What does ADA compliance mean?

ADA compliance ensures reasonable accommodation for Americans with disabilities. Businesses generally comply with doorway widths for wheelchairs, handrails, braille signs, and other physical modifications.

But now the digital world is facing a slew of requirements and this affects your website. ADA compliance requires that a website meet standard accommodations as put forth in the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). President George H. W. Bush signed this law in 1990, which prohibits discrimination against people affected by disabilities and assures that they have access to “places of public accommodation,” defined as “a private entity that owns, operates, leases, or leases to, a place of public accommodation. Places of public accommodation include a wide range of entities, such as restaurants, hotels, theaters, doctors’ offices, pharmacies, retail stores, museums, libraries, parks, private schools, and daycare centers.”

In September 2010, with the rise of Internet use for online purchasing, the U.S. Department of Justice issued the Standards of Accessible Design. This document asserts that people with disabilities must be allowed access to all electronic information, including online technology, computer hardware, program software, and documentation. 

Can someone sue you if your website isn’t ADA compliant?

In a recent high-profile case, the national restaurant chain Domino’s Pizza challenged the wording of the Americans with Disabilities Act when a blind man Guillermo Robles filed suit against Domino’s because he was unable to place an online order with the restaurant, as both the restaurant’s website and its mobile app lacked technology that enabled Robles to use his screen reader. Domino’s petitioned the Supreme Court, questioning whether its website must be made accessible for people with disabilities. In October 2019, the Court rejected Domino’s petition, confirming the “alleged inaccessibility of Domino’s website and app impedes access to the goods and services of its physical pizza franchises—which are places of public accommodation.” One little word made all the difference in the Supreme Court’s ruling. They determined that the word “of” in the phrase “places of public accommodation” refers to a part of the whole, which correlates to the website being a part of the restaurant.

This court case is not the only one of its kind, as federal court cases involving website accessibility numbered over 2,200 in 2018, increasing 181% from 2017. 

Does your website need to become ADA compliant?

Generally speaking, if your website offers products for purchase, it’s in your best interest to make your website ADA compliant. Below are more examples of the types of businesses that should do this: 

  • Businesses that benefit from the public
    • restaurants, hotels, theaters, retail stores
  • Local, state, and government agencies
    •  libraries, parks, daycare centers
  • Private employers with 15+ employees

What if you don’t want to become ADA compliant?

Despite legal ramifications for not becoming ADA compliant, many businesses ignore it for one or more of the following reasons:

  • Companies aren’t aware of the need for website ADA compliance 
  • Web developers don’t routinely offer the option for ADA compliance
  • Companies think becoming compliant is too expensive and the requirements drag out development
  • Companies think that their current website is grand-fathered

But, really, ignoring the need for ADA compliance is a ticking time bomb. It’s a lawsuit waiting to happen.

Why you should care if your website is ADA compliant

Aside from protecting your company from a lawsuit, there are several advantages to becoming ADA compliant: 

It’s good business

Customers like companies that are socially aware and supportive. So, kindness, giving back to others, and acting socially responsible is profitable to companies, and customers will show appreciation by purchasing the company’s products.

You’ll reach more customers

Imagine missing out on website traffic totaling tens of millions of customers. Scary, right? But if you’re not ADA compliant, then your website loses out on 60 million disabled customers because they can’t interact with your website.

You’ll keep more customers

70% of potential customers leave a website that is inaccessible. And they don’t just leave. They tell their friends and family to shop at this other great website they found after figuring out they couldn’t access what they wanted on your website. 

You won’t get sued if you’re ADA compliant

Don’t leave your business wide open for a lawsuit. If someone brings suit against you because your website isn’t ADA compliant, you risk losing money, customers, your reputation, and maybe even your business. Here are some of the many well-known companies that have been sued for not being ADA compliant: Winn-Dixie, Burger King, The Hershey Corporation, Blue Apron, Blick Art Materials, Hobby Lobby, Hulu, CVS Pharmacy, Nike, Bank of America, Apple, NBA, Fox News, HCA Holdings, Inc., Harvard, and MIT.

What to do to make sure your website is ADA compliant?

The ADA laws are complex and intricate. For a full explanation of them, you can go here. The following information also includes excerpts of those laws and explains them in order to help in the understanding of what changes need to take place to ensure a website is ADA Compliant.

In short, ADA compliance requires that a website’s interactive capabilities be accessible to everyone. This requires inserting tools, code, functions, and features on a website that support accessibility and assistive software. Below is information from the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) that explains the accommodations that must be met for ADA compliance.


Media includes videos, audios, GIFs, and animations that appear on a website. All video and audio content needs to include a text transcript that is clearly labeled and linked below the media, and all video accompanied by sound needs to contain accurate closed captioning. Closed captioning, sometimes referred to as subtitles, show the text of what is being spoken in visual media to assist the hard of hearing so they can access the message.

