Nowadays, there is one thing your website can't afford to ignore, and that is accessibility. Of course, you should be aware of your website's SEO and its offers, but you can't leave accessibility behind. You need to make sure your site is inclusive to everyone.
No matter who's reading it or how capable they are, they must understand the content on your website and enjoy it. Designing a compliant website can lead to more sales and better rankings on search engine results.
Not every single website has to comply with accessibility standards. Still, websites that are part of the federal government or agency in many countries need to comply. That means that companies in the private sector may or may not comply but are advised to do so.
Given below is a master list of disability standards around the world.
WCAG is mainly intended for web developers as a technical standard but is not a standard for accessibility. Instead, it is used as a reference globally for accessibility.
To understand WCAG, you first need to understand the Four Principles of Accessibility, stating that content on the web should be:
WCAG consists of approximately 12 guidelines that address each of these principles. Under each guideline, there are Success Criteria that give a specific description of how to achieve that guideline. For example, some tests can be done using software, but others are better done with humans.
There is no actual certification, but you can hire the services of an agency that offers WCAG Compliance Audits, to thoroughly test your website or application and check against the WCAG, to issue a statement that your website has been deemed as WCAG compliant, and to what level of the standard.
In case someone tries to claim your website's lack of accessibility, with your auditor's certificate plus documentation of evidence of best practices, it's hard to go against your company.
The EU Web Accessibility Drive was put into effect in 2016 and obliged the websites and apps of public sector bodies to meet specific technical accessibility standards. That is relevant to public sector organizations in the EU or other organizations hired by the public sector to deliver online products or platforms to public organizations.
To comply, the Directive requires:
Tied to the Web Accessibility Directive is the European Accessibility Act, a broader regulation that covers products and cross-border trade. It states that apps and websites should be made accessible with the four principles of accessibility in mind. By June 2022, EU member states must have adapted the directive into their national laws. By July 2025, the law must be enforced.
For private sector websites within the EU Member States, there is no requirement to adhere to accessibility standards. As a result, most of these organizations will face little to no consequences regarding the accessibility of their websites or apps. The only exception is the UK's Disability Discrimination Act, which we'll cover below.
As for the penalties, each EU member state is responsible for enforcing its penalties, so there is no fixed penalty amount. However, the fines for non-compliance should be "effective, proportionate, and dissuasive".
The Disability Discrimination Act of 1995 started addressing online accessibility, but this is a broader regulation. The primary web accessibility legislation is provided by the Equality Act 2010 (EQA), except for Northern Ireland.
Government accessibility standards for public sector bodies require:
EQA also states that UK goods and service providers, both from the public and private sectors, must provide an equivalent website experience for all their users.
The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) has been accepted as a benchmark for web developers. However, the specific ways organizations must comply are not listed explicitly.
The Equality and Human Rights Commission enforces most of the United Kingdom, and the Department of the Taoiseach and Government Information Services is responsible for Ireland.
Fines for non-compliance are unclear, as many of these cases have been settled with an agreement and adjustments on the affected website.
The federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) are mainly related to accessibility requirements for physical locations. Still, it also covers digital assets: In 2010, the Americans with Disabilities Act Standards for Accessible Design was enacted to regulate all electronic and information technology.
The businesses that fall under Title I, II, and III of ADA must comply with both their physical and digital aspects:
Since ADA doesn't have clear guidelines, many organizations follow the WCAG guidelines. Following the A and AA levels of the WCAG rules should be enough to keep your website away from web accessibility trouble. Some of the things to keep in mind besides the four principles of accessibility are alt-texts, colors, accessible files, audio descriptions, and font contrast.
Although there is no formal system of offering certificates to the websites that comply with ADA, there are proprietary accessibility certifications. If you are awarded these certifications, your website has a much lower risk of running into trouble. In addition, the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) allows you to publish an accessibility statement via their website.
Not complying with ADA can lead to a fine of up to $75,000 for a single ADA violation, going up to $150,000 for additional violations. In addition, your business can be prone to lawsuits and reputation damage, so it's essential to document your compliance efforts.
Canada Accessibility Act
The Accessible Canada Act aims to help people with disabilities in physical and digital environments, preventing accessibility barriers in communication. Its requirements will likely follow WCAG, as they're not yet explicit.
It applies to organizations under federal jurisdiction. Failure to comply can lead to a fine of up to $250,000.
Government websites and apps fall under the Canadian Standard on Web Accessibility and have to comply with WCAG 2.0 level AA. However, this standard does not apply to any other businesses.
Besides a country-wide standard, many jurisdictions in Canada have come up with their requirements, like the Accessibility for Ontarians With Disabilities Act.
That is Ontario's standard, and it applies to all private, public, or non-profit organizations with 50 or more employees.
By January 1, 2021, these businesses should make their websites compliant with WCAG 2.0 level AA. Failure to do so can result in fines of up to $100,000 for each day of violation.
Like in Ontario, there are similar laws for Nova Scotia, Quebec, and Manitoba. If you wish to know about the rules and regulations in your region, search online "What are the web accessibility standards in my country?"
In many parts of this article, we've mentioned evidence. To help your case in a lawsuit or audit, you should have proper documentation of your compliance efforts. That includes any improvement you've done to your website to make it more inclusive, like audio transcriptions, an organized layout, and font contrast.
Documenting each change manually can be a tedious process, and manual human work can be forgotten. But you can take this task off your mind using Stillio.
Stillio is an automated screenshot service that lets you capture websites on demand. You can set a screenshot for your entire website in your preferred time interval. It will be automatically saved in your drive. That way, you can always have an archive of your accessible website at hand as evidence if something goes wrong.
You can also use your archives to figure out what went wrong with earlier versions of your website and keep improving. You can select what pages you want to save or screenshot your entire sitemap at once. Whatever you choose, always keep records of your efforts.
Both public and private sectors must understand the importance of web accessibility. People with disabilities deserve the right to online information as much as we do.
To help them embrace the digital era comfortably, all businesspeople should make their websites accessible and easy to handle. But, of course, some standards are clearer than others, so they should be followed.
If you're confused, you can always seek legal advice to understand better which category your website falls under. You can even audit your website against the requirements or ask a third-party service to do it on your behalf.