As the World Wide Web becomes increasingly important in everyday life, web accessibility is a growing concern for many users and many businesses. In an effort to use the web equally with abled users, many disabled users and advocates have filed accessibility lawsuits against businesses that do not have accessible websites. Businesses large and small can learn from high-profile web accessibility lawsuits. These are the most prominent recent cases as of the start of 2020, with more likely on the way.
Website accessibility compliance is no longer optional. Businesses large and small are increasingly involved in accessibility lawsuits due to a lack of web accessibility. To help protect your brand from lawsuits, we’ve put together a list of the best free accessibility tools to make sure your website is fully accessible and adheres to common standards. You can use tools to test your site or individual pages for a number of common accessibility issues, or use tools to test for particular problems related to accessibility standards like WCAG 2.0, Section 508, the ADA, and more.
The 25 Best Free Accessibility Tools to Test Your Site
The Importance of Website Accessibility
Website accessibility standards consider auditory, cognitive, physical, speech, and visual needs when assessing websites. Additionally, websites must be accessible under all types of circumstances, including different users, environments, and conditions. Often, improving website accessibility also makes your website more useable in the following situations:
People using mobile devices
Users with broken arms or limited dexterity
People who are blind or have limited vision
Users on a bumpy bus or another difficult environment
Slow internet connection
For those approaching web accessibility for the first time, it can seem a bit overwhelming. However, these free accessibility tools can help. Website accessibility testing is the step-by-step process of checking whether or not a website or mobile application is completely accessible for all users. Some accessibility problems can be detected by a program, while others will require user testing.
Programmatic accessibility testing tools will sort through your site and detect issues as they are written into the code. These tools can detect issues like a lack of alternative text (alt text) for images, HEX or RGB color codes that do not have enough contrast between them, form fields that do not have labels, or links without descriptive text. This is a great place to start a website accessibility assessment, and can uncover a number of the most common accessibility issues. The following are some popular, effective, free accessibility tools for making these and other checks.
Free Accessibility Tools to Test for Multiple Accessibility Issues
A number of free accessibility testing tools can test individual pages of your site for multiple issues at once. Accessible Metrics can test your entire site for these issues, and provide regular updates to detect problems as you add new pages and content.
1. Accessible Metrics: With a free account, you can test individual pages of your website for ADA and Section 508 compliance. With a subscription, you can test your entire site at regular intervals and get alerts about any accessibility issues that arise as you change your site.
2. Cynthia Says: According to Cynthiasays.org, “Cynthia Says educates you in the concepts behind website accessibility. It is meant for personal, non-commercial use to inform the community on what constitutes accessible web design and accessible content. It identifies errors in Web content related to Section 508 standards and/or the WCAG guidelines for Web accessibility.”
3. WAVE: According to webaim.org, “WAVE is a suite of evaluation tools that help authors make their web content more accessible to individuals with disabilities. WAVE can identify many accessibility and Web Content Accessibility Guideline (WCAG) errors, but also facilitates human evaluation of web content.”
4. AChecker: According to achecker.ca, “This tool checks single HTML pages for conformance with accessibility standards to ensure the content can be accessed by everyone.”
5. Web Accessibility: According to webaccessibility.com, “Our free web accessibility test will determine whether your website complies with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 standards.” You can test five webpages for free.
Free Accessibility Tools to Check for Color Contrast
In order to make your website useable for those with colorblindness or poor vision, you must have a certain contrast between colors across your website. If an individual can’t distinguish the background from the foreground, the content is considered illegible and therefore not accessible.
6. Accessible Colors: allows you to input the HEX code, size and weight of your text color, HEX code of your background color and the standard your website is required to comply with. It will then alert you to whether you are passing or failing for that particular standard, so you can make changes accordingly.
7. Colour Contrast Check: allows you to input HEX codes for your foreground and background color. This will give you results based on contrast as well as WCAG compliance levels.
8. A11y Color Contrast Accessibility Validator: According to color.a11y.com, “This website provides free color contrast analysis tools that will display the color contrast issues of a web page or chosen color-pair; per WCAG 2.1 Guidelines.”
9. Accessible Brand Colors: According to abc.useallfive.com, “his tool shows you how ADA compliant your colors are in relation to each other.”
10. Accessible Color Evaluator: This tool allows you to enter multiple text and background colors to assess your overall color scheme.
Free Accessibility Tools to Check for Flashing
If there is any flashing or flickering effects included on your website, it could trigger seizures from users on your site. That is a direct violation of website accessibility standards.
Free Accessibility Tools to Check for Image Alt-text
Alt-text describes images on a screen with text. So, for the visually impaired who need screen readers to use a website, the screen reader registers the alt-text in place of the image. Without alt-text for all non-text elements on the page, your website could be subject to an accessibility lawsuit. Accessible Metrics is one tool that can test your entire site for alt-text, among other accessibility concerns, and provide a full site report. Proper alt-text can also help to improve your site’s search engine optimization (SEO), so many of these tools are also used primarily for SEO.
