IT Employment

Creating an ADA-compliant website

Nicole Bremer Nash goes over the requirements for an ADA-compliant website, including checklists and additional resources.

Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires that businesses and nonprofit services providers make accessibility accommodations to enable the disabled public to access the same services as clients who are not disabled. This includes electronic media and web sites. While the ADA applies to businesses with 15 or more employees, even smaller businesses can benefit from ensuring that their websites are ADA compliant. Doing so opens your company up to more potential clients and limits liability. Web developers should include ADA compliant features in the original site and application plans.

This is particularly important when working for a government agency or government contractor, as these organizations must follow web accessibility guidelines under Section 508 of the Workforce Rehabilitation Act of 1973. Although ADA and Section 508 compliance are different, the published checklist for Section 508 compliance offers insight into ways to make websites accessible for people with disabilities, and thereby work toward ADA compliance.

To check your website for accessibility, use the accessibility checklist published by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (1194.22 Web-based intranet and internet information and applications):

  • Every image, video file, audio file, plug-in, etc. has an alt tag
  • Complex graphics are accompanied by detailed text descriptions
  • The alt descriptions describe the purpose of the objects
  • If an image is also used as a link, make sure the alt tag describes the graphic and the link destination
  • Decorative graphics with no other function have empty alt descriptions (alt= "")
  • Add captions to videos
  • Add audio descriptions
  • Create text transcript
  • Create a link to the video rather than embedding it into web pages
  • Add a link to the media player download
  • Add an additional link to the text transcript
  • The page should provide alternative links to the Image Map
  • The <area> tags must contain an alt attribute
  • Data tables have the column and row headers appropriately identified (using the <th> tag)
  • Tables used strictly for layout purposes do NOT have header rows or columns
  • Table cells are associated with the appropriate headers (e.g. with the id, headers, scope and/or axis HTML attributes)
  • Make sure the page does not contain repeatedly flashing images
  • Check to make sure the page does not contain a strobe effect
  • A link is provided to a disability-accessible page where the plug-in can be downloaded
  • All Java applets, scripts and plug-ins (including Acrobat PDF files and PowerPoint files, etc.) and the content within them are accessible to assistive technologies, or else an alternative means of accessing equivalent content is provided
  • When form controls are text input fields use the LABEL element
  • When text is not available use the title attribute
  • Include any special instructions within field labels
  • Make sure that form fields are in a logical tab order
  • Include a ‘Skip Navigation' button to help those using text readers

(Courtesy U.S. Department of Health and Human Services)

If the site meets all these criteria, it is likely accessible to people with disabilities. The best test is to obtain feedback on the site's ease of use from people who are blind, deaf, and have mobility disabilities, then address their feedback with site improvements.

When collecting feedback, ask users what type of adaptive technologies they use. This will allow you to cater your website to your particular clientele, and will help you appoint resources toward the best compliance options. Navigating the Internet is particularly challenging for people with limited or no vision. Many blind people use specialized web browsers and software that works with standard web browsers, like Internet Explorer, that have features that enable users to maximize their Internet use and experience. This screen reading software reads the HTML code for websites, and gives the user a verbal translation of what is on screen.

Web developers need to keep this in mind when creating websites. The best screen readers use naturalized voices and alter tone and inflection based on HTML tags, so choose layout elements carefully. It is also important to keep in mind that navigation is significantly slower when using a screen reader than it is for sighted people. Sighted people don't have to wait for the reader to get to the link we want- we spot links quickly and are able to navigate to our sought items, often without having to do any reading at all. Minimizing graphics also helps shorten reading times and speed navigation for disabled users.

Don't wait for user feedback to discover the gaps in your website's accessibility. Conducting your own trial run will tell you where the site has too many graphics, and where HTML tags don't convey information accurately. It's wise to do trial runs with as many of the most popular screen readers available:

Development tools and tutorials exist to help web designers meet compliance standards and go beyond to offer disabled users an enjoyable experience (and keep them coming back). Check out the following for more information:

Then make your job easier with these web accessibility development tools:

You probably won't have to check your site with all of the available evaluation tools out there, but it is a good idea to do so for the most common web browsers. Just as accessibility software makes it easier for people with disabilities to navigate the Internet, these tools make it easier for developers to ensure accessibility from the start. When you think you've mastered it, go back through the Section 508 compliance checklist to ensure you've met every goal.


