ADA Website Compliance Checklist. Accessibility Guidelines

ADA website compliance checklistHave you ever asked yourself: is my website ADA compliant? If you have, then you are not alone. Let us walk you through as to what an ADA compliant website should look like and the functionality it must have in order to reach all of your potential users, avoid any possible lawsuits and minimize reputational risk.

Our last articles on the issue of ADA compliance discussed why it is reasonable to consider designing an ADA compliant website, as well as the most recent and high-profile ADA Website Compliance Lawsuits.

The current article includes ADA website compliance checklist and lists all WCAG 2.0 Accessibility Guidelines.

The Americans with Disabilities Act 

The Americans with Disabilities Act was published in 1990. It’s a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination of people on the basis of their disabilities. It also encourages organizations, institutions, businesses and other establishments to provide accommodations to people with disabilities so they can have the same level of access to services as everyone else. The law was later amended in 2008 to fit the conditions of modern society. The amendment broadened the term “disability”, extending the act’s protection to a larger demographic.

ADA Compliance and Accessibility Checklist

The ADA also applies to website accessibility. Hence the term ADA Website Compliance. With the advancements in web technologies, people now needed to put forth some sort of regulations on the approach of developers and designers to creating websites available to everyone without any restrictions. 

The first attempt at creating accessibility guidelines was made in January 1995 by Gregg Vanderheiden. This was followed by 38 different guidelines created by various authors and organizations during the next few years, which were finally compiled into the Unified Website Accessibility Guidelines in 1998. It was the starting point for developing web accessibility standards.

Introduction of WCAG 1.0

In 1999, the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) released the first version of Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 1.0). It consisted of 14 guidelines describing accessible design principles. The guidelines were supported by one or more checkpoints which described specifically how to apply a particular guideline. Priority levels were assigned to each checkpoint based on its impact on accessibility. These levels were the following:

  • Priority 1: Web developers must satisfy these requirements, otherwise it will be impossible for one or more groups to access the web content. Conformance to this level is described as A.
  • Priority 2: Web developers should satisfy these requirements, otherwise some groups will find it difficult to access the web content. Conformance to this level is described as AA or Double-A.
  • Priority 3: Web developers may satisfy these requirements to make it easier for some groups to access the Web content. Conformance to this level is described as AAA or Triple-A.

WCAG 2.0

The WCAG 1.0 was superseded by WCAG 2.0 in 2008, which remains the recommended standard for website accessibility today. The document consists of four main principles of accessible design: websites must be perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust. The principles are divided into general guidelines which in part consist of testable criteria. The Web Consortium also maintains a considerable list of techniques and common failure cases in website accessibility. WCAG 2.0 also has three levels of conformance (A, AA, AAA), but defines them differently from the 1.0 version.

Making Sure Your Website is ADA Compliant Under WCAG 2.0 

The best way to be certain your website is ADA compliant is to make sure it adheres to both A and AA levels of conformance with WCAG 2.0. In order to ensure the maximum level of conformance and make your website available to the vast majority of users, with or without disabilities, your website will also have to abide to most of the AAA level guideline criteria. Keep in mind that those criteria are advisable, not imperative. Full conformance with the AAA level is impossible for some website content.

Level A Conformance (Lowest Level)

