAG, do not list exactly what governments should or shouldn’t have, but instead outline what the website should do. This gives governments a measurable goal—equal functionality and usability—without using specific criteria that would put limits on how the website looks or what it does.

The ADA and DOJ offer the following documents, among others, to give local and state governments direction as to how and why to make their websites functionally accessible to everyone.

Start with an Organized Plan
Download the Website Accessibility Checklist

How Can I Ensure ADA Compliance Now and In the Future?

Websites are not static. They change as technology and users’ needs change. This is why you can usually tell when a website hasn’t been updated in five years, and it’s especially obvious when it hasn’t been updated in ten or twenty. So how can you ensure ADA compliance for your government website, today and years down the line?

If your website is due for an update, it’s a good time to innact accessibility regulations along with a new design. Or, if your website is fairly new, you can adopt ongoing policies to ensure the site stays accessible as new content is added and changes are made. Use the following steps to make a solid plan for ensuring ADA compliance now and into the future.

Step 1: Make an Accessibility Action Plan

If you are redesigning your site, consider accessibility as your build your site. Adherence to website accessibility standards will make your website easily usable for people with disabilities, but it will also improve site functionality for all users. Review the ADA accessibility guidelines and checklist for websites listed above. If you aren’t sure what all of these points mean or entail, don’t worry. The following are a few ways that you can start off with a strong accessible framework.

  • Use an accessible template: WordPress works with users who are passionate and well-versed in accessibility to create accessible templates. You can make changes to these templates to suit your site, but this is a good place to start.
  • Work with an expert: If you are working with a web design company or an outside consultant, make sure they have experience with accessibility, and a good understanding of what it will take to make your content and functions accessible. Remember, some websites can be accessible very easily, but larger or more complex sites will take more skills.
  • Keep it in-house: If your on-staff tech expert is well-versed in web accessibility, they may be able to use outside testing tools to identify problems and fix them by themselves. However, be careful not to overextend your tech staff.

Step 2: Make an Accessibility Policy

Now that your website is accessible under the ADA, you want to keep it that way. As new content is added to your site—new pages, blog posts, pictures, links, forms etc.—you need to maintain accessibility. This is where a solid accessibility policy comes in.

The ideal accessibility policy outlines how to add information to the to the site so it remains accessible. Everyone who adds content should be able to understand this. This policy should also be well-known and up-to-date. Afterall, if your staff cannot find this policy, or don’t know that it exists, it won’t be very helpful.

Keep the following in mind as you craft your accessibility policy. This will help you ensure that the policy is useful today and in years to come.

  • Complexity: Some aspects of accessible web design require more technical knowledge than others. As you craft your policy, consider creating tiers of use. For example, everyone adding information to the site should know how to add alt-text, use headings appropriately, and add links with the appropriate text. However, only more advanced users concerned with site navigation or functionality will need to know more complex aspects, like the use of ARIA for accessibility.
  • Training: Many people are not aware of what web accessibility is, or how to do it. Make sure that new hires who are working with the website have access to your policy, understand it, and know why it is important.
  • Easy to Find: Your accessibility policy should be easy for everyone to access when needed. You might include it in a group of shared staff documents, in a training manual, or in a staff-only section of your website. Make sure everyone knows where to find it.
  • Able to Ask Questions: Your staff will probably have some questions about the policy, or they may run into issues they aren’t sure how to solve. Give them a way to resolve these questions. Emphasize that it is better to ask an expert than to guess.

Step 3: Conduct Regular Testing

Inevitably, there will be some accessibility issues that arise as you add new content or make changes. Regular testing for accessibility can help you detect and fix these issues before they get out of hand. It’s a good idea to set aside time on a regular basis to conduct testing and also fix the issues that arise. This might include programmatic testing using testing tools, as well as user testing.

With each of these elements in place, you can ensure that your government website is ADA compliant now and for years to come. This will not only protect you from accessibility civil suits, but it will also ensure that all residents and visitors can enjoy your website equally.