12. WAVE Chrome extension: Evaluate your website accessibility standing right from your browser. No information will be sent to the WAVE server, guaranteeing you complete privacy.
13. Image Alt Test: According to SEOsitecheckup.com, “Check if images on your webpage are using alt attributes. If an image cannot be displayed (e.g., due to broken image source, slow internet connection, etc), the alt attribute provides alternative information.”
14. Screaming Frog: Screaming Frog SEO Spider is a website crawling tool that is used mainly for search engine optimization (SEO). However, it can also be used to find missing alt text in images, among other things.
15. SEOptimer: This is also primarily an SEO tool, however can also be used to detect missing alt text for your images.
Free Accessibility Tools to Check for Empty Links
Those who are visually impaired will struggle to understand the context of links on a website if there is not accessible text paired with the link. The link text allows a screen reader to interpret it and communicate back to the user. If your links do not have some form of text replacement they are considered “empty links” and violate website accessibility guidelines.
Keep in mind that “dead links” are different from “empty links.” Dead links lead to pages that are no longer active or no longer exist. Empty links contain no descriptive text to show where the link goes. Many link-checking tools will check for both of these elements.
16. Dead Link Checker: According to deadlinkchecker.com, “Are broken links damaging your website’s rankings and usability? There’s no getting around it – error 404 pages are bad for business. Dead Link Checker crawls through your website, identifying broken links for you to correct.”
17. Check My Links Chrome Extension: This extension to your Chrome browser “is a link checker that crawls through your webpage and looks for broken links. Check My Links is an extension developed primarily for web designers, developers and content editors.”
Free Accessibility Tools for Adding Video Subtitles
Video subtitles are also an important part of making your website accessible. The more accurate the subtitles, the better, but any attempt is better than none. With these free accessibility tools, you can add powerful videos to your website and make them usable for everyone, without going over budget.
18. YouTube: The popular video-hosting service YouTube can add subtitles to many videos automatically.
19. Amara: Amara.org makes it easy to add your subtitles in multiple languages.
20. Kapwing: By working with smaller chunks of your video, Kapwing makes it easy to add captions.
21. Closed Caption Creator an easy user interface and shortcuts allow you to add captions in a short amount of time.
Manual Accessibility Testing Tools
Accessibility testing programs can detect many accessibility issues that your website may have. However, there are limits to what a computer program can detect. Some issues can only be detected by a real person using accessible technologies, like a screenreader. Fortunately, there are free accessibility tools you can use to see how your website actually performs. The following are some popular, effective, free accessibility tools you can use to see how your site might work with assistive technologies.
Users who are blind or visually impaired may use screenreaders to read the words on a webpage. High-quality screenreaders like JAWS can be expensive, but there are also free options that you can use to test your site. Here are a few popular free accessibility testing tools that can show you how your site works for visually impaired users.
22. NVDA: NVDA is a free, open-source, international, high-quality screenreader developed by the not-for-profit organization NV Access. This software can be downloaded for free, but users are encouraged to donate what they can to continue to support the organization.
23. Mac VoiceOver: Mac computers come with a number of helpful free accessibility tools, including VoiceOver. You can find these and many others under System Preferences. VoiceOver can help you navigate your site purely through keystrokes and read-outs, or you can scroll over text to read it out on command. This makes it useful for blind and low-vision users.
24. ORCA: ORCA is an open-sourced, free accessibility screenreading tool made for Linux operating systems. It uses keyboard shortcuts and screen reading to make webpages navigable.
25. ChromeVox: This Chrome browser extension is easy to install and allows you to try screenreading out on your site quickly and easily.
It’s important to test your website to make sure it is fully accessible to everyone. Web accessibility testing is also not a one-time to-do, it’s an ongoing process. Keep up on overall compliance to protect your website. These automated tools are a great start to making sure your site is safe from lawsuits. Download the Ultimate Website Accessibility Checklist to learn more about common accessibility risks and complete the testing process.
When it comes to accessibility compliance, the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) version 2.0 AA is the most-used standard worldwide. There are three levels of WCAG compliance; A, AA, and AAA. Though this distinction is important, it can be confusing. In this blog post, we’ll answer some common questions about WCAG compliance levels, including what WCAG A, AA and AAA are, what they mean for your site, and which compliance level you need.
What are the Levels of WCAG compliance?
There are three compliance levels within WCAG 2.0 (and, most recently, WCAG 2.1): A, AA, and AAA. Each level includes guidelines that must be met to consider the website accessible for all users. The distinction between conformance levels gives developers an organized structure for minimal, acceptable, and optimal accessibility. The different WCAG levels also provide more flexibility, so even very complex websites or cutting-edge technologies can maintain a minimum level of compliance.
What do the different WCAG conformance levels A, AA, and AAA mean?
As previously mentioned, WCAG 2.0 A, AA, and AAA all have criteria that must be met. These criteria cover everything from site navigation to text to videos to inputs and more. However, WCAG does not outline specific actions that every website must take, rather it states what accessible websites should do. This means the biggest difference between conformance levels A, AA and AAA are what they actually mean for users.
