WAVE Tool False Positives vs. Website Accessibility Lawsuits in 2020

I was helping a developer with the accessibility of a bank website when I came across another actual vs. practical actual accessibility situation.

This was a WordPress website built using DIVI by Elegant Themes that included a contact form by the Gravity Forms plugin.

Now Gravity has specifically addressed accessibility in its forms but it nevertheless has its forms flagged by WAVE. As you can see in the comments of that linked post, users report getting errors for:

  • missing form labels
  • multiple form labels
  • duplicate labels

Now WAVE is an automated checker so these types of errors/warnings/alerts will happen from time to time as WAVE was not meant to be used as a definitive source of accessibility issues but more so a, “hey, you might want to look into these issues” type of supplement to an accessibility review.

The problem is many plaintiff’s lawyers are exclusively relying on WAVE to stuff their demand letters and lawsuit claims.

And this makes the practical order of important for website owners:

  1. Try to get WAVE down to zero errors, warnings, alerts
  2. Try to meet all WCAG 2.0 AA success criteria

Of course the end goal is having a website that everyone can access, but, first comes not getting your pants sued off.

This is why when I was developing Accessible Theme I made getting errors and flags from not only WAVE (from WebAIM) but also AXE (from Deque) a priority before release.

Ultimately accessibility is the objective but in this current uber litigious legal landscape, you need both WCAG 2.0 AA conformance and 0 errors from the most popular checkers and automated scans.

WAVE is by far the most popular and I believe AXE is a distant second.  AXE is a little more difficult to use as you have to go through FireFox or Chrome’s developer tools to use it so I think that makes it less of a plaintiff’s lawyer choice.

Sometimes it’s simply not feasible to get everything down to zero but you always want to negotiate with your website’s code as much as possible to appease accessibility checkers.

A low error count certainly works in your favor.  A plaintiff’s lawyer will be much more reluctant to fire away with a website that is at 1 error and 2 warnings vs. a website that has 10 errors and 22 warnings.

But, obviously, I’m in the business of preventing ADA Website Compliance lawsuits (also, you’ll be seeing more California Unruh Act claims) and reducing risk so I prefer to have zeroes across the board on all pages of my website.

I expect this balancing act a theme in 2020, especially in the three ultra litigious states: New York, Florida, and California.

This should be the new skill for LinkedIn job openings:

Developer needed to remediate website in accordance with WCAG 2.0 AA and get all WAVE and AXE errors, alerts, and warnings down to 0 while maintaining same current design and function.

I wrote more on this subject in my lawsuit website accessibility is different article on Medium.