  • Provide text alternatives for all non-text content. Controls or input fields must have a name describing their purpose. Time-based media, tests and exercises, objects that provide a sensory experience must have a text alternative that describes or at least identifies the object. Captchas should be provided with text alternatives that describe their purpose, also multiple forms of captcha must be provided for different types of perception to accommodate people with disabilities.
  • Provide equivalent information for time-based media (prerecorded video and audio content). An audio track can be provided to represent video-only content. Captions must be provided for all prerecorded audio content, except for the case when it serves as an alternative for text and is labeled accordingly.
  • Create content that may be presented in multiple ways (for example, multiple layouts for making content more accessible) without losing information. Website’s  information, structure and logic must be presented in a way that is accessible to different users, including through assistive technologies (such as screen readers). The correct reading sequence of web content must also be available through user’s assistive technologies. The instructions that are necessary to understand and operate through the site's contents must not rely solely on sensory characteristics (shape, size, visual location, orientation, sound, etc.)
  • Use of color: Do not use color as the only means of conveying visual information, distinguishing visual components, indicating actions or prompting for a response.
  • Audio controls: In the case of audio playing on a page automatically for more than 3 seconds, either a mechanism must be available to pause or stop the audio, or the audio volume should be controlled independently from the overall system volume level.
  • Keyboard control. Users must have the ability to fully operate the website through a keyboard interface, without requiring specific timings for individual keystrokes, except where the underlying function requires input that depends on the path of the user's movement and not just the endpoints. Other input methods are not forbidden and may also be present as alternatives. If keyboard focus can be moved to a component of the page using a keyboard interface, then focus can be moved away from that component using only a keyboard interface, otherwise the user must be prompted of an alternative.
  • Controlling time limits. If there is a time limit set by the content, provide users with options to turn off, adjust or extend the time limit, except for cases when: the time limit is part of a real-time event and there is no alternative for the time limit; the time limit is essential and extending it invalidates the activity; the time limit is longer than 20 hours.
  • Controlling content presentation. For any unessential moving, blinking or scrolling information that starts automatically, lasts more than five seconds, and is presented in parallel with other content, there must be an option to pause, stop, or hide it. Also, provide these options for unessential auto-updating that starts automatically and is presented in parallel with other content.
  • Content must not cause seizures. Avoid designing content in a way that is known to cause seizures. Make sure that web pages do not have content that flashes more than three times in one second or the flash is below the general flash and red flash thresholds.
  • Skipping content. Provide options to bypass repeating blocks of content on multiple pages.
  • Titles. Provide web pages with titles that describe the topic or purpose of the page.
  • Navigation. If a web page is navigated sequentially through focused components, make sure it is navigated in a meaningful manner.
  • Link purpose. Make sure that the purpose of each link can be determined by the link text alone, unless the purpose is ambiguous to all users.
  • Page Language. The language of the web page must be determinable by all users, including through user’s assistive technologies.
  • Changing content. Make sure no major changes of website content occur when focusing on a certain component or when the user inputs information or changes any settings.
  • Error notifications. In case of an input error made by the user, provide text information specifying the item in error and the error itself.
  • User input. Provide labels, guidance and instructions where user input is required.
  • Compatibility with user software. Maximize compatibility with current and future user browsing software, including assistive technologies by making sure that content is correctly implemented through markup languages. Also make sure that the user interface components have defined names and roles which can be determined by the user’s browsing software, including assistive technologies.

Level AA Conformance (Sufficient Level)

  • Live audio captions. Provide captions for all live audio content.
  • Audio descriptions. Provide audio descriptions for all prerecorded video content.
  • Text Contrast. Text content and images of text must have a contrast ratio of 4.5:1. This does not apply to large-scale text and images of large-scale text (that must have a contrast ratio of 3:1). Text or images that are part of the user interface and serve only design purposes have no contrast requirements. Text that is part of a logo or the name of the brand has none or minimum contrast requirements.
  • Resizing text. Provide users with the ability to resize text up to 200 percent without using assistive technology, loss of content and functionality.
  • Text over images. Use text to convey information instead of images wherever it’s possible.
  • Navigation. Provide multiple ways to locate web pages.
  • Headings and labels. Use headings and labels to describe topics and purpose of web components.
  • Visible Focus. Make sure the keyboard focus indicator is visible through all interfaces.
  • Language of components. Make sure the language of each paragraph or phrase in the website content is determinable through user’s browsing software. This does not apply to proper names, technical terms, words of indeterminate language, and words or phrases that are part of the dialect, slang or jargon of the surrounding text.
  • Consistent navigation. Navigational mechanisms which are repeated through multiple web pages occur in the same order each time they are repeated.
  • Consistent identification. Components with the same functionality must be identified consistently.
  • Correctional suggestions. In the case of input errors, provide the users with correctional suggestions, if they are known.
  • Secure input. Ensure security of legal and financial data transactions are secure by making sure they are reversible, the user is given the opportunity to recheck input data and a confirmation mechanism is provided before finalizing submission.

