ADA Compliance Checklist for Local Government Websites

The current legal environment requires expert web design to maintain compliance. To protect your organization and residents from costly lawsuits and fines, enlist Town Web to build an ADA/508 compliant website.


With more than 2,500 ADA website lawsuits per year, online accessibility has become a big issue for small governments. Unfortunately, compliance is not always straightforward. Nowhere is this fact more apparent than in municipal website accessibility. We have been designing accessible local government websites for over 16 years at Town Web


As a local government clerk or administrator, you know how important it is to comply with state and federal regulations. This article will walk you through the laws governing accessibility, explain where accessibility standards come from, and give you an extensive ADA compliance checklist.

The ADA Has Brought Equal Accessibility to Millions of Americans


The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 seeks to end discrimination based on disability. Titles II and III of the ADA enumerate the responsibilities of public entities like local governments and public accommodations like retail storefronts. Public entities and store owners must provide “reasonable accommodations” for people with disabilities covered by the law.


Check out our previous post that summarizes common disabilities and offers suggestions to accommodate them on your website.


The ADA has had an enormous impact on the social landscape of the U.S. Not only are Americans more aware of (and tolerant of) disabilities, but changes to the physical landscape are no longer novelties. 


For example, most storefronts are reasonably accessible by wheelchair, ATMs have braille on the keys, and movie theatres offer assistance for the hearing impaired. Moreover, your local government offices likely have a host of accessibility aids throughout the premises.


The ADA Has No Explicit Language about Websites


The relationship between the ADA and the internet is murky at best. Unfortunately, the statute never mentions websites, and there is no official ada compliance checklist for websites. 


This silence has allowed various court systems to issue conflicting rulings. Most (but not all) rulings consider commercial websites subject to ADA Title III, but the U.S. Supreme Court has not ruled on the issue. Therefore, states are free to make their own accessibility laws governing websites – and many have.


The ADA Requires Some Web Content Be Accessible – States Make their Own Rules


Since the statute is unclear and the courts have allowed the states to legislate on their own, accessibility may not be mandatory for your website. However, it may be a good idea. If your site is commercial, you may be clear under federal law, but your state laws may hold you accountable. Anti-discrimination lawsuits against corporations have been rising, and many have been successful.


For local governments, the situation is even more confusing. Title II of the ADA requires accessibility for all government services and information but does not include websites. 


However, DOJ issued new guidance in March 2022 stating that, since more and more local governments are offering official services through their website, those specific parts of the site must be accessible under the ADA. Annoyingly, the ADA provides no guidelines on what constitutes website accessibility.


Federal Institutions Look Abroad for Accessibility Standards


Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 received an update in 1998. This update required all federal institutions to make their electronic and information technology (EIT) accessible to employees and public users with disabilities. A further refresh in 2017 aligned the standards of website accessibility to published standards in the E.U.


In lieu of an ADA website compliance checklist, several federal organizations have compiled their own ADA compliance checklist based on the newest version of Section 508. HHS has posted theirs on their website to guide employees. The best local government website designers are always up-to-date on best practices for accessibility. 


WCAG 2.0 Provides Thorough Guidance on the International Stage


The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 are a series of best practices the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) issued for website accessibility. The guidelines enumerate 4 basic principles. 


Under each principle, they issue specific requirements bearing on many web design elements. With each guideline come 3 levels of compliance: A, AA, and AAA. Section 508 mandated that federal departments maintain A and AA compliance.


WCAG 2.0 Embraces 4 Principles of Website Accessibility


According to WCAG 2.0, web content should be perceivable by all users. Various disabilities affect vision and hearing; therefore, websites should employ alternative forms of content. For example, text alternatives for multimedia elements, descriptive audio for video-only elements, simplified layouts, and adjustable contrast settings could aid perception.     


All users should be able to access a website's full functionality. Motor disabilities render it impossible for some to use a mouse, so a keyboard should be sufficient. Furthermore, users must be able to navigate easily with their preferred input device and have adequate time to read the content. Finally, designers should avoid choices that could contribute to photosensitive seizures.


Webpages should be understandable and operate logically. For example, text elements should be legible and placed appropriately. In addition, non-text features like menus ought to operate in predictable ways. Finally, for elements like forms where the user must input information, there should be ample guidance to help them fix mistakes.