A website that includes flashing information must be limited to no more than three flashes per second. In addition, users must be able to stop, pause or hide any content that flashes or moves, and all users must be able to stop, pause, or mute any audio. 


Content refers generally to any written information, including titles, headers, and links. Each web page needs its own separate title that describes the content of that page with page headings that clearly explain the content that follows. Operating elements that have an identical purpose, such as icons and buttons that require users to click on them, need to be consistent.    Components that have the same function within a website need to be identified consistently (but not necessarily identically), e.g., two check marks can indicate two different things as long as their function is different: one might indicate “approved” on one page but indicate “included” on another

A link allowing users to “Skip to Content” or “Skip Navigation” needs to be included so users can click through, bypassing the heading and going straight to the information. All menu options and navigation need to be consistently displayed across the entire website. Also, each menu and navigation link needs to clearly explain what it does or to where it will link. Avoid generic language, such as “click here,” and include multi-sensory access for any instructions included on the website. There should also be several options for users when accessing pages on your website. Some examples include links in a sitemap, a search bar, menus, and internal links. 


Design has to do with images and color. Images of text should not be used unless it is part of a company logo, absolutely necessary, or unavoidable. There must also be a color contrast ratio of at least 4.5:1 between all text and background. Color contrast refers to a difference in the brightness (luminance) between the background color and the color of the text.

To explain: Luminance is referred to as a ratio on a scale of 1-21 with 1 being the brightest. The color brightness of the text is referred to before the colon and the background color after the colon. Therefore, a color ratio of 4.5:1 indicates that the text is at a luminance of 4.5 (out of 21) on a white background. When using a background other than white, this 4.5:1 ratio must still be adhered to. Therefore, if the background is a 4, the color ratio must be 18 to maintain the 4.5:1 ratio.     

In addition, information should not be organized only by color. Other multi-sensory capabilities must be available to users as well.

A website’s images and non-text content must include alternative text (alt-text). Alt-text is simply text that accompanies an image and is another capability that needs to be available to users in order for a website to be ADA compliant. However, there is an exception, and the information below explains what needs to be done:   

  • Every image must include alt text (exception: see bullet point 5)
  • Alt text must describe the message being conveyed and not just describe what the image looks like
  • Descriptive alt text must be included with moving images, such as GIFs and animations
  • Descriptive alt text must also be included with images containing information
  • Images that are solely decorative do not require alt text


Development includes code, forms, and timers. Always make sure to use the proper markup language so the website’s content is set up correctly. This includes using proper heading tags and completing other HTML protocol (such as adding end brackets) to ensure that the code is error-free and sections are embedded properly.

Regarding forms, all fields need to be labeled so that users understand which information should be entered and in what format. Information that is entered into fields should not automatically be submitted. A separate button must be added so that users have the option of abandoning the opt-in or clicking on the button to knowingly submit their information.  

Mistakes made on forms must be easily identifiable, understood, and rectified and be accompanied by suggestions on how to correct those mistakes. For information that determines legal responsibilities, financial transactions, or similar sensitive agreements, one of three things must be true:

  • Submissions must be reversible
  • Users must have the option to correct mistakes
  • Prior to submitting any information, users must be given an opportunity to review and amend the information

All user interface components, forms, links, etc. that are generated by scripts need to allow the name, role, and value to be determined programmatically and that components are in accord with assistive technology.

For websites that include time limits, users need to be able to turn the time limit off, adjust the time limit, or prolong the time limit.


Usability includes keyboard navigation, multi-language, and text. Users need to be able to perform all functions and access any content on a website by using only a keyboard, i.e., without a mouse. Moreover, keyboard users need to be able to move forward and backward throughout the website and must not be allowed to become stuck anywhere. When a user interacts with a website’s interactive, visual components (a.k.a. user interface controls), that component (button, text link, etc.) should signal to the user, through highlighting or other obvious means, that the cursor is in position to activate that component. However, no action should occur because a cursor is in position to activate a component. A user must click on the component in order to activate the command before any change occurs.  

Make sure the website has a chosen language, and that the website clearly signals to a user when there are full-page or content changes in the language. The website also needs to display text clearly and allow for a size increase up to 200% without diminishing a user’s ability to read the web site’s content or interact with it. 

Final Thoughts

ADA compliance is intricate. The experts at Titan Publishing can give your website an ADA compliance score, help you make a   plan to bring your site into compliance, and suggest simple changes that will work towards 100% compliance.

Be a Marketing Titan: 

✓ Click on the Americans with Disabilities link and learn about the law

✓ Determine if your website needs to be ADA compliant

✓  Read through the compliance guidelines to identify changes you need to make to be ADA compliant

✓ Call Titan Publishing for an ADA compliance assessment score

Maureen Cooke

Maureen Cooke

Production Writer

Maureen Cooke is a happy wife, mom, and owner of a very fat cat. A tortured artist and passionate writer, Maureen has over 15 years’ experience in communications. When she’s not doing something creative, Maureen’s busy wondering why she’s not doing something creative.