These conformance requirements essentially prohibit elements that would make the website inaccessible. Websites that do not at least meet WCAG 2.0 A are impossible or exceedingly difficult for people with disabilities to use. Hopefully, your site already meets at least WCAG 2.0 level A
Some notable WCAG 2.0 Level A requirements include:
Meaning is not conveyed through shape, size, color etc. alone
WCAG 2.0 Level AA: Acceptable compliance
This conformance level is used in most accessibility rules and regulations around the world, including the ADA. To meet WCAG 2.0 Level AA conformance, the website is usable and understandable for the majority of people with or without disabilities. The meaning conveyed and the functionality available is the same. Your site may not be WCAG 2.0 AA compliant yet, but a few simple updates can help you get there. A WCAG checklist can help you go through the requirements in an organized way and take them on one at a time.
Some notable WCAG 2.0 Level AA requirements include:
Color contrast is, in most instances, at least 4.5:1
Alt text or a similar solution is used for images that convey meaning
Navigation elements are consistent throughout the site
Form fields have accurate labels
Status updates can be conveyed through a screen reader
Headings are used in logical order
Accessible Metrics and the Website Accessibility Checklist also use WCAG 2.0 AA to help webmasters improve or start an accessible site. Testing for accessibility problems is a great place to start.
WCAG Level AAA: Optimal compliance
Compliance at this level makes your site accessible to the maximum number of users, and makes this experience easy. While this level of conformance would be ideal to make the web experience truly equal for all users, W3 explains, “It is not recommended that Level AAA conformance be required as a general policy for entire sites because it is not possible to satisfy all Level AAA Success Criteria for some content.”
If your website or application caters to the elderly or people with disabilities, WCAG Level AAA compliance can help to ensure that your audience can use your site easily. This also shows that you are considerate of your audience and their needs. Since many websites are not accessible, your users will notice this extra level of care.
Some notable WCAG 2.0 AAA requirements include:
Sign language interpretation for audio or video content
Color contrast is at least 7:1 in most instances
Timing is not an essential part of any activity
Context-sensitive help is available
Understanding the different compliance levels of WCAG 2.0 and what they indicate can help you to understand these guidelines as a whole, and why they are important. They can also help you make changes to your website or applications so you can better serve your audience. Even if you do not understand all of these guidelines, taking steps to test for and correct accessibility problems will improve your online presence and can prevent expensive lawsuits.
Videos have quickly become the preferred format for information sharing. They generate more engagement and shares than pictures or text, and there are more videos online than ever before. Making videos accessible to all internet users not only helps improve your SEO, but it also makes your videos more enjoyable. In this blog post, we’ll explain ways to make your video accessible, and tools you can use to add subtitles quickly and easily.
Why Do Videos Need to Be Accessible?
Videos need captions to meet ADA website accessibility requirements. Captions are also required for videos to be accessible for people with complete or partial hearing loss. Though these aspects are important, accessible videos also have other benefits.
Videos with captions or transcripts have been shown to improve SEO and gain higher position on search engine results pages (SERPs) than videos without captions or transcripts. This is partially because search engines can “read” the content of videos when they are accessible. Search engines can read the text files attached to videos containing captions or the transcripts contained on a page. This tells search engines more about the content of the video and whether it suits a particular search query. Since relevant posts show up higher on a SERP and posts that appear higher generate more traffic, videos need captions to improve organic search traffic. This is sometimes called video SEO.
Video captions are also important for anyone who does not watch video with sound. An estimated 85% of users watch Facebook video without sound. This probably represents mobile users who might not have headphones or might be watching in a noisy environment. This also indicates that users on other, similar social media also watch media without sound. In this case, videos without captions would be ineffective.
Videos need either captions or transcripts for to be most effective for most users. There are several ways to do this, some which are more clear and others which take less time. There are also best practices for videos with captions or transcripts that we’ll discuss further in the post.
To make a video accessible, you must provide text representation of sound. This might include a text transcript, posted on the same page as the video, or captions throughout the video. Which method you choose will depend on the purpose and type of video you have. For example, some podcasts include transcripts for hearing impaired users and for SEO value. On the other hand, shorter videos with more action will probably use captions.
What Are Transcripts?
A transcript is a full, written account of the monologue, dialogue or sound effects in the video. To make videos accessible using transcripts, the transcript should contain the substance of the video. This means that stutters or hesitations might be excluded, unless they affect the mood or understanding of the content. Whole sections or sentences should not be skipped. Even if some sections appear to be outside the point or purpose of the video, skipping them means straying from the content of the video too far and making the transcript inaccurate.
It may also be helpful in a transcript to include coordinating timing marks showing where the transcript interacts with the video. For example, you might put timing marks where an interviewer asks a question, or where the video content changes topic or direction.
When Should I Use Transcripts?
Transcripts are ideal to make video accessible when the content is mostly informational. This is best for podcasts, interviews, essays, or speeches. If the movement or actions in the video are important to the content, a transcript will probably not be ideal.
