man and woman discussing website development

The ADA Checklist: 2019 Compliance Guidelines to Make Your Website Accessible

Making your website ADA compliant seems complicated so I created The ADA Checklist. In this short book, I distill the primary WCAG 2.0 guidelines into easy to understand bullet points.

To make getting started even easier, here’s a video primer:

(Click the CC button on the video to enable closed captioning.)

If you get started with that video, you’re doing great. The more bullet points you can check off, the better off you’ll be.

Here is a quick, plain English overview of the essentials for getting your site ready for 2019:

1. Non-Text Media Alternatives

· Alt Text: Add alt text to all meaningful images on your website.

· Closed Captioning: All videos on your website must have closed captioning (thankfully YouTube videos can be edited to include CC).

· Text Transcripts: Insert a text transcript beneath all video-only and audio-only files.

· No Images of Text: All text must be readable by a screen reader.

2. No or Limited Automatic Content

· Anything that activates on your website (such as an add, video, audio, pop-up, blinking ad, scrolling text, etc.) without being prompted by the user must be able to be paused, hidden, or stopped.

· Static Website Forms: Forms (sign ups, subscriptions, surveys, etc.) must be fully controllable by the user.

3. Keyboard Accessible

· You must be able to fully access your site without a mouse, by using only the arrow or tab buttons.

4. Intuitive Website

· Language and Title Tags: Set a language for your website and provide clear titles for each page.

· Skip to Content: Users must be able to a page’s primary content.

· Consistent Navigation and Flow: Your website’s structure and page set up needs to be predictable and logical (Facebook is the perfect example of consistency and predictability).

· Descriptive Links and Headers: Be obvious in linking to or setting up content so that users know what to expect. In other words, be very obvious in wording your headers, and anchor text/text surrounding your links.

· Labeled Elements: Label each important element of your website.

· Multiple Ways to Access Content: Provide multiple ways to navigate through your website. Examples: sitemap, search bar, related pages links, header menu, footer links, etc.

· Clear Forms: Make forms simple and easy to fill out.

· Clean Code: Your website must be coded properly and free of errors (e.g. 200, 300, 400, 500 error pages).

html code on computer screen

5. Font and Text Requirements

· Color Ratio: All font should contrast from its background color at a 4.5:1 minimum threshold.

· Scalable: Text should be able to be resized or zoomed in up to 200% without any loss of functionality.

The American Foundation for the Blind incorporates these elements into their site and optimally provides a way to change visual appearance at the top of each page.

6. Time Limitations

· There should be no time constraints on your website unless absolutely necessary.

W3 organizes the above guidelines into four categories: perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust (POUR). While that’s a nice acronym, the most important thing to remember when redesigning or updating your website is that the content must be fully accessible to everyone including the visually impaired, hearing impaired, those with cognitive disabilities, and those with physical disabilities.

I think keeping the limitations that come with these disabilities in mind makes the checklist above more sensical and gives you a better frame of mind when developing and implementing changes.

Accessibility Notes

The ADA Checklist summary above doesn’t cover every last detail and exception but these are the key takeaways from WCAG 2.0.

One very important note is to remember that the WCAG guidelines for accessibility are NOT the law. WCAG 2.0 has been strongly referenced by the Department of Justice and courts in interpreting whether a website is accessible but it is NOT the law.

What this means is if you don’t meet every last success criterion it doesn’t necessarily mean your website is inaccessible.

Another note is that the new WCAG 2.1 guidelines (released in June 2018) build on the foundation that is 2.0; they extend upon the existing guidelines and success criterion.

If you haven’t already complied with the bullet points above (get The ADA Checklist from Amazon for the full version with explanations and legal requirements), start there. There are plenty of compliance guidelines to get started with. 2.1 extends upon those.

2.1 is about enhancing and optimizing your accessibility. If your website only complies with 2.1, it doesn’t mean it’s inaccessible. Most companies are completely caught off guard by accounting for access to disabled – this is what’s being litigated across the US right now – so you’re by no means behind if you haven’t integrated all of the new updates.

Furthermore, ADA website compliance isn’t a set it and forget it endeavor: As great as it is to have a correctly designed and coded site, that’s not the end of the story.

A big part of compliance comes in how you upload content to your site. This means your web editor and/or content editor/publisher need to be aware of accessibility standards. This also means you very likely have to go back and change/add to your existing content.

youtube logoFor example, if you have YouTube tutorials (or any other video type) embedded in pages of your site, you need to go back and add closed captioning to those videos. We’re very lucky that YouTube provides for automatic closed captioning in YouTube studio – otherwise this would be a much larger drain on resources.

