ada strategy

This article/blog post on ADA Strategy Planning is a supplement to one that I published on July 7th, 2019. You can find it here: Understanding Website Accessibility & ADA Compliance. In this post, I will set out a guideline for web development and marketing agencies.

There has been an increase in the number of ADA lawsuits over the last few years. Therefore, many web design and marketing agencies are scrambling for an ADA strategy. On October 06, 2019, the Supreme Court refused to hear arguments from the Domino’s Pizza case. Not hearing the case keeps in place a ruling of the 9th Circuit in California. This will pave the way for an increase in litigation, thus it is important for an agency to understand what can be achieved in design/development. This understanding will allow an agency to provide realistic expectations for the end clients.

ADA Strategy: Understanding and Setting Accessibility Expectations

The biggest mistake I see agencies making is promising “Full ADA Compliance” after making a few obvious fixes. These fixes are based on the recommendations of free or paid ADA testing tools. These tools will not be able to determine full ADA compliance and are just a good starting point. Agencies should be upfront with clients about the expectation that full ADA compliance comes at an extremely high cost.

It is much safer to use verbiage such as “accessible friendly website” or a “website with mitigated risk”. In other words, it is better to use this kind of language than over-promising and under-delivering. With larger websites and bigger budgets, it can be advantageous to provide a 3rd party quote for testing. An agency should at least make the end client aware of its importance. This puts the burden of compliance back in the client’s court.

Who is Responsible for Accessibility Compliance

In most cases, the greater number of accessibility issues are coming from a lack of attention to detail in regard to the On-Page SEO data. Proper naming of images, ALT tags, and meta-content will allow the screen readers such as JAWS® to render the visual elements of the websites back into an audio format. This means that everyone working on the site needs to be aware of these issues as content/images get added.

ADA Strategy: Building a New Website for Accessibility

When planning how to build a new website for accessibility, plans will vary due to the different “build methodologies” of the agency. Some agencies prefer to build on a lightweight theme or framework. Meanwhile, others prefer a ready-made or premium theme. In either case, there is a strategy that can produce an ADA risk mitigated website for your end clients.

Custom Builds:
When building a WordPress website on a lightweight theme or framework, the agency will be looking for the claim that the strategy they have chosen is based on the best faith for ADA compliance and accessibility. My personal default build methodology for a non-e-commerce WordPress site is building based on a “child theme” of Twenty Fourteen from WordPress. I have chosen this strategy as I can now place the following into my Accessibility/ADA compliance statement that is linked from the footer: 

This website was developed with the theme “Twenty Fourteen by the WordPress team”. This was done per the statement, “If you are unsure which theme to use for an accessible site, we recommend Twenty Fourteen as a beautiful, full-featured theme that is fully accessible.” from

Ready-Made VS Premium Themes:
The same principles apply when developing a website with a ready-made or premium theme. You are looking for the claim from the theme developer that states it is Accessible/ADA compliant. Using Avada as the example (the most popular theme available from ThemeForest), the theme developers have a dedicated page titled “WCAG 2.0 Accessibility and Avada”. Likewise, when looking for a ready-made or premium theme, you are looking for a similar statement of accessibility.

Establishing a Relationship with an ADA Compliance Organization

Getting proper testing from a certified accessibility compliance vendor is the only way to achieve “full ADA compliance”. However, these organizations charge thousands of dollars to fully test and certify a website. Giving your retail clients an option to turn down your suggestion to comprehensively test is a good way to avoid liability. The two vendors I have worked with in the past are Online ADA and Compliance Sheriff by Cyxtera. Both provide the necessary testing to fully certify that your client’s website is ADA compliant.

Creating an ADA/Accessibility Compliance Statement

The accessibility compliance statement is a key element to showing good faith and progress on the level of accessibility of your client’s website. I have listed the necessary elements in a previous blog post: Writing an ADA Compliance Statement for Your Website. The ADA/Accessibility compliance statement will carry more weight as you continue to plan and make better decisions on how you develop, maintain, and edit your client’s websites.

Setting Accessibility Expectations in Your Agency’s Contracts

When a retail client is paying a web development/marketing agency to build and maintain a website, they are doing so with the understanding that they will be protected from unexpected lawsuits. Therefore, this can be a bit tricky for agencies that have not taken steps toward providing an accessible website. These agencies would have to shift the responsibility solely onto their retail clients. A web design/marketing company should present a retail client with a bigger budget the option of using a 3rd party accessibility compliance organization. Moreover, Agencies should make sure that Accessibility/ADA expectations are well defined within the agency contract. It is important to have a professional legal counsel to review your contract.

Here is a sample addition you can add to your website development contract:

Accessibility / ADA:
___________ strives to build all websites with accessibility to the best of our abilities under the WCAG 2.0 standards. True ADA compliance can only be achieved through an outside 3rd party vendor that can be prohibitively expensive. We officially recommend client engagement with a 3rd party certified ADA testing compliance agency. We have available contacts that can assist for cost and pricing to ensure your website is fully ADA compliant.

Feel free to contact me with any questions!

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