What are Captions?
Captions are bits of text that correspond with the spoken words or sound effects in the video. Captions must accurately follow the timing of dialogue, monologue or sound effects, or they won’t accurately convey the content of the video. In some cases it may be helpful to include sound effect descriptions such as (door closing) or (soft laughter) to describe a situation.
When Should I Use Captions?
Captions are ideal for short videos or videos where timing and coordination of speech or sound effects are important. This includes shows, movies, ads, how-to videos, or music videos, among others.
8 Ways to Make Videos Accessible
There are several different ways to add captions or transcripts to your video. Some will be more accurate, but take more time, while others will be faster, but may be less accurate. You can do some of these yourself, or work with another company to add subtitles or transcripts for you. Here are a few ways to make videos accessible.
The video hosting service YouTube will automatically provide subtitles for some videos. For others, you can add your own captions when you upload the video. Keep in mind that automatically added captions are not always correct, so it is a good idea to look these over and edit them where appropriate.
2. Video Editing Programs
Most video editing programs, like Adobe Premiere, AVS video editor, iMovie and others allow you to add captions to your video within the software.
3. Free Caption Services
Amara.org allows you to add captions and translate your captions into other languages where needed. This service is free and allows you to work with others on your team. Other services like Kapwing and Closed Caption Creator work similarly.
4. Paid Caption Services
If you have a very long video or you don’t have time to add captions yourself, paid services like Dotsub will do it for you. You simply upload your video, pay for their service, and they will caption your video with quick turnaround. Other services like Automatic Sync Technologies, 3PlayMedia, cielo24 will also add captions for a fee.
5. Transcription Programs
If you are looking for a transcript instead of captions, several programs will help you with this process. InqScribe helps you type out transcripts as you watch a video, making it easy to start and stop the video without a mouse. NCH Software, FTW Transcriber and several other programs work similarly.
6. Voice Recognition Transcripts
Software like Designrr recognizes words automatically and converts them into transcripts. This software is ideal for long transcripts that might be made into books or other media. Trint works similarly.
7. Paid Transcripts
Services like Scribie as well as many independent contractors on sites like Upwork or People Per Hour will transcribe your videos or audio files for you. Keep in mind that accuracy is dependent on the transcriptionist’s skill, so you may pay more for better quality transcription.
8. Word Expanding Software
Programs like Swift Text and Fast Fox make it easier for you to transcribe audio or videos yourself by providing a library of text shortcuts. You can do this yourself by customizing your autocorrect settings, but some people prefer a separate program.
Now that you have eight ways to make videos accessible, try out different services or try creating captions or transcripts yourself to see which method works best for you or your organization. With video captions or transcripts, you’ll not only see SEO benefits, but you’ll also meet ADA requirements for an accessible site.
Once you’ve conducted website accessibility testing and you’ve fixed and barriers in your site, you want your site to stay accessible. For this to happen, everyone adding content to your site must understand the importance of website accessibility and how to maintain it. ADA website accessibility training will help your team understand why online accessibility is important, and how they can maintain website accessibility in the future.
ADA Website Accessibility Training For All Team Members
Website accessibility involves many layers of skills. It’s not necessary for everyone on your team to know all of the details of web accessibility. However, each person should know how to maintain accessibility for the common items that they work with. For that reason, we’ve divided ADA website accessibility training based on tasks that different members of your team are most likely to work with.
For Everyone: Why is Web Accessibility Important?
From web designer to blog writers, programmers to videographers, everyone on your team will be more likely to maintain web accessibility if they understand why it’s important. Here are a few points to emphasize at the beginning of your ADA website accessibility training, so everyone understands why web accessibility matters.
When it’s difficult or impossible to leave your home, websites offer a virtual space that is easy to navigate, but only if the website is accessible. Web accessibility allows everyone to use the web equally.
Web accessibility allows all users to magnify screens, use voice search, and navigate websites more easily on smaller screens. This benefits disabled users as well as abled users in situations where it’s more difficult to use a website in the traditional way, such as a bumpy bus.
Using best practices day-to-day makes accessibility audits and overhauls much easier.
Everyone on your should also have access to web accessibility policies and procedures, so everyone is on the same page. It’s also helpful to list contact information for your technical expert or accessibility expert, so staff members feel comfortable asking questions when needed. Finally, a list of links to helpful resources, such as the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) can also be helpful for answering questions.
For Writers and Photographers: Alt-Text and Formatting
Any staff members who might add text, images, videos, or sound bites to the site should know how to add these in an accessible way. It’s a good idea to extend this training to those who might work with the site in the future, as well as those who currently do. Printing out an ADA website accessibility checklist might be useful, as some of these items can be easy to overlook.
Add alternative text (alt-text) to pictures. The alt-text should be brief, but accurately describe the picture. Make sure to demonstrate, using your CMS, how to do this when adding pictures.
