This guidance describes how businesses open to the public can make sure that their websites are accessible to people with disabilities as required by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
Why Website Accessibility Matters
Inaccessible web content means that people with disabilities are denied equal access to information. An inaccessible website can exclude people just as much as steps at an entrance to a physical location. Ensuring web accessibility for people with disabilities is a priority for the Department of Justice. In recent years, a multitude of services have moved online and people rely on websites like never before for all aspects of daily living. For example, accessing voting information, finding up-to-date health and safety resources, and looking up mass transit schedules and fare information increasingly depend on having access to websites.
People with disabilities navigate the web in a variety of ways. People who are blind may use screen readers, which are devices that speak the text that appears on a screen. People who are deaf or hard of hearing may use captioning. And people whose disabilities affect their ability to grasp and use a mouse may use voice recognition software to control their computers and other devices with verbal commands.
The ways that websites are designed and set up can create unnecessary barriers that make it difficult or impossible for people with disabilities to use websites, just as physical barriers like steps can prevent some people with disabilities from entering a building. These barriers on the web keep people with disabilities from accessing information and programs that businesses and state and local governments make available to the public online. But these barriers can be prevented or removed so that websites are accessible to people with disabilities.
Examples of Website Accessibility Barriers
Poor color contrast. People with limited vision or color blindness cannot read text if there is not enough contrast between the text and background (for example, light gray text on a light-colored background).
Use of color alone to give information. People who are color-blind may not have access to information when that information is conveyed using only color cues because they cannot distinguish certain colors from others. Also, screen readers do not tell the user the color of text on a screen, so a person who is blind would not be able to know that color is meant to convey certain information (for example, using red text alone to show which fields are required on a form).
Lack of text alternatives (“alt text”) on images. People who are blind will not be able to understand the content and purpose of images, such as pictures, illustrations, and charts, when no text alternative is provided. Text alternatives convey the purpose of an image, including pictures, illustrations, charts, etc.
No captions on videos. People with hearing disabilities may not be able to understand information communicated in a video if the video does not have captions.
Inaccessible online forms. People with disabilities may not be able to fill out, understand, and accurately submit forms without things like:
- Labels that screen readers can convey to their users (such as text that reads “credit card number” where that number should be entered);
- Clear instructions; and
- Error indicators (such as alerts telling the user a form field is missing or incorrect).
Mouse-only navigation (lack of keyboard navigation). People with disabilities who cannot use a mouse or trackpad will not be able to access web content if they cannot navigate a website using a keyboard.
How to Make Web Content Accessible to People with Disabilities
Businesses have flexibility in how they comply with the ADA’s general requirements of nondiscrimination and effective communication. But they must comply with the ADA’s requirements.
The Department of Justice does not have a regulation setting out detailed standards, but the Department’s longstanding interpretation of the general nondiscrimination and effective communication provisions applies to web accessibility.1
Existing technical standards provide helpful guidance concerning how to ensure accessibility of website features. These include the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) and the Section 508 Standards, which the federal government uses for its own websites.
Even though businesses and state and local governments have flexibility in how they comply with the ADA’s general requirements of nondiscrimination and effective communication, they still must ensure that the programs, services, and goods that they provide to the public—including those provided online—are accessible to people with disabilities.
Web Accessibility for People with Disabilities is a Priority for the Department of Justice
When Congress enacted the ADA in 1990, it intended for the ADA to keep pace with the rapidly changing technology of our times. Since 1996, the Department of Justice has consistently taken the position that the ADA applies to web content. As the sample cases below show, the Department is committed to using its enforcement authority to ensure website accessibility for people with disabilities and to ensure that the goods, services, programs, and activities that businesses and state and local governments make available to the public are accessible.
Title III Sample Cases
Rite Aid Corporation: The Department reached an agreement with Rite Aid Corporation to address accessibility barriers in Rite Aid’s COVID-19 Vaccine Registration Portal.
Teachers Test Prep, Inc.: The Department reached an agreement with Teachers Test Prep, Inc., regarding complaints that the test prep company’s online video courses did not provide captions and were inaccessible to people who are deaf.
HRB Digital and HRB Tax Group (H&R Block): The Department reached an agreement with H&R Block to address claims that the company failed to code its website so that individuals with disabilities could use assistive technology such as screen reader software, refreshable Braille displays, keyboard navigation, and captioning.
Peapod: The Department reached an agreement with Peapod to address claims that its online grocery delivery services were not accessible to some individuals with disabilities.
A comprehensive accessibility guide with resources published by 18F, a digital services agency under the General Services Administration (GSA).
This site, which is part of the Technology Transformation Services at the GSA, has resources on design of products, devices, services, or environments for people with disabilities.
Standards published by the U.S. Access Board addressing access to information and communication technology under Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.
A website published by the GSA with tools and training on implementing website accessibility requirements under Section 508.
Guidelines published by the Web Accessibility Initiative of the World Wide Web Consortium.
How does WCAG affect accessibility laws.