Legal Requirements

I mentioned legal requirements above. While there aren’t technically requirements (yet), we do know about some of the highly recommended best practices by way of some consent decrees (basically settlements) entered into by the Department of Justice (DOJ) and private companies found to have inaccessible websites.

Quickly, here are the basics:

  • Appoint a web accessibility coordinator
  • Hire a qualified, independent consultant
  • Conduct web accessibility training twice a year
  • Adopt an accessibility policy page
  • Invite and solicit feedback

The Law

If you want to get technical, there is no black letter law that says websites must be ADA compliant.  However, that’s not a debate you want to have in district court.

As an attorney, I always advocate what I call “legal prevention” which means that you avoid legal entanglement when at all possible.  In this instance, can we make a case on the merits as to whether your website needs to be ADA compliant – unless you’re a governmental entity or receive money from one under Section 508 –  probably, yes.

Section 508 is an amendment (1998) to the Rehabilitation Act that required government agencies to make electronic and information technology (AKA websites) accessible to those with disabilities.  However, this was not a mandate for private companies.

508 followed the Americans with Disabilities Act (1990) which, in Title III of the act, the ADA requires that businesses, state and local governments and nonprofit services providers make accommodations for the disabled public to access the same services as patrons who are not disabled.

The ADA prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability and says that places of public accommodation (including private commercial enterprises) need to make accommodations for the disabled (42 U.S.C. § 12182).  Importantly, a place of public accommodation, per 42 U.S.C. § 12181(7), amounts to a privately operated facility whose operations affect commerce.   However, since the ADA came pre Internet era, the ADA didn’t contemplate or mention websites or apps.

In 2010, the DOJ issued an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPRM) called the Nondiscrimination on the Basis of Disability; Accessibility of Web Information and Services of State and Local Government Entities and Public Accommodations.  An ANPRM is not law but a published notice in the Federal Register used by an agency to feel out its proposal and get feedback/comments before making it a rule; It’s a prudent move by federal agencies to try and get everything right before making a law.

The DOJ’s 2010 ANPRM made it clear that a rule for web accessibility was coming and asked whether WCAG 2.0 AA success criterion should be used or whether the existing 508 standards were best.

Although no formal rule was published, in March of 2014, the DOJ began entering consent decrees (basically settlements) with private companies using the WCAG 2.0 AA guidelines as standards for website accessibility.  Click here to see the first consent decree against HR Block.

Piggybacking on these consent decrees, private law firms have been increasingly (and ever more aggressively) sending demand letters to corporations (e.g. Amazon, Target, Hershey’s, Bank of America, Bed Bath & Beyond, Hulu, Charles Schwab, Safeway, CNN, etc.) threatening lawsuit if demands weren’t met.  Most companies choose to settle vs. a legal battle but some including Dominos Pizza and Winn Dixie have gone all the way to litigation.

In Robles v. Dominos Pizza LLC (Case No. 42 CV 16-06599 SJO (C.D. Cal. Mar. 20, 2017)), a federal court in California dismissed a class action lawsuit against Dominos, accepting the defandants due process defense.  In a nutshell, the court found Dominos does have to make accessibility accommodations but because the plaintiff was trying to hold them to technical standards that weren’t promulgated by law, the case was dismissed.

In the landmark Carlos Gil v. Winn-Dixie Stores, Inc., Civil Action No. 16–23020 (S.D. Fla.) (first ADA website compliance case to go to trial), U.S. District Judge Robert Scola ruled against Winn-Dixie, finding that their website was indeed a place of public accommodation and that WCAG 2.0 guidelines were the de facto standard.

With US District Courts making incongruent decisions without actual law, the DOJ needed to step up and lay down formal regulations.

The Department of Justice was set to announce formal regulations for ADA website compliance in 2018 but those plans were scrapped when the Trump DOJ took over and nixed the Obama administration DOJ’s plans.

This is where the current legal situation lies.

Most corporate entities and companies are settling in non-public settlements.  Plaintiff’s attorneys and law firms have swarmed like locusts in attacking the deepest pockets they can threaten.  Most are simply after money but a scant few are virtuous in simply trying to gain accessibility for their clients.

I highly recommend small businesses, companies, corporations, organizations, etc. to take the proactive approach to web compliance and get started.

For further guidance in reducing exposure to lawsuit and becoming ADA compliant, The ADA Book (available at is a tremendous resource (written by me).