The final principle of WCAG 2.0 is that websites should have a robust design. In other words, they should be compatible with devices and technologies made to assist disabled users. Furthermore, the designers should ensure they can upgrade the website to meet the compatibility requirements of future assistive technologies.


Non-Compliance Could Cost Public and Private Entities Big


It’s important to protect your organization in such a complicated legal environment. Although private sector companies may feel that ADA compliance does not extend to websites, their state may have its own compliance laws, leaving them susceptible to lawsuits. 


Furthermore, local government institutions may feel that Section 508 should only apply to federal programs. However, if they offer any services on their website (and what local government website doesn't?), they must be accessible under ADA Title II. Penalties for ADA violations are steep: $75,000 for the first infraction and $150,000 for any subsequent infractions. 


In addition to fines, municipalities must worry about individual citizens suing them in state and federal court. Serial ADA plaintiffs have increased their activities, some individuals filing thousands of lawsuits against private and public entities. Many of these plaintiffs peruse as many websites as possible, looking to pounce on accessibility violations.


Some Municipalities Are Proactive to Avoid Lawsuits and Fines


While many cities around the country have had to pay settlements and fines for not having accessible websites, others have acted by working off an ADA compliance checklist. For example, the City of Lake Ozark, MO enlisted Town Web to revamp its website, focusing on transparency and accessibility. The expertise of Town Web paid off. According to their press release for the new site:


 “As the city continues to build on being a customer-focused organization, we saw the opportunity to rebuild our website so that it can be a user-friendly tool for folks to access information,” Assistant City Administrator and Community Development Director Harrison Fry explained. “With some of its new capabilities, we have been able to increase transparency about our operations by making more information immediately available to the public. Where we once had a website that was difficult to manage and navigate, we now have a cutting-edge platform for two-way communication with the public.”


City of Lake Ozark’s new website: created by Town Web Design LLC

ADA Compliance Checklist 1: Perceivable


Your website must be perceivable by those who have limited vision or hearing. Partial, full, and colorblindness require different accommodations, as do hearing and cognitive impairments.


The items on the ADA compliance checklist include accommodations that provide alternatives for non-text content, web design that adapts to the user’s mode of perception, and presentation that is variable to fit the user’s comfort level.


Alternatives to non-text content:


Alternatives to time-based media (audio and video):


Your website must present content that can be read by people and followed by assistive technology:


The user should be able to distinguish elements of your webpage from one another:


ADA Compliance Checklist 2: Operability


Different users may require various tools to access your website. For example, physical and other impairments may make it difficult to use a mouse. Furthermore, cognitive impairments may require some users to take more time than others to read or interact with your content. Finally, neurological problems may cause seizures or present difficulty in navigation. 


All your website’s functions should be accessible with a keyboard:


Users should have enough time to read and interact with your content:


Your website should not have design elements that could cause photosensitive seizures:


Users should be able to navigate, find what they are looking for, and always know where they are:


ADA Compliance Checklist 3: Understandability


Another element to the ADA compliance checklist is that your website should be understandable by human readers and assistive technology. This requires your website to have proper language tags in the HTML, a predictable structure, and enough support to help users avoid and fix their errors.


Assistive technology should be able to determine what language your text is in:


Your website should look and operate consistently:


Your website should actively prevent and help to fix user errors:


ADA Compliance Checklist 4: Robust Design


Last but not least, as part of the ADA compliance checklist is design. Technology evolves. Maintaining an ADA-compliant and accessible website is not a one-time project. You should have a website that is fully compatible with assistive technology. Furthermore, your site should be upgradable to meet changing circumstances.


Your website should be compatible with current and future assistive technology:


Use Town Web and the ADA Compliance Checklist to Make Your Municipal Website ADA Compliant


The ADA has brought awareness and tolerance to millions of Americans with disabilities. But unfortunately, as accessibility issues have changed in step with evolving technology, the law has not kept pace. 


The current legal environment requires expert web design to maintain compliance. To protect your organization and residents from costly lawsuits and fines, enlist the help of Town Web and the ADA compliance checklist to build an ADA/508 compliant website.

Town Web services are approved for use with ARPA funds!