Nicole Bremer Nash is Director of Content and Social Media for HuTerra, where she uses SEO and social media to promote charitable organizations in their community-building and fundraising efforts. She enjoys volunteering, arts and crafts, and conduct...


Hello Nicole,

When I tried to send you an email via the contact link, I got a return mail message. That said, what's the best way to contact you? I'm a website designer who works exclusively with the nonprofit sector. I'd like to learn more about you. You can reach me via: Thanks!


We have just launched a service to enable manual testing of websites for ADA compliance and added a full checklist to help users. We have included a free compliance library which we will keep updated for the latest laws and standards


Become an advocate for the disabled.   Go to give us your imput and complaints.


Why is it nobody ever mentions or thinks about the keyboard? I've got, compared to many others, a relatively minor handicap - I'm missing part of my hand. I've learned to type damn well with the fingers I have left on my hand, and I can tab as much as I needed, but trying to hold onto and control and manipulate a mouse or roller ball is an exercise in blood-boiling frustration. However, so many features on so many websites today can't be reached via any kind of keyboard navigation or shortcut, and even on many of the websites where tabbing does work well, the developers are oblivious to the Tab Order feature, with obvious results. Very very frustrating.


I am the IT manager for a non profit in Florida the protects and advocates for people with disabilities, so accessibility is extremely important in all aspects of our work. It's nice to see "mainstream" IT sites address accessibility with articles like this one. By the way, a great online website analysis tool is at I find it extremely helpful when analyzing a site. Just remember that there is only so much an online tool can accomplish, and learning to objectively review a website for accessibility issues by hand is still a necessity.


Thank you for writing this wonderful article Nicole. Personally, I think everyone should be concerned about accessibility even without the ADA-compliance aspect. There's a great add-in for Microsoft Office products called FireEyes by Deque ( The add-ins allow users to check accessibility issues while they're still in the development phases. Since it's an add-in, you can test it before it actually gets published to a live website.

Dina Dadian
Dina Dadian

Great article, Nicole! I am currently studying the lengthy ADA compliance documentation (still have volumes to go!), and your article provides volumes of useful information in a nutshell. Now, intranet and all HR regulations that come with it aside... What's your opinion on "15 employees" rule when it comes to the internet websites? Shouldn't the rules flex based on volume of traffic/bandwidth (indicating actual use of the website) and/or nature of the business, rather then plain math of just having 15 or more employees? There may be a business with 3 employees (or one super successful blogger), that generates thousands of visits a day - and a company with 20 employees with so-called "credibility" website that nobody ever visits or uses? What's your take on it? Thanks!

Patrick W. McMahon
Patrick W. McMahon

@lunchbeast there would be no way to make a website that can adapt to every possible missing ligament. If a person has an abnormal hand they would need to request a keyboard that is adapt to the hand(s) they have. This has nothing to do with the website and everything to do with the computer hardware your using. there should be companies that sell specialized keyboards for your current predicament. This will solve your situation. The point you make on tab is part of ADA and sites that use javascript to stop the normal operations of the web browser are often blocked by google. so you will not see any sites like this. 

The Flaming Maiden
The Flaming Maiden

That is a very, very good point. I think better keyboard navigation would benefit all users. Thank you for bringing this up :)


I agree with you 100% lunchbeast. From a technical standpoint, that's one of the easiest issues to fix, yet very few people pause long enough while creating websites to think of these types of roadblocks.

The Flaming Maiden
The Flaming Maiden

First, thank you all for the kind words. During my research, I found a lot of places where people were asking for help with meeting ADA compliance for web sites. I'm glad this article is able to fill a gap. Thanks also for sharing tips and other tools! In response to Dina's great discussion point-- I think that the people writing the law simply rolled everything under the 15 employee rule, and didn't alter the specs for most portions of the law. My personal opinion is that legislators need more input from people who work in the fields they legislate and less input from corporate lobbyists (education is another great example). *I* think that it could be done in such a way as to retain the 15 employee rule, but add a site volume/ business type rule as well that would include the type of small business with a lot of web traffic that Dina describes. That said-- ADA compliance offers all web site owners (whether personal, corporate, public, whatever) an opportunity to reach a sizable, and often overlooked, readership/ customer base. The wise web developer makes all pages accessible to the largest possible audience, regardless of regulations. With the right tools and best practices, it doesn't have to be expensive or difficult to do.

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