Many of our clients ask us if we can give them an “ADA certification” or a “WCAG certification” to prove that their digital content is accessible. While we would love to be able to do this, unfortunately an official ADA certification for websites or applications is a myth. But let’s unpack this myth and find out what you can do to lower your risk.
What is the ADA?
It may be obvious to most of you, but let’s start with the basics. The ADA stands for the Americans with Disabilities Act. Title III of the act “prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in the activities of places of public accommodations.” In the physical sense, this encompasses buildings and spaces accessible to the public, like hospitals, train stations, museums, stores, etc. Nowhere in the ADA does it mention the internet – because the ADA was written well before the World Wide Web became an inescapable part of our lives.
The demand for ADA certification for websites
So why are organizations so keen to get ADA certification for websites and digital content? For starters, just because websites are not officially listed as public accommodations in the ADA does not mean they are viewed that way in the eyes of the law. The DOJ has stated on multiple occasions that websites are considered places of public accommodation, and there are scores of lawsuits and legal precedents to back this up.
This exponential rise in lawsuits is a concern for any organization that has inaccessible digital content, and rightly so. So what’s the best way to protect yourself against such a lawsuit? (Well, having an accessible website or app, obviously!) But companies are looking for an ironclad ADA compliance certification that proves without a doubt that their content is fully accessible to indemnify them against legal action.
That pesky myth just won’t die
This brings us back to the original point: to explain the myth of an ADA or WCAG certification. WCAG stands for Web Content Accessibility Guidelines. It’s a collection of guidelines (obviously) that developers can follow to ensure web content is accessible to a diverse group of users with all different types of abilities. Organizations would love to get “WCAG certified” to prove that their content strictly adheres to these guidelines and is considered 100% accessible. But here’s the rub: WCAG criteria are not all cut and dry, black and white requirements with a binary outcome (i.e., accessible or not accessible.) This makes it nigh impossible to be “WCAG certified.” You can have a website that “substantially conforms to WCAG” but that’s not a certification. As for an “ADA certification,” the term isn’t even relevant to what organizations are trying to achieve (for reasons stated previously).
So how can I reduce my risk without an “ADA certification”?
Glad you asked! While no reputable firm would offer ADA certification for websites, there are proprietary accessibility certifications that will be helpful should a company become the subject of a lawsuit. TPGi offers a variety of formal documentation options, including our own, highly sought after Accessibility Certification for companies that have put in the effort to substantially conform to the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines. These types of documentation will provide solid evidence that your organization has done everything in its power to ensure that its digital content is accessible to a diverse group of users.
Note that no documentation from TPGi or any other firm will 100% protect an organization against legal action, but in going through the work to qualify for our proprietary Accessibility Certification (which has very high standards) you will significantly lower your risk. Our certification accomplishes this in two ways: first, by undergoing the remediation and changes necessary to qualify for the award of “substantial conformance,” a website stands a much lower chance of becoming the subject of a lawsuit because it will be largely accessible. Fewer accessibility barriers mean fewer opportunities and lower liability for a lawsuit.
Second, in the event that an organization that has earned our proprietary Accessibility Certification becomes the target of a digital accessibility lawsuit, TPGi will act as a credible partner in their defense. Our long history and stellar reputation in the field means you’ll have a powerhouse on your side.
So, let’s wrap up. There is no such thing as “ADA certification for websites,” but there are proprietary accessibility certifications that, if awarded to your organization by a reputable company, can lower your risk. To learn more about getting a proprietary Accessibility Certification from TPG, contact us today!