Web Accessibility in 2024: Understanding ADA Digital Standards

Published January 16, 2024

In today's digital age, the conversation around accessibility has become increasingly crucial. Over the years, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a foundational civil rights law, has expanded its scope from physical spaces to include digital ones. This expansion has caught many businesses off guard, as reflected by the rising number of digital-related ADA lawsuits. This trend highlights organizations' legal and ethical accountability to create inclusive digital spaces for users of all abilities and the potential risks of non-compliance.

Technology is continuing to evolve, as are its related legal frameworks. As such, businesses need to understand the nuances of digital accessibility and their obligations to uphold it. This article aims to provide a comprehensive overview of the ADA's digital requirements and highlight the importance of inclusivity in our increasingly digital society.


was signed into law by President George Bush in 1990, marking a pivotal moment in civil rights history. This comprehensive legislation, applicable to both public and private sectors, aims to eliminate discrimination against individuals with disabilities in all areas of public life. It covers employment, public accommodations, transportation, and access to state and local government services and communications. 

Since its inception, the ADA has advocated for the rights and inclusion of people with disabilities. It has led to significant changes in infrastructure, policy, and societal attitudes, enhancing accessibility and opportunities for individuals with disabilities. In the digital age, the ADA's impact has led to the advent and advancement of digital accessibility. 

Digital accessibility

Digital accessibility involves designing and creating digital content, technologies, and experiences easily usable by everyone, including individuals with disabilities. This includes accommodating various disabilities, such as visual, auditory, motor, and cognitive impairments.

Digital accessibility can profoundly impact the lives of those 1.3 billion individuals worldwide with some sort of disability. It enables greater independence and seamless engagement in various aspects of online life, including education, employment, commerce, and social interactions. Accessible digital design also reflects a commitment to inclusivity.

By addressing the diverse needs of all users, digital accessibility improves the user experience, fosters social inclusion, and promotes equality in an era of continual technological advancement.

ADA digital requirements

At the time of the ADA’s authoring, digital technology was nowhere at the current level. Over the years, some debate has been about its applicability to websites and digital platforms. However, the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) has clarified that websites and digital platforms fall under ADA coverage.

Websites of entities in the public sector are subject to ADA Title III, which covers places of public accommodation. This is defined as facilities owned by private entities that affect commerce, such as hotels, gyms, restaurants, and e-commerce businesses.

Failing to comply with ADA digital requirements can lead to significant legal implications. Businesses and organizations not making digital platforms accessible may face lawsuits and legal challenges. These actions can result in financial penalties and damage brand reputation and customer trust.

Key standards and guidelines

The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), developed by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), set the primary international standards for web accessibility. These guidelines provide a comprehensive framework to make web content more accessible to people with various disabilities, including visual, auditory, physical, speech, cognitive, language, learning, and neurological disabilities. Organized around four principles — Perceivable, Operable, Understandable, and Robust (POUR) — WCAG outlines specific criteria to ensure content accessibility. WCAG 2.0, WCAG 2.1, and the new WCAG 2.2 define three levels of conformance: A (minimum level), AA (covering major requirements), and AAA (the most stringent). 

Alongside WCAG, Section 508 of the 1973 Rehabilitation Act holds significant importance in the U.S. This legislation requires federal agencies and their contractors to make electronic and information technology accessible to people with disabilities. While WCAG focuses on web content, Section 508 encompasses a wider range of IT products, including hardware and software. Furthermore, while WCAG serves as a set of guidelines, Section 508 is enforceable legislation, with non-compliance potentially resulting in legal penalties. 

Compliance strategies

Ensuring ADA compliance for websites and apps requires a multi-step strategy focusing on initial design and ongoing maintenance. The first step involves familiarizing oneself with standards such as WCAG and assessing the current accessibility level of the digital product. This assessment typically includes an accessibility audit using various tools, like automated web accessibility evaluation tools (e.g., WAVE, Axe), screen readers for testing navigability and readability, and color contrast analyzers

Once issues are identified, it is crucial to address them systematically. This process often involves modifying website code to enhance keyboard navigation, ensuring all images have appropriate alternative text, and providing video captions. Regular training for web developers and content creators on accessibility standards and best practices is also essential. 

For ongoing compliance, businesses and site owners should engage with people with disabilities for user testing. Using this approach, real-world insights can be gained into the usability of the digital product, ensuring that it is accessible to everyone. 

Challenges and Solutions

Achieving digital accessibility is an ongoing process that isn’t without its challenges.

One such challenge is the lack of awareness within many organizations about accessibility requirements or their importance. To rectify this, companies should invest in training and resources to elevate understanding and emphasize the significance of accessibility, making it an integral part of organizational processes.

Another significant challenge is the technical complexity of retrofitting existing websites to meet accessibility standards, which can be resource-intensive. To avoid this, site owners and developers should adopt a 'design for all' approach from the outset to simplify compliance. This approach considers accessibility from the first design and development stage, reducing the need for extensive future modifications.

Staying current with evolving technologies and standards can take time for organizations. Leveraging automated tools for routine accessibility testing and engaging people with disabilities in user testing provides valuable insights, helping organizations to adapt more effectively. Additionally, creating a culture of accessibility within organizations encourages ongoing commitment to accessibility. Regular collaboration with accessibility experts and staying updated with emerging practices and technologies also play a crucial role in meeting this challenge.


Reflecting on this past year's surge in digital accessibility lawsuits, it becomes increasingly clear that ADA compliance in digital spaces is more than a legal mandate—it's a crucial element of ethical business practice and social responsibility. These lawsuits highlight the growing importance of digital accessibility and the consequences of neglect. As technology evolves, so does the importance of ensuring digital platforms are accessible to individuals with disabilities. 

Addressing challenges such as lack of awareness and technical complexities requires a proactive, inclusive approach to web design and ongoing education. By prioritizing accessibility, we adhere to legal obligations and embrace a more inclusive and equitable digital world.

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