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What does ADA compliance mean for my business?

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is one of the most visible and complicated pieces of legislation in the sphere of accessibility — and it’s critical to be on top of it with respect to your digital presence. The topic isn’t easy to navigate, and the risks of not being in compliance include fines and lawsuits.

Of equal risk? If your business’s website isn’t compliant with accessibility standards, then you risk reputational damage, which is always bad news for both your brand and your bottom line.

What is ADA compliance?

The Americans with Disabilities Act was instituted in 1990 in an effort to end discrimination based on differing abilities. Drawing heavily from the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964, which established protections against discrimination based on race, religion, sex or national origin, the ADA went a step further by requiring organizations to provide “reasonable accommodations” to employees with disabilities.

This was a fairly revolutionary addition that led to the widespread adoption of wheelchair access ramps, accessible restroom facilities, and many other equal-access accommodations that have become a regular part of most American workplaces.

Back in 1990, however, legislators had no way of knowing that the then-infant internet would soon become not just a key element of doing business, but the very backbone of global commerce.

What does the ADA say about digital accessibility?

The ADA’s relationship with digital accessibility has been a complicated and often confusing story.

First, we need to differentiate between the requirements for public and private entities.

Through Title II of the ADA, state and local governments are required to make sure that their services, programs, and activities — which includes those offered online or through mobile apps — be accessible to individuals with disabilities

Title II was updated in April 2024 to provide clarity on what “compliance” means, and the proposed standard has been confirmed as WCAG 2.1 Level A & AA, for both web content and mobile apps.

Then there’s Title III of the ADA, which requires that every owner, lessor, or operator of a “place of public accommodation,” generally private organizations, provide equal access to users who meet ADA standards for disability.

From a legal standpoint, what “digitally accessible” means according to Title III is murky. Still, the accessibility industry is now widely expecting that the technical details applied to Title II will soon be extended to Title III: Both will expect private organizations to also meet WCAG 2.1 Level AA guidelines for both web content and mobile apps.

It's a good idea to err on the side of caution when it comes to ADA compliance: Because the public sector has already had to meet WCAG 2.1 Level AA, and there’s speculation that private organizations will soon have to do the same, we recommend that every organization, regardless of their activities, meet this standard.

How to manually test a website for ADA compliance

In order to test your website for accessibility compliance, you can use our free  ADA Compliance Website Checker, or our Accessibility Chrome Extension for manual testing.

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