The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)

The ADA is a United States law established to protect the rights of people with disabilities including their right to employment, public services, and public accommodations.

    What is the ADA?

    The Americans with Disabilities Act is a United States civil rights law prohibiting discrimination against people with disabilities. It applies to employment practices (Title I), state and local government services (Title II), public transportation (Title II), privately owned places of public accommodation (Title III), telecommunication services (Title IV), and any other rights, public services, and accommodations available to people without disabilities (Title V). The ADA was first enacted in 1990, long before the Internet became the center of commerce, social interaction, information, education, services, office work, and life in general. Since the early 2000s, the US Department of Justice has openly declared that the ADA applies to web properties that serve the functions outlined in the Act.

    The ADA and Web Accessibility

    If you have immediate concerns about ADA compliance, please speak to a legal expert. We have a lot of experience with websites and ADA compliance, but we are not lawyers. The ADA does not explicitly include web or mobile accessibility; however, the Department of Justice has stated on numerous occasions that ADA compliance includes access to websites that provide services, public accommodations, and/or other functions already included under the ADA.

    How does the ADA define compliance for websites?

    The ADA and the Department of Justice do not prescribe what organizations need to do to ensure accessibility, nor do they point to any existing definitions of accessibility. Organizations subject to the ADA must be able to provide equal access to whatever information, services, etc. are available through their web properties, but it’s up to them how they want to do it. Making the site accessible is widely regarded as the easiest way to provide equal access, but an organization could, for example, opt to offer 24/7 phone support for people with disabilities.

    Why is making my site accessible “easier” than providing other accommodations?

    1. In the long term, building an accessible website requires fewer resources than live support. 24/7 live support requires a lot of extra employees, and a lot of extra hours on the clock. Maintaining an accessible website only adds a few extra hours of testing and fixing in each new release.
    2. You only have to maintain one source of your information, services, etc. Trying to maintain a separate “accessible” site means all your efforts are doubled, plus you add the effort of stripping any inaccessible design elements or widgets for the “accessible” site and coming up with an equivalent. You will soon find yourself in the “separate but equal” danger zone.
    3. There are internationally recognized guidelines that define web accessibility, so you don’t have to guess at what is and isn’t sufficiently accessible. They’re called the  Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) and they already serve as the basis for US Federal accessibility regulations (a.k.a. Section 508).

    What happens if my site doesn’t comply with the ADA?

    If your site is inaccessible and you don’t provide any equivalent accommodation, you put yourself at risk of legal action. Individuals, advocacy groups, and other organizations representing the interests of people with disabilities frequently file complaints against businesses and other organizations that fail to provide equal access to information, services, and other opportunities to people with disabilities. These cases typically favor the people being denied access and can cost the defending organizations thousands or even millions of dollars.

    The ADA doesn’t have any specific compliance deadlines, which means you could get hit with a complaint at any time. The good news is, if your organization gets a complaint and you can show that you are already actively working on your web accessibility, you’re likely to face less severe consequences than you would otherwise.

    How to take action to ensure ADA compliance

    Illustration of a subject matter expert and accessibility manager working together.

    Here are some steps you can take towards making sure your web properties are ADA compliant, whether you’re already facing a complaint or being proactive.

    1. Speak to your organization’s legal counsel to make sure you understand how the ADA applies to your organization.
    2. Investigate how your organization currently handles ADA compliance and accessible accomodations in general.
    3. Get an Accessibility Audit of your web properties.
    4. Provide digital accessibility training for your development teams.
    5. Start investigating tools and other ways to start building accessibility into your development process.

    Benefits of ADA Compliance

    Serving a wider audience

    Accessible content will widen your available target audience opening new revenue opportunities.

    Decreased legal risk

    Organizations who actively pursue accessibility excellence are better positioned to address claims and avoid costly violations.

    Increased Search Presence

    Providing transcripts for audio visual files are discoverable by search engines.

    Better overall user experience

    Studies show that optimizations made in UI/UX for accessibility also benefit people without disabilities.

    How Deque Can Help

    Responding to an immediate need, or building the foundation for a sustainable and long term digital accessibility practice, Deque has the most complete suite of tools, services and training available. Our accessibility library has been downloaded over 4M times. Our accessibility testing extensions have been downloaded over 250,000 times, and we’ve completed over 1,000 projects.

    Artboard 65


    Most accessibility projects begin and end with an audit – they assess the current state of your site or application’s accessibility resulting in a clear accessibility report.

    Learn More about accessibility audits


    This patented tool helps fix accessibility defects in existing web content without changing the underlying source code. This is the fastest DIY path to getting compliant asap.

    Learn More about Amaze software


    Getting help from our team of experts will ensure your accessibility fixes will meet your compliance requirements as quickly and effectively as possible.

    Learn More about accessibility remediation

    axe Testing Tools

    The axe DevTools, axe Auditor and axe Monitor products enable accessibility experts and development to test and maintain accessibility end-to-end.

    Learn More about the axe Tool Suite