ADA Website Accessibility: What Is WCAG And Why Should I Care?

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1. What is WCAG Standard 2, Why Adhering to WCAG is Essential for ADA Compliance 3. Consequence of Non-Compliance with WCAG and ADA 4. How to ensure compliance with ADA and WCAG standards?

The Website Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) were developed by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) to define the accessibility requirements for websites. These standards are widely accepted by courts when judging the ADA website accessibility cases proliferating in the United States over the last few years.

At the same time, 97.4% of websites had shown WCAG failure, according to the 2021 survey of over one million homepages. For website owners, it means that most of them can be an easy target for law firms and serial plaintiffs preying on non-compliant websites with the help of automated scanning software and filing random lawsuits. Meanwhile, the number of such lawsuits in the US continues to rise, reaching more than 6 thousand cases during the first six months of 2021, which is almost 20% higher than during the same period in the previous year.

With the cost of such lawsuits amounting to tens of thousands of dollars in the most favorable cases, businesses have a strong incentive to audit their websites for accessibility and meet the WCAG success criteria. If you are interested to learn more about the WCAG standards and how to ensure compliance with accessibility requirements, keep reading below.

What is the WCAG?

The original WCAG requirements were published back in 1999 and represented guidelines for web accessibility, focusing mainly on HTML code. The WCAG 2.0 standard, currently applied by the US courts, was published in 2008, while the updated WCAG 2.1 guidelines were introduced in 2018. The WCAG guidelines are continuously developing, with extended accessibility requirements incorporated in versions 2.2 and 3.0, which are yet to be approved as of the date of this report.

The WCAG 2.0 standard includes three different levels of accessibility known as A, AA and AAA, with the latter presuming the most extensive set of requirements. Although the courts have continuously relied on WCAG 2.0 AA guidelines, most experts recommend businesses ensure compliance with the newer WCAG 2.1 AA standard.

According to the guidelines, an accessible website must meet four criteria: being perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust. A website is considered perceivable if it allows users to easily find and process the information on a website, for example, by providing alt descriptions to images. To be operable, a website must allow full functionality and navigation from a keyboard along with a number of other features.

A website or a mobile app is understandable in the meaning of WCAG standard if its contents and interface can be understood by users. One of the ways to achieve it is to ensure that the text is readable while the content appears in predictable ways. Finally, the content is considered robust if the website can adapt to the needs of disabled users and can be interpreted by various assistive technologies, e.g., by being compatible with all leading screen readers.

Why Adhering to WCAG is Essential for ADA Compliance?

The Website Content Accessibility Guidelines are used as a standard for website accessibility in many countries, including the US. In 2010, the Department of Justice had even proposed accepting WCAG 2.0 Level AA as the criteria for accessibility within the meaning of Title III of ADA and has many times confirmed its adherence to WCAG guidelines.

Later, the DOJ has softened its position as to WCAG, stating that websites “have flexibility how to comply with ADA.” As of the date of this report, WCAG is still considered a “voluntary technical standard for website accessibility,” while WCAG compliance is not legally required. At the same time, the US courts addressing the issue have repeatedly applied WCAG 2.0 AA as a de facto standard for ADA compliance.

How to Ensure Compliance with ADA and WCAG Guidelines?

The most effective way to ensure compliance with WCAG and thus conform to ADA accessibility requirements is to run a website audit and website remediation. Such an audit should encompass several stages, including automated WCAG testing by software crawlers, manual WCAG testing and accessing a website with the software used by people with disabilities.

Since automated software can detect only a small percentage of accessibility issues, it is unanimously accepted that the testing should be done by experienced accessibility consultants. The experts must be knowledgeable of all use cases and should be able to use the assistive technologies applied by disabled people to handle various scenarios. It is also essential to involve experienced ADA lawyers to address the legal triggers which can prompt a lawsuit.

Meanwhile, most experts universally say that website owners should avoid quick-fix solutions in the form of website accessibility overlay widgets. These solutions offer a quick remedy to website inaccessibility and promise WCAG and ADA compliance for a fraction of the cost of full-scale website audit and remediation. However, the increasing number of accessibility lawsuits against companies using overlays widgets on their websites show the opposite and demonstrate that these solutions cannot ensure compliance.


Although the US has not yet adopted WCAG as a standard for website accessibility, the courts rely on WCAG success criteria when evaluating an ADA website claim. Although the courts have relied on WCAG 2.0 AA so far, most accessibility advisors recommend aiming to comply with the higher WCAG 2.1 guidelines or even later versions (2.2 and 3.0) when they will be officially completed and published.

If you are interested in knowing whether your website is ADA compliant or if you need assistance in an ADA accessibility lawsuit, please do not hesitate to contact Samuel Law Firm’s ADA defense team in New York. Please call us at 646-663-4228 or send us an email at for a free consultation on how we can help you with WCAG and ADA compliance.

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