Use logical formatting. Headings and proper heading formatting (h1, h2, h3 etc) should be used in a logical order to divide content. Use bold, italics, and underlining for its actual use in the text, not as a way to format headings.
Links are clear. Link text should accurately convey where the link is going.
Color contrast is clear. Surprisingly, this is the most common web accessibility issue. Color contrast between text and backgrounds should be at least 4.5:1. Generally, this will already be built into the website’s styles and templates. Before changing any colors from their defaults, use accessibility testing tools like a contrast checker.
For Videographers: Closed Captions and Controls
Videos are becoming increasingly important across the worldwide web. Making accessible videos is therefore an important part of your ADA website accessibility training. Team members that create, edit, and post videos should all be aware of these elements.
Videos use closed captions. This way videos can be understood without sound. Deaf users cannot use sound and many mobile users do not use sound, so this is a good measure for everyone.
Audio and video do not play automatically. It’s disruptive for people using screen readers and for users in general when content plays without a command. These controls should also have a stop button.
Video does not flash more than three times a second. Frequent flashing is distracting for everyone, and hazardous for people with seizure disorders.
For Designers and Developers: Navigation and Control
Designers and developers deal with more complex aspects of the site. These experts have more technical knowledge, but they will also have more responsibility when it comes to keeping the site accessible. Make sure that your ADA website accessibility training session and facilitator can address more complex questions related to web design and development.
The site should be navigable with a keyboard. This means using elements like skip navigation links and menus that can be opened and dismissed on click. Any “keyboard traps” where a user can get stuck should be eliminated.
The site has reflow capabilities. Reflow allows the site reorganize based on screen size or magnification, which is helpful for mobile users or those with visual impairments.
The site is usable without images or color. You can test this yourself by turning off images and style sheets in your browser. If your site is tough to use without them, it’s even more difficult for someone using a screen reader.
How to test. Since designers and developers are responsible for the site’s function, navigation, and appearance, they should know how to test the site to ensure any changes or additions are still accessible. A number of programmatic testing tools and manual testing procedures can help.
Though some will have more experience with the website than others, it’s important to remember that web accessibility is not just one person’s responsibility. Anyone working with the website should understand how to maintain web accessibility, and why it’s important. ADA website accessibility training combined with audits and corrective measures will ensure that your site remains accessible to all patrons.
Like all essential rules and procedures, website accessibility requires proper documentation. For government websites, ADA website accessibility compliance documentation is required. Though ADA compliance for private business websites isn’t yet required by law, expensive civil suits can and have happened. ADA website accessibility compliance documentation gives you proof that your organization takes website accessibility seriously, and protects you from legal battles. Keeping documents organized is not always easy, however. In this blog post, we’ll cover ADA website accessibility compliance documentation best practices, so you can stay on top of accessibility.
ADA Website Accessibility Compliance Documentation Best Practices
What to Document
To make sure that your ADA website accessibility compliance documents cover all the bases, you need to know what your documentation should include. For many compliance matters, documentation requirements are clearly spelled out in legislation, or detailed by government agencies. Unfortunately, this is not the case for web accessibility. However, compliance documents required in other cases can help to inform what you’ll need for ADA website accessibility compliance documentation. Your accessibility documentation should at least contain the following items, and others may also be helpful depending on your organization’s needs.
Documentation, especially those needed for employee reference, such as policies, are not useful unless they are easy to find. Use a file sharing system to make sure they are easy to find, and be sure that all employees and new hires know where this is. This might be a shared hard-drive, a file sharing system like Google Docs, or a communal document storage space like DropBox. Whatever you use, be sure that your employees know when it is updated, and where they can find the most recent version. If your employees are all looking at old versions of the documents, future updates won’t be useful. Finally, make sure that these are well-organized using a clear file naming convention, so employees don’t have to hunt for what they need.
Easy to Read and Understand
When it comes to web accessibility documentation that your employees must use and understand, complexity is not an indicator of quality. Your policies should make sense with each person’s level of technical understanding. For example, if someone only adds text and images to the blog section of your website, requiring them to learn programming languages doesn’t make sense. Use clear and straightforward language, and try to avoid jargon where possible. Clearly state what an employee can do and who they can ask if they have a question about the policies.
Accurate and Updated
Technology changes fast. Website accessibility policies that are outdated or inaccurate are generally not useful, so this is an especially important part of your documentation process. Otherwise, all the other efforts you’ve put into making high-quality documents and procedures will be wasted.
As your website or technology changes, some accessibility policies will become obsolete, and new ones will need to be enacted. A system for updating your technology, your accessibility policies, and your overall ADA website accessibility compliance documents should be clearly laid out. Staff will also need to know when these changes are made, so they will know when to look at policies for updates.
ADA lawsuits concerning web accessibility increased 177% from 2017 to 2018, from 814 to 2258. This number is set to increase again in 2019. As more and more businesses land in civil court, it’s led many business owners to wonder; Do all websites have to be ADA compliant? Does my website have to ADA compliant? The answer is not so clear.
Do All Websites Have to Be ADA Compliant?
