In recent years, ADA compliance has become a major concern of website owners and operators. Increasingly, companies are being subjected to legal claims for non-compliance. And, it applies to mobile applications as well.
One thing your organization can do is seek WCAG compliance with certification that you've made an effort to follow best practices in the areas of accessibility. But how does this all work? This week, we are going to detail how you can achieve compliance for your digital properties.
What is WCAG?
The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, or WCAG, are a series of web accessibility guidelines published by the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI), part of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). Now that we have all the acronyms understood – what exactly is it?
In short, these recommendations were created to make web content more accessible for people with disabilities. The latest standards are WCAG 2.1, which were published in June of 2018. In 2021, we expect version 2.2 to be released.
Digging into the specifics of what the WCAG guidelines contain would be beyond this post's scope; therefore, if interested, you can understand more about it via the documentation. It is worth noting, however, that the Department of Justice in the United States, as well as federal courts, have generally ruled that WCAG are the applicable standards in determining ADA compliance.
How WCAG Certification Works
There are a few ground rules to be mindful of in the world of WCAG certification:
- Be aware: there is no specific document as to what makes a website or application 100% accessible. The ADA doesn't specify what exact steps need to be taken or issues addressed. In many ways, ADA compliance is one of the last "wild west" areas of the digital world.
- You must acquire an agency or auditor's services to thoroughly test your website or application and check against the WCAG.
- Once audited, you need to remediate your website or application accordingly and undergo a re-audit.
- If all issues identified are addressed, the auditor can issue a statement of conformance.
Without following all of these steps, certification is not something you will be able to achieve.
The first step to certification is to acquire the services of an agency that offers WCAG Compliance Audits. At NP Group, we provide audits of websites and mobile applications, as an example. When hiring an agency, there are a few factors you should consider:
- Do they have experience working with large-scale organizations to achieve compliance?
- Can they provide you with a sample report?
- Have they demonstrated a well-oiled process for conducting audits?
All of these factors need to be considered.
When acquiring an auditor's services, you should also narrow down precisely what you are looking to achieve. There are differences, for example, between WCAG 2.1 AA and WCAG 2.1 AAA. Understanding those differences are important and also can affect the price point of your audit. If in doubt, ask the auditor or agency their thoughts on the two different levels and how it will affect your website or application.
It would be best if you also considered other factors. For example, mobile applications may require you to test different mobile OS versions for Android and iOS. It would help if you based these decisions on your requirements plus any usage patterns you may have noticed.
In hiring an auditor, it's essential to bring on a team that has actual development experience. Many "testing" companies can produce a report, but only a skilled development team can give you concrete examples of how to accomplish these recommendations. In our audit practice, we also make available team members who can aid and assist in your eventual remediation.
Remediation can happen in one of two ways. You can utilize your own development team to perform the fixes per the report. Or, you can hire an agency to do all of the work. Either way, you need to make sure that whoever is auditing has a sense of how to work with the code and platform you are using. Otherwise, you could be in serious trouble as you determine the appropriate fixes.
Remediation is an absolute requirement to certification – without a remedy to the issues identified, no organization can certify that you made the best efforts to fix the problems identified.
Certification can only happen if you have made an effort to fix the problems found in your initial report. After remediation, the process must start over, with another audit conducted. Most auditing organizations should discount your second audit. At NP Group, we follow this practice. Unless your application was completely and substantially altered, this would be expected.
On this point, also, it should be noted, and I'm sure you already gathered – there isn't a "quick fix" to ADA accessibility. It's a manual process in many regards; it requires remediation plus training and organizational adaptation of techniques to maintain compliance. This should all be part of your remediation and re-audit – contemplating long-term approaches to keep the compliance you have worked to achieve.
Finally, with the above steps taken, you can seek "certification". However, as we have stated, there is no such thing as being certified ADA compliant. No one organization or recognized body can issue a document universally accepted by courts as a "get out of jail free" card. What your agency or auditor can do at best is issue a statement that your website has been deemed as WCAG compliant, and to what level of the standard.
There are three types of ways you can be certified:
Statement of Accessibility: This document summarizes the features and level of compliance for your website or application. It should include a list of pages, even a random sample, and a date of assessment. This is just a sample, but it is a documentation level to show that you have made an effort to follow best practices.
Voluntary Product Accessibility Template (VPAT) Statement: If you are a United States website or application, you can use VPAT or GPAT templates to document and gauge your accessibility level.
WCAG 2.0 Conformance Claim: This document means that every page of your website has met WCAG 2.0 success criteria at either an A, AA, or AAA level of compliance. To issue this claim, you must make sure there is zero content which violates these criteria. To accomplish this, the most thorough audit is required of each page, which would be covered by the claim.
This may seem like much work for very little output, but in reality, you have to remember that anyone seeking to claim your application or website's lack of accessibility is going to have to prove that you have disregarded the issue. With a certificate issued that you have worked to comply beyond a reasonable measure with ADA standards, plus the documentation that you have followed all best practices, including testing, auditing, and remediation, it would be a difficult case to pursue against your company or organization. Having some evidence or proof of an effort will help you in the long run, and if issues are found in the future, courts are likely to look at any remediation performed as a reasonable faith effort to comply.