My name is Kris Rivenburgh. I’m an attorney and the author of The ADA Book. I’m also the founder of Accessible.org.
So that I can efficiently provide a transcript and closed captions, I will read from the transcript itself.
Understandably, many website owner/operators desire a certificate that states their website is accessible and thereby they are compliant with the law and, ideally, free from any litigation concerning the accessibility of their website.
But is this possible?
Let’s discuss how certification is executed in terms of web accessibility.
Website accessibility certification is possible through what is called a statement of conformance or a conformance statement.
What this document signifies is that a web asset is fully conformant with a given version and conformance level of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) for the enumerated list of pages and/or screens named within the document.
Here is an example of how this would come about:
After fully remediating all accessibility issues on your website, the service provider auditing your website may issue you a conformance statement stating that ten URLs of your website are fully conformant with WCAG 2.1 AA.
What’s important to know is that a conformance statement is a construct of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) and must follow the five requirements for classifying an asset as conforming to the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines.
Note that for a conformance statement to be correctly issued, there can be no accessibility issues on the named pages or screens.
ADA Compliance Certification
No accessibility provider can certify for ADA compliance.
One reason is because it is unclear what ADA compliance is for digital assets actually is. The legal standard under the Americans with Disabilities Act is meaningful access, but even in its recent March 2022 Web Accessibility Guidance post, the Department of Justice (DOJ) was unable to elucidate what constitutes compliance.
Another reason is because certification for legal compliance would need to come from a governing body – or an organization licensed by a governing body – and not a private entity.
Further, compliance with the law commonly entails other ancillary mandates such administrative requirements or other measures. And, thus, material compliance doesn’t necessarily fulfill all obligations under the law which means there is more to do beyond ensuring a website is accessible to claim compliance.
Any accessibility vendor that is offering “certification” that your website is ADA compliant is automatically revealing they are a fraud, illegitimate, and/or have no idea what they’re doing.
Relatedly, a conformance statement loses its credibility if it’s not issued by a reputable provider who upholds the strict requirements imposed by the W3C.
Note that conformance statements can only be issued after a manual audit returns no issues.
There is no product – no software, app, widget, plugin, overlay, or anything of the sort – that can provide conformance with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines.
If your website contains components and/or content that is outside of your control, such as a third-party integration, a statement of partial conformance may be issued.
A statement of partial conformance states that a page does not conform, but could conform if certain measures or allowances were available.
A conformance statement expires the moment any updates, changes, or edits are made to the pages or screens that fall under the scope of the conformance statement.
This is not because the asset is necessarily out of conformance, but because it must be reviewed to ensure conformance.
That said, practically, this is not usually at issue unless substantial changes and/or accessibility issues are introduced after the conformance statement has been issued.
Rather, the date of issuance, the issuing provider’s credibility, and the owner/operator of the asset ensuring continued conformance are far more relevant.
Qualities of Strong Certification
In general, it’s good to be skeptical of certification for anything. Many vendors add certification as a means of enticing buyers, but they don’t adhere to the regimented policies necessary which means the certification is weak.
The following are five qualities of good certification (for any purpose):
- Certification is based on objective, independent, and/or unwavering standards.
- The standards are publicly available, detailed, and largely definitive.
- The issuing entity applies a rigorous process / scrutiny to determine if the standards have been met.
- Certification is only granted after those objective standards have been fully met.
- Certification itself may not be purchased (e.g., you cannot buy a certificate, passing score, etc.). There may be a service, process, or application fee involved, but the resulting certification cannot be purchased (or else it’s worthless).
Generally, the more detailed and specific the process and resulting certificate are, the better.
A conformance statement is the best means available to certify your website as accessible. The reason I recommend obtaining a conformance statement is because it is based on strict, objective standards and requirements set out by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) under their Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI).
Strict adherence to the requirements for issuance is imperative to the legitimacy and credibility of the conformance statement document.
If you would like help with an audit or remediation, you can find out more about accessibility services at Accessible.org.
Furthermore, I highly recommend you read The ADA Book. The ADA Book is quick and to the point and helps everyone understand the legal landscape and the different elements in play when making a website or other asset accessible.