You can also hire me as a consultant at

This is a very serious matter.  I highly, highly recommend you not put this off.  Make web compliance a priority for late 2018 and try to have the major WCAG 2.0 guidelines in place by 2019.

March 2019 update: Below is my guide on the price you can expect to pay for website compliance.

How much does it cost to make your website accessible?

I’ll start by clarifying that ADA website compliance is the legal side and accessibility is the technical/developmental side.

To be legally in the clear, you need to be ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) compliant.

To be ADA compliant, you need to have an accessible website.

So what makes for an accessible site?

US courts have repeatedly referenced WCAG 2.0 AA as the de facto standard but that’s not the law, that’s just something courts look to when determining whether a website is accessible.  In other words, if you don’t meet all 38 success criteria of WCAG 2.0, it doesn’t necessarily mean your website is inaccessible.

I’m not just saying all of this for your general knowledge, it directly ties into the reason 99% of you bought a ticket to the show for: price.

I’ll fork over the info you want now but stay to the end because there are some mammoth details you don’t want to miss.

What are the prices for products/services? hire an independent contractor route starts at $500 and ranges up to $7,500+ depending on the website.  To save money, you need to have detailed specifications of exactly what you need done and you must oversee the project.

You can hire a rock solid web developer for $20/hour, maybe $15 if you search longer.  If they have WCAG 2.0 or accessibility in their headline or skills, you’re going to pay more.

If you hire an agency that specializes in accessibility to retrofit your website, you’re looking at $5,000 – $50,000+.

The way you can save money with hiring an expert in accessible web development is to handle the manual remediation internally.  Whether it’s you or your “web team”, if you can take care of all of your alt text and closed captioning, it’s going to save you money vs. having a developer or agency do it for you.

This is manual work that needs to be done or at least checked by someone intelligent.

Just because you have an alt text value technically filled in or just because you have subtitles that pop up on the screen during the video does not mean your media is accessible.  If your alt text or closed captioning is poorly done, you can very easily still be deemed to have an inaccessible website and receive a demand letter from a plaintiff’s law firm.

AudioEye automated software and remediation probably starts at $8,000 – $10,000 a year.  That’s a recurring cost.  And notice I said starts at.  Price varies based on website.  Trained live accessible phone, chat, and email support included.

Accessibe automated software starts at $297/year recurring.  Support not yet included as of this article but they’re working on it.

There are other supposedly automatic accessibility solutions out there but the two above appear to be the best of the products I’ve found.

What about automated scanning tools?

Accessibility checkers are a nifty way of determining some of the ways your website is lacking.  I like the strategy of combining three different scans to get a solid feel of where you need improvement.

WAVE is the most popular tool.

Whichever ones you choose, I recommend going the free route.  Any premium versions aren’t going to add a lot of value to what you really need: A solution.

The “More Accessible” Trap

Here’s a big pitfall that’s going to get a lot of businesses: Our product/service will make you “more accessible”.

What does that even mean?

It can mean anything.  It can mean a skip navigation link is added to your site or it can mean your website has been outfitted to meet all 38 WCAG 2.0 AA success criterion.

When searching products or services, you need to know exactly what they do and what criteria they make your website meet.

In my book that helps businesses prevent ADA website compliance lawsuits, The ADA Book, I provide a detailed but condensed checklist of all 38 WCAG 2.0 success criterion.  Before you purchase a solution, I highly recommend you run down that list (or the full WCAG list linked above) and see how many criteria are met.

When it comes to accessibility, demand specificity.  Almost every vendor will say they meet WCAG 2.0 but you need to find out exactly how they do and do not.  And it’s okay that they don’t.  Virtually zero vendors can cross off every bullet point, but you need to be thorough so you know exactly where you’re deficient so you can shore that up.

Here’s a hybrid example of this:

I was specifically searching for an accessible live chat plugin for and I stumbled upon  Olark claims accessibility with a specific page but then backtracks with very tepid language:

“We aim to adhere to the WCAG 2.0 accessibility guidelines for the code that our customers install on their websites. Our code is written so that the chatbox is navigable by keyboard using screen reader software.”

That’s nice but keyboard navigability is just one bullet point.  Before I install a third party plugin or widget, I want to know, are you completely accessible or are you not.  I contacted their support via email and live chat.  Here is my email and Olark’s reply:


Having fully accessible live chat is critical for me. I choose [sic] Olark live chat because Olark is one of the few who specifically embraces accessibility but after installing the Olark plugin today and reading through the policy found here:,

I wanted to learn more about how Olark chat is accessible beyond keyboard navigation. Can you tell me specifically what WCAG 2.0 success criterion Olark has satisfied?