Do all websites have to be ADA compliant? Technically, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Title III, which concerns public businesses, does not specifically address websites. Local and state government websites must be accessible under Title II of the ADA and Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act. However, ADA civil suits have been brought against businesses with inaccessible websites, and courts have ordered some businesses to make their websites accessible.
What does this mean? ADA legislation as is applies to websites is currently a gray area. This often leaves the interpretation of the law up to the court where the lawsuit is filed, generally a state court. Suits have been filed in every state, though the majority of cases are in New York, Florida, California, Pennsylvania and Massachusetts.
Do all websites have to be ADA compliant? That depends. Courts generally reach one of the following conclusions:
Yes, a business website is considered a “public accommodation” and must be accessible.
Yes, but only if the business also has a physical location that serves the public.
No, the ADA does not specifically address websites and therefore does not apply.
Why is ADA Compliance for Websites Unclear?
It’s well-known that the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) requires brick-and-mortar businesses be accessible to all patrons. This includes considerations like wheelchair accessibility and Braille or large print for blind and low-vision patrons, among other things. The ADA references “public accommodations,” and outlines 12 categories that essentially covers all types of public-facing businesses. However, the legislation does not address public-facing websites.
When the ADA was created in 1990, websites were not widely used, so the legislation did not address them. The Act has been updated over the years, but no language was added to address web accessibility. This has left uncertainty as to the question of whether all websites have to be ADA compliant or not.
What If I Lose an ADA Web Accessibility Lawsuit?
Since the ADA does not specifically address web accessibility, it means the Department of Justice (DOJ) will not, at this time, intervene. This means it cannot levy fines or penalties against non-compliant businesses. However, individuals and groups can file civil suits against businesses. If the court rules in the plaintiffs’ favor (the individual or group), the business will be ordered to make their website accessible, and may have to pay the plaintiffs’ attorney fees in some cases. Failure to meet these obligations in the time allotted may result in a civil contempt of court charge or additional legal action by the plaintiff.
When Will the ADA Address Websites?
The DOJ considered addressing web accessibility directly in 2016, but no additional rules or guidance was ever issued. When addressing the matter in 2018 and taking no action, the DOJ referenced Executive Orders issued by President Trump regarding reduced regulations. For the foreseeable future, clarification from the DOJ is unlikely.
The fate of future ADA web accessibility lawsuits may soon be decided by the Supreme Court, however. In 2016 a web accessibility civil suit was filed against Dominos Pizza. In the following years, the case filtered through layers of judgements and appeals. Dominos has now appealed to the Supreme Court. The outcome of the case can set firm precedent for whether or not business websites have to be ADA compliant.
Do all websites have to be ADA compliant? Does yours? Though the legal definitions are unclear for now, it is clear that inaccessibility invites legal action and misgivings from customers. Web accessibility does not have to be complex, and it may not take much to test your site and make it accessible. Take web accessibility step by step and you can avoid stressful lawsuits, and invite all patrons to your website.
The Worldwide Web Consortium’s (W3C) Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 (WCAG 2.0) is the gold standard for assessing web accessibility. Though WCAG 2.0 is outlined on w3.org, some of it can be difficult to understand without web development experience, and the list can be intimidating in itself. We’ve broken down the guidelines into a fast and easy WCAG 2.0 checklist to make your site accessible. This checklist is intended for those without knowledge of web development or programming, and we’ve noted sections where this experience may be required.
WCAG 2.0 Checklist to Make Your Site Accessible
Remember that WCAG 2.0 is not a manual for how your site should be built; rather, it’s a guide for how your site should function. This gives you flexibility about your site, since it isn’t practical or desirable for all websites to look and act the same. Our WCAG 2.0 checklist is intended to help all website managers, content creators and other staff members navigate basic accessibility, but should not be used as a legal guide or tool against accessibility lawsuits. For this checklist, we’ve removed requirements that are somewhat rare or specific, so the WCAG 2.0 checklist addresses only the most common and problematic accessibility issues.
For quick reference, here are the WCAG 2.0 checklist items without explanation. Keep reading to learn more about each item.
Alternative text or Alt-Text for Pictures
Headings and Text Are Formatted Properly
Bold and Italics Are Used to Convey Meaning
Lists Are Formatted Properly
Link Text Conveys Links’ Meaning
Text Color Contrast is 4.5:1 or Better
Closed Captioning Used on Video and Audio
Audio and Video Do Not Play Automatically
Audio and Video Players Have Controls
Visuals Do Not Flash More Than 3 Times a Second
Able to Skip Navigation and Blocks
Images Used in Navigation Have Alternative Text
Color is Not Required and Navigation Color Contrast is 3:1 or Better
The following items apply to text, links, and pictures on your site. Many of these items can be programmatically checked by an accessibility testing tool, like Accessible Metrics. Once your site is compliant, everyone who adds content to your site—such as bloggers, photographers or editors—should know and understand these accessibility requirements, so new content is also compliant.
