Americans with Disabilities Act – What to Know about Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.1

You’ve likely encountered a wheelchair ramp while entering a public building or heard a pedestrian crosswalk counting down the time to aid those that are visually impaired. 

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) ensures accommodations like these extend to online websites to allow equal access while accessing healthcare, public records, or applying to a college. 

In 2018, Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) were introduced by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) to meet the needs of accessibility.  

The WCAG 2.1 are a set of technical standards focused on the accessibility of web content, websites and web applications for people with a wide range of disabilities—including auditory, cognitive, neurological, physical, speech, and visual disabilities. There are three levels of WCAG conformance (A, AA, AAA) and the U.S. Department of Justice has referenced WCAG 2.1 level AA as a benchmark for many of its most recent ADA enforcements.

With the influx of ADA guidelines and standards, those that don’t comply can face severe legal consequences. In fact, lawsuits for non-compliance with ADA and the WCAG 2.1 have increased rapidly throughout 2023, with some of the top headlines including:

  • State courts in New York and California have had 414 lawsuits to date as of June 2023, in the entire calendar year of 2022 there were only 313 lawsuits.
  • Domino’s Pizza and Target have both been sued over their websites being non-accessible when using a screen-reader.  
  • Over 70% of the 2023 lawsuits being filed are against organizations with under $25 million in revenue.
  • In 2023, Education became the third most targeted sector, superseding Travel, Hospitality, Healthcare and the Entertainment sector.  

In many court cases, including Dominos’ and Targets’, the court’s final decision has been based on the website’s compliance to the WCAG.  WCAG 2.1 lays out over 200 unique guidelines built upon four principles: Perceivable, Operable, Understandable, and Robust (AKA the POUR Principles).

These criteria divide among 18 guidelines. W3C lists the WCAG 2.1 guidelines and includes successful actions that can be implemented to comply. You have likely pressed the “Tab” key on your keyboard to navigate through a website, played an embedded video which had subtitles or paused a scrolling timeline of events. These are common solutions on many websites developed with disabilities in mind.

To remain compliant and competitive, large business are seeking guidance on implementing WCAG 2.1. WhatsApp invested resources to be more accessible for a broader audience and by 2023 were ranked India’s most accessible app for people with disabilities and received a rating of ‘Highly Accessible’ based on the WCAG 2.1

For many companies, the response and compliance with WCAG 2.1 can be a challenge. Schneider Downs suggests meeting the conformance level of AA and documenting all actions taken, complete and ongoing. Schneider Downs has performed ADA Compliance audits, investigating company websites according to WCAG 2.1. Ultimately, our team provides a remediation roadmap to AA conformance.

Not only can Schneider Downs help companies comply with the ADA, but with improved accessibility comes a wider range of users to attract.

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To learn more, visit our dedicated IT Risk Advisory page or contact us.

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