ADA Compliance: WCAG is Not The Legal Standard for Websites, Meaningful Access Is

One important distinction to make is that the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines or WCAG are not the law.

And they never are.

They may be adopted or incorporated into the law but they are not the law itself.

And specifically when it comes to the American Disabilities Act, compliance- the compliance standard is meaningful access, it’s not the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines.

The way to look at this is the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines are helpful or helpful reference when it comes to having meaningful access.

So that that what that means is the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines tell us things that we need to do considerations that we need to make to ensure that our digital asset is, at a basic level, accessible.

But just because we are not in perfect conformance with WCAG doesn’t mean that we are in violation of the ADA.

So they are not the same, but importantly plaintiffs’ law firms like- they like the technical-the rigorous technical standards because they pave the way for so many instances in which it can be said that a website, for example, is not ADA compliant.

Well, even if even if a website isn’t perfectly conformant with- even a a single success criterion under level conformance level A which is the basic in in this- which is a conformance level that includes the most basic and fundamental accessibility considerations – even if a website isn’t perfectly conformant with a very important success criterion, it doesn’t mean it’s not ADA- it wouldn’t be considered ADA compliant.

But the problem is is going through and technically making this argument, because I can we can look at a website we can evaluate it we can determine whether it’s still practically accessible or whether it’s something is a is more of a minor accessibility issue versus one that’s creating an outright barrier to access.

We can look at that and we can determine, okay the code is not structured correctly but nevertheless access is available.

Even if someone has a disability they are still able to access without significant- a significant degradation and experience it might be like a minor inconvenience, it might be something that’s suboptimal it’s not perfect but it’s still accessible.

And plaintiffs lawyers’ they don’t- they don’t understand this fully and they’re not in the business of making these distinctions.

They’re not going to parse through whether something is technically accessible technically an issue versus actually practically accessible anyway.

That’s not what they’re going to do, but it’s it is important to know and to be aware of the fact that right now the legal standard is meaningful access under the ADA.

It is not perfect WCAG conformance.

Now best practice is WCAG conformance because you don’t want to leave anything to chance, right.

It’s best not to have an image with no alt attribute even if you can argue, okay nobody’s been denied access here.

It’s best not to have that even come up because you want to preempt any type of litigation.

You don’t- you don’t want to be in you don’t want to be in a situation where you’re going back and forth with the plaintiffs law firm and discussing- trying to convince them of why their claims are wrong.

Because plaintiffs’ law firms, they’re not they- they don’t want to listen to that they they’ll just say, okay, we’ll file a complaint most will file a complaint in court and let things let it work out from there.

And typically it ends up in settlement because it’s simply not worth it to go back and forth and argue on these things.

Sometimes though, many times, there are actual issues that create a significant degradation and experience and can outright prevent access and that’s a gray area in and of itself.

So at what point is meaningful access denied, right.

If I have to it’s been 20 minutes on the website to access information or completed task versus the two minutes it would have been if you would have made accessibility considerations, has meaningful access been denied?

And that is that is a question that would have to be worked through, but the point of this video is that, a merely not meeting certain WCAG success criteria does not mean that you have violated the law.

Moreover, even if the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines are incorporated into the law – so like, let’s look at Section 508 because in Section 508 WCAG 2.0 conformance level AA is incorporated into the law even if it is what we’ll commonly see come up is the term ‘substantial compliance’.

And what that means is there may be a minor issue it may not you might have- a you might not you won’t have perfect conformance but you’ll have a very accessible digital asset and in that case it will be considered substantial.

But then again we get into a gray area because- and here’s why accessibility and the law is so difficult is because there are gray areas, there are- this is these standards are very technical and sometime at times it’s subjective whether or not you even meet the standards but even if you don’t it doesn’t- it doesn’t necessarily mean that access has been denied.

So I’ll give you an example: one success criterion under in a success criterion is is basically a requirement under these technical standards one of them is that there be a 4.5:1 color contrast ratio with text and in the background.

So let’s say that your color contrast ratio is 4.49 which would be almost- it’s virtually the same it’s so close to the same color contrast ratio.

But if that was the case would that mean that you were in violation in the law and denied someone access on the basis of disability.

That’s the type of question that we have to look to and we have to understand what is actually in play here.

And so there’s significant give and take in what we’re really looking for are ways in which someone’s experience has been significantly affected in a negative way.

Whether there’s been a detrimental experience, that degradation in experience, or an outright barred access.

So the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines are very helpful reference at times they may be incorporated into the law, I think we will see more incorporation going forward but they are not the law themselves.

And I think we will see continually if anybody looks for its strict adherence to the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines we will see exceptions carved out to where we will see words like substantial conformance and substantial compliance come up.

But, importantly, if you- the best practice is to be in full conformance, strive for full conformance with WCAG 2.1 conformance level AA.

But if you are in litigation understand that the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines are very technical standards.

They are open for they are- at times they are subjective and that there is a the legal standard under the ADA right now is meaningful access and the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines to date have not been incorporated into the law.