1. Alternative Text or Alt-Text For Pictures
Pictures or infographics should have alternative text (alt-text) which describes the picture. This can be added whenever images are loaded on to the site.
2. Headings and Text Are Formatted Properly
The proper sequence of headings and regular text helps to show how information is organized without a user needing to see the screen. When inputting text, use headings like H1, H2 etc. to divide sections, instead of using bold, underline or other emphasis. Use normal text formatting for regular paragraphs.
3. Bold and Italics Are Used to Convey Meaning
Bold, underline, and italics should be used for semantic purpose, or to show a particular meaning. Use italics to emphasize a word or phrase when it changes the meaning of the sentence. Use bold to emphasize a word as especially important. Do not use italics or bold text simply for visual effect.
4. Lists Are Formatted Properly
If you are making a list, format the list items in either a bulleted or numbered list. Do not simply list each item on its own paragraph. If you do not want to separate the list from the paragraph, use of a colon or semicolon is also suitable.
5. Link Text Conveys Links’ Meaning
When making hyperlinks within the text, the text should accurately show where the link goes. For example, the following link goes to a page on the definition of a hyperlink. Do not use ambiguous link text like “click here” or “more information.”
6. Text Color Contrast is 4.5:1 or Better
Color contrast between text, images and backgrounds should be at least 4.5:1. The traditional black text against a white background and blue link text have adequate contrast. Use accessibility testing tools like a contrast checker before making changes to text colors.
WCAG 2.0 Checklist: For Media Specialists
These checklist items apply to media, like videos, audio recordings, and advertisements. Once your site is compliant, media specialists—those who work with video, images, or sound on the website—should know all of the previous checklist items in addition to the following items, so new content is also accessible.
7. Closed Captioning Used on Video and Audio
Videos and audio recordings must use a text alternative with equivalent information, usually closed captioning.
8. Audio and Video Do Not Play Automatically
Audio or visual media that plays automatically is disruptive for people using screenreaders. In almost all cases, it should be avoided. This includes videos and audio recordings as well as ads.
9. Audio and Video Players Have Controls
All audio recordings or videos must have mechanisms to start or stop.
10. Visuals Do Not Flash More Than 3 Times a Second
Videos or other visual effects do not flash more than three times a second.
WCAG 2.0 Checklist: For Web Designers and Developers
Web designers and developers are responsible for accessibility in the design and function of the site, including the navigation, templates, plugins, forms, and other functions. These experts have more responsibility when it comes to accessibility. If you don’t have a web expert on staff and you’re not sure what these WCAG 2.0 checklist items mean, test your site’s accessibility and consult with an expert to fix problems.
11. Able to Skip Navigation and Blocks
Users should be able to skip the navigation links at the top of the site, or other blocks that appear on every page. This is most commonly done using a “skip navigation” link, which brings users to an anchor point at the start of the important content on each page. Since municipal sites often have many departments and functions, this is a particularly prominent accessibility problem for state and local websites.
12. Images Used in Navigation Have Alternative Text
If images are used as links for navigation—such as a home icon leading to the home page—alternative text is used to convey what the link is and where it goes.
13. Color is Not Required and Navigation Color Contrast is 3:1 or Better
Key elements like navigation menus, backgrounds, and other essential objects have a color contrast of 3:1 or better. At any area of the site, color is not required to navigate or use the site (for example, a form field turning red as the sole method for indicating an error would not be acceptable).
14. Site Can Zoom Up to 200%
Users can zoom in up to 200% without losing content or functionality.
15. Flexible Orientation
The website is fully functional in either portrait or landscape mode.
16. No Keyboard Traps
A visitor can navigate the site using a keyboard without getting stuck in one area.
17. Forms Are Usable With Keyboard and Screenreader
Form fields are clearly and accurately labeled. All form fields can be filled in and all forms submitted using only a keyboard. If a field is not filled in correctly, the error is clearly displayed and can be read by a screenreader. Error alerts may require ARIA mark-up extensions for accessibility. This is a particularly notable problem for businesses that allow online ordering using forms.
18. Hover or Focus Does Not Disrupt Use
When a user hovers over content to expand it, it can be dismissed, so it does not cover other essential parts of the site and interfere with navigation.
19. Time-Outs Can Be Extended
If there are time-outs, such as logging a user off automatically after a certain time, the time can be extended.
Remember that accessibility is an on-going pursuit. Use the WCAG 2.0 checklist to run through your site for accessibility issues now, and keep this checklist to make sure new content is also accessible. Make sure that everyone who adds content to the site understands the WCAG 2.0 guidelines that applicable to them. To make sure your website maintains accessibility, perform regular checks. With these policies and precautions in place, you can make sure that your website is accessible to all patrons.
Web accessibility helps to make the world wide web usable for everyone. However, many people don’t use the web in a traditional way, and this is often overlooked by web developers, designers and content authors. Many of the most common accessibility issues making sites difficult or impossible to use in a non-traditional way can be easily fixed. Research on programmatic accessibility issues (those commonly detectable by a program) and user-centric accessibility issues (those commonly detected by accessibility expert) shows that these accessibility issues come up the most.