The Complete ADA Compliance Website Checklist

ADA compliance checklist

By Erica Statly

ADA stands for the American Disabilities Act, which was published under the Standards for Accessible Design in 1990. The purpose of the law is to protect people with disabilities. While this law was created with physical barriers in mind, as the world continues to evolve, accessibility for disabled people is now a topic for internet users.

Several companies have experienced lawsuits in the past few years due to lack of accessibility. People with disabilities are suing based on the premise that they are unable to use these websites, because they do not accommodate their specific disability. By using this checklist, you can avoid many issues surrounding web accessibility and your website.

The ADA Compliance Website Checklist

The following 26 checklist items were taken from the official Chapter 5 Title II ADA Compliance Checklist.

Accessibility Checklist For Current Web Pages & Content

  • Does the top of each page with navigation links have a “skip navigation” link?
  • Do all links have a text description that can be read by a screen reader (not just a graphic or “click here”)?
  • Do all of the photographs, maps, graphics and other images on the website currently have HTML tags (such as an “alt” tag or a long description tag) with text equivalents of the material being visually conveyed?
  • Are all of the documents posted on your website available in HTML or another text-based format (for example, rich text format (RTF) or word processing format), even if you are also providing them in another format, such as Portable Document Format (PDF)?
  • If your website has online forms, do HTML tags describe all of the controls (including all text fields, check boxes, drop-down lists, and buttons) that people can use in order to complete and submit the forms?
  • If your website has online forms, does the default setting in drop-down lists describe the information being requested instead of displaying a response option (e.g., “your age” instead of “18 – 21”)?
  • If a web page has data charts or tables, is HTML used to associate all data cells with column and row identifiers?
  • Do all video files on your website have audio descriptions of what is being displayed to provide access to visually convey information for people who are blind or have low vision?
  • Do all video files on your website have written captions of spoken communication synchronized with the action to provide access to people who are deaf or hard of hearing?
  • Do all audio files on your website have written captions of spoken communication synchronized with the action to provide access to people who are deaf or hard of hearing?
  • Have all webpages been designed so they can be viewed using visitors’ web browser and operating system settings for color and font?

Check these items off your list

Download the Website Accessibility Checklist

Accessibility Checklist for Policies & Procedures

  • Do you have a written policy on website accessibility?
  • Is the website accessibility policy posted on your website in a place where it can be easily located?
  • Have procedures been developed to ensure that content is not added to your website until it has been made accessible?
  • Does the website manager check the HTML of all new webpages to confirm accessibility before the pages are posted?
  • When documents are added to your website in PDF format, are text-based versions of the documents (e.g., HTML, RTF, or word processing format) added at the same time as the PDF versions?
  • Have in-house staff and contractors received information about the website accessibility policy and procedures to ensure website accessibility?
  • Have in-house and contractor staff received appropriate training on how to ensure the accessibility of your website?
  • Have in-house and contractor staff who create web content or post it on your website received copies of the Department of Justice’s technical assistance document “Accessibility of State and Local Government Websites to People with Disabilities”?
  • If your website contains inaccessible content, is a specific written plan including timeframes in place now to make all of your existing web content accessible?
  • Have you posted on your website a plan to improve website accessibility and invited suggestions for improvements?
  • Does your website home page include easily locatable information, including a telephone number and email address, for use in reporting website accessibility problems and requesting accessible services and information?
  • Do you have procedures in place to assure a quick response to website visitors with disabilities who are having difficulty accessing information or services available via the website?
  • Have you asked disability groups representing people with a wide variety of disabilities to provide feedback on the accessibility of your website?
  • Have you tested your website using one of the products available on the Internet to test website accessibility?
  • Are alternative ways of accessing web-based information, programs, activities, and services available for people with disabilities who cannot use computers?

Take the time to ensure your website fully accessible to internet publics by using our checklist. Use Accessible Metrics to automatically scan your website monthly for ADA compliance.