Thank You,


Hi Kris,

Unfortunately, I don’t have that documentation to share. I can tell you that we’ve implemented the chatbox in a way that it’s accessible to a screen reader and we’ve enabled a high-contrast mode for the agent console, so far. Accessibility is important to us, but it will be something we’re continually working on.
Are there any specific features you’d like us to put in requests for? I’d be happy to get those requests in for you!


Although this is a different situation as I’m asking about a third party plugin vs. hiring someone or buying a product for complete website accessibility, my point remains the same: You need to conduct due diligence.

By the way, this isn’t a points off for Olark session because they were the ONLY live chat plugin I saw that even talked about accessibility.  Chances are 80% of live chat plugins haven’t even thought of accessibility.

The Buyer’s Guidebook

If you have a very simple website (like the one you’re on right now), you don’t need to spend a lot.  The cost of accessibility for simple blogs, personal websites, and small business sites is going to be affordable.  Usually $500 – $1,500.

However, the more media and dynamic elements you have, the more expensive it will be to remediate (fix).

One easy way to save money and reduce your risk of a lawsuit is to remove stuff from your website.  For example, I took out a social feed plugin from one of my websites because it looked like a pain to even attempt to make it accessible.

Outside plugins, widgets, and themes can cause more trouble than they’re worth so be selective when it comes to adding third-party products to your website.

Speaking of themes, the WordPress themes I have looked at (both premium and free) have been underwhelming both in terms of out of the box accessibility and design.

WordPress themes (and themes for other CMS platforms like Drupal) commonly have the generic “more accessible” and “WCAG 2.0” tags attached to them but you have to be extremely careful about buying them because these are more aspirational claims than reality.  Typically you’ll get a boost of accessible elements on your website but buying an accessible theme will not take care of everything for you.

Even if the theme is 10/10, you still have to be accessible in how you upload content and/or remediate past media.

Sidenote: I’m still trying to find a developer who is willing to work with me to fulfill my list of demands for the creation of the “ADA Theme”.  No one wants to take on the project.  Well, I did have one contractor on Freelance who signed a deal with me but the first draft they sent me was just an old design they made a few customizations to.  The point being, a great, accessible theme that’s well designed will be hard to come by.

For websites in the mid tier like small credit unions, banks, hotels, restaurants, etc. you can expect a bill of about $5,000 – $25,000.  Financial institutions can expect to pay more simply because of the security involved and the number of forms used.  Restaurants are going to pay on the lower end.

Here, I’m usually going to recommend going through a dedicated agency simply because, as a small business, you won’t have the flexibility to oversee a project, and you can’t afford to have anything wrong.  You want to have a professional with experience in meeting WCAG 2.0 working on your website.

As a general rule of thumb, the more pages you have on your website, the more you’re going to pay.

On the other end of the spectrum, you have your large and dynamic sites like ESPN, Amazon, Huffington Post, etc.  Projects like these are going to start at $750,000 and range into the millions.

Another cost tidbit: The more you’re able to interchange website elements at scale, the easier and cheaper it will be to make your website accessible.

For example, if you have a 1,000 page website and have the ability to swap out widgets or change links for hundreds of pages at a time, it’s going to save you some serious money.  Think of it as being able to edit on a macro level, take a broad view, so to speak.

Hire a Web Accessibility Consultant

What solution is right for your needs and your budget?

How can I have someone look over my deal with a vendor and make sure it’ll make me ADA compliant?

What is the best all-in-one solution?

Where exactly do I start with accessibility?

First, I highly recommend you pick up The ADA Book.  It’s written by me and takes you through a step-by-step blueprint of how to prevent a demand letter or lawsuit while you become accessible.

Second, if you need help with your project, you can hire me as a web accessibility consultant.  Email me at and let me know your situation.

Beyond the optics of hiring an independent consultant (the DOJ actually stipulates in multiple settlement agreements that companies hire a consultant as part of the settlement so it looks good to have on record that you hired one), there are several practical benefits.  A consultant can:

  • Perform a manual audit on your website
  • Create a web accessibility plan
  • Help you deal with vendors, evaluate products and services
  • Educate your company on how to be accessible
  • Relay status and next steps to executives, your coordinator
  • Convey what needs to be done to web developers
  • Institute a training program for your coordinator, web accessibility team
  • Alert you of changes in accessibility, new best practices
  • Answer your questions
  • Conduct annual audits

My name is Kris Rivenburgh.  If you have a question, you are welcome to email me at  You can also get a free consultation and homepage audit by purchasing my book at

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