Level AAA Conformance (Highest Level)

  • Sign Language. Support all prerecorded audio content with sign language interpretation.
  • Extended audio descriptions. Provide extended audio descriptions for all prerecorded video content where there’s no opportunity to pause the foreground audio and provide audio descriptions.
  • Multimedia alternatives. Provide alternatives for all prerecorded video and audio content.
  • Live audio-only alternatives. Provide alternatives for live audio-only content that represents equivalent information.
  • Text Contrast. Text content and images of text must have a contrast ratio of 7:1. This does not apply to large-scale text and images of large-scale text (they now must have a contrast ratio of 4.5:1). Text or image that is part of the user interface and serve only design purposes have no contrast requirements. Text that is part of a logo or the name of the brand has none or minimum contrast requirements.
  • Avoid background audio. Prerecorded audio content which contains speech and is not a CAPTCHA, and audio logo or musical composition must either not contain any background sounds, or the background sounds can be turned off, or the background sounds should be at least 20 dB lower than the prerecorded speech content.
  • Color control. Provide users with a mechanism to choose foreground and background colors.
  • Content size. The width of blocks of content must not exceed 80 characters or glyphs.
  • No Justification. Make sure the text is not justified.
  • Spacing. Line spacing must be at least 1.5 spaces within paragraphs; paragraph spacing must be at least 1.5 times larger than the line spacing.
  • Resizing text. Make sure the text can be resized up to 200 percent without using assistive technologies and the user does not have to scroll horizontally to read a line of text.
  • Images of text. Use images of text only for decoration purposes or when it is essential to the information that is being provided.
  • Keyboard control. Make sure all content and functionality of web pages are accessible through a keyboard interface and do not require specific timing for keystrokes.
  • Avoid timing as an essential part of an event or activity presented by your content, except for non-interactive components, media and live events.
  • Interruptions. Allow users to postpone or suppress interruptions, except in the case of emergency.
  • Smooth reauthentication. Make sure users can continue their activity without loss of any data after reauthentication in case the authenticated session expires. 
  • Avoid flashes. Make sure web pages don’t contain content that flashes more than three times in a second (note: there are no exceptions as in level A conformance).
  • User’s location. Include information on the user’s location within a set of pages.
  • Organize your content. Use section headings to organize your website’s content.
  • Definitions. Provide a mechanism for identifying definitions of unusual words and phrases, including idioms and jargon.
  • Abbreviations. Provide a mechanism for interpreting abbreviations.
  • Reading Level. Provide supplemental content when users require a more advanced education level than lower secondary education (completion of 9th grade of school) to understand the content.
  • Pronunciation. Provide a mechanism for identifying pronunciation when the meaning of the words, in context, is ambiguous without knowledge of pronunciation.
  • Content changes. Changes of web content may only be initiated by the user or the user must be provided with a mechanism to turn off such changes.
  • Provide help. Provide users with context-sensitive help.
  • Prevent user input errors. For all user input provide the user with options to reverse the submission of information, check and correct inputted information, allow the user to review, confirm and correct the information before finalizing submission.


The first step to ensure your website is ADA compliant is to check with all of the items in the lists above. Choose the level of conformance you would like to achieve, then look through all the requirements for that level and ask yourself a question: “Does my content fit these criteria?”. A website is compliant if all its pages match the accessibility standards. If you require more information on the accessibility standards or are looking for specific techniques to meet the success criteria, check out the WCAG 2.0 document

That’s all for now. Stay tuned until our next blog on ADA website compliance, where we will talk about ADA lawsuits that took place in the recent years.

If you require help with recoding or redesigning your existing website to comply with WCAG 2.0 levels A, AA or AAA, please contact us for a free quote or consultation!

× Send request