The most common accessibility issues are:
Low contrast on text
Missing alt text on images
Missing link text
Ambiguous link text
Too many navigation links
Empty form labels
Unclear form controls
Time-Outs can’t be controlled
Top 8 Most Common Accessibility Issues to Avoid and Solve
1. Low Contrast on Text
In WebAIM’s programmatic analysis of the top 1,000,000 homepages, low color contrast on text was the most common accessibility issue, affecting a shocking 85% of pages. The The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 (WCAG 2.0), the gold standard for web accessibility, requires contrast of at least 4.5:1 on typical text. This makes it discernible to all users, including those with low vision or color blindness.
Contrast is generally easy to fix. It can be fixed wherever individual problems occur, or it can be fixed site-wide by changing the theme. Accessibility testing tools like a color contrast checker to make sure there is enough contrast between your text and other elements like the highlight or background. Remember that the theme may designate different colors for headings, captions, lists and other types of text.
Accessible Metrics can test your site for this common accessibility issue and many others. Start your test »
2. Missing Alt Text on Images
This is another very common accessibility issue that is easy to fix. Again detected in WebAIM’s study, missing image alternative text on images (alt text) appeared on 68% of websites. Other, older accessibility studies between 2006 and 2013 cite this problem multiple times as well, indicating that this is a known accessibility issue that has not gone away.
It is worth noting that, though alt text is helpful on any image, there are some exceptions to the requirement. WCAG 2.0 states in section 1.1.1 “If non-text content is pure decoration… it can be ignored by assistive technology.” If the image is purely decorative and does not inform the content or the experience, alt text may not be needed, though it will still be programmatically detected by an accessibility testing tool. Therefore, this issue may be overrepresented in the study.
The easiest way to solve this common accessibility issue is to give all images clear and simple alt text when they are entered into the site. This means that anyone with the ability to enter content on the site, including bloggers, photographers, site administrators and everyone in between, should know the importance of accessibility and how to give alt text to images. Proper training and a clear and apparent accessibility policy available to all staff can help to ensure this.
3. Missing Link Text
Links are one of the main ways we all get around the internet—we use links to enter sites, move through them, and go between them. If it isn’t clear where a link is, where it’s going or how to activate it, moving around the internet and especially around a site becomes much more difficult. Links present a number of common accessibility issues that are often detected by testing programs and experts alike, and missing link text is the most obvious.
Missing link text means that there is no text used to represent a hyperlink. It might be just an image or a button, but someone who cannot visually see the site and uses a screenreader instead cannot interpret it as a link. This can be solved by either hyperlinking applicable text or including alt text for the link.
4. Ambiguous Link Text
You’ve probably seen link text that reads “click here” or “more information.” When, a screenreader reads this information, but nothing else, which does not tell the user what the link is for or where it goes. Instead of hyperlinking the ambiguous text, it is better to use brief, but informative text. For example, the following link would go to WCAG 2.0 Quick Reference. This can be easily overlooked in the site’s design by creating ambiguous navigation links (more on this in the next section), or content creators can create this problem by using ambiguous link text in blogs or other content pieces.
5. Too Many Navigation Links
Screenreaders and other assistive device must read out or click through navigation links before getting to the main site content. If you have 50 navigation links at the top of your site, this presents obvious problems. A better way to do this might be using search bars, sub navigations, or a skip navigation link. Skip navigation links provided before menu items allow users to skip the navigation and go directly to an anchor point, usually at the start of the site content. Since they cover so many departments and so much information, this accessibility issue is especially problematic for many local and state websites.
6. Empty Form Labels
Forms are one of the most common website functions users interact with. It can be as simple as a subscribe form requesting a user’s name and email, or a complex as a job application form, with all kinds of form fields. Forms are also one of the most common causes of accessibility issues. A number of different accessibility issues can arise with forms, including those detectable by a program and other issues that programmers and testers frequently discover. Empty form labels are one of the most frequently discovered accessibility issues with forms.
Form labels tell screenreaders and their users what information a form field requires. These labels are not always clear or readable to a screenreader. Some websites use pre-filled text within a form field to show what it is for, and this can present problems to assistive devices. Go through your forms and ensure the form labels and inputs are clear.
7. Unclear Form Controls
Some form controls, such as “next page” or “submit” are clear, but others are more ambiguous. A date selection tool for example, might not be clearly expressed with a screen reader, or easily usable with assistive devices. A number of simple testing strategies will show you whether your form controls are accessible or not.
8. Time-Outs Cannot Be Controlled
For security purposes, many forms will expire after a set time period, especially purchasing forms. However, it often takes longer to use forms with a screenreader or another assistive device. Users must be able to know when the form is about to expire, and they must be able to extend the time limit when needed.
Fixing these top 8 most common accessibility issues means avoiding issues that over 90% of other sites face. While this alone doesn’t guarantee that your site will be accessible—remember that accessibility is about function, not form—it will go a long way towards that goal.
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.
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.