Ryan Wieland

How Do I Check If My Website Is WCAG Compliant (And Does It Need To Be)?

One of the most common questions we get from organizations interested in digital accessibility is simply, “Is my website compliant?”

While this may seem like a simple question, there are many additional layers to peel back on when determining the short or long answer.

This article will break down these layers and outline some ways to determine the answer. Additionally, we will cover some ancillary topics, such as the relevance and potential impact of your website being WCAG (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines) compliant.

There are several ways to approach this question – whether just doing a simple spot check or really diving into making your site highly usable for all visitors and compliant with the WCAG success criteria.

Manual Review: The best way to check a website’s WCAG compliance status

The only authentic way to determine if your website complies with the WCAG standards is to do a manual review. In all cases, this should also include people with disabilities, specifically native screen-read users, as we detailed in a recent blog post

If your organization is truly serious about providing equitable access to your consumers and ensuring you comply with the WCAG standard, you should deploy live-user testing as part of your accessibility project plan.

That said, you can perform more immediate tests in real-time to get a baseline understanding of your website’s current WCAG compliance level. This can also be a great way to expose your team to the importance of web accessibility.

3 Quick and easy ways to check whether a website is WCAG compliant 

  1. Keyboard Testing: Website visitors with various physical disabilities will largely use keyboard navigation to engage with your brand through your website. You can even do a quick test right now to understand how your site performs from this perspective. Simply visit your website’s homepage and attempt to ‘navigate’ through the experience using only keyboard commands. Turn your mouse off and see if you can easily navigate to a product and move it to your cart or learn about your services and find a way to contact your organization using primarily the Tab, Enter, and Arrow Keys. Is it possible? You should see a clear and visible Skip to Main Content link, easy access to full navigation menus, and clear ‘focus indicators’ on all elements that could otherwise be ‘clicked’ with a mouse.
  2. Video Content & Captioning: Most websites today have some form of video(s) to portray their services or highlight key features of products. Mute your computer or mobile device and turn on closed captioning. Are you able to consume the content? If you had a hearing impairment, could you obtain equal information through strong captions on the video or spoken content?
  3. Automated Accessibility Testing: Through tools like our Allyant HUB or other free tools in the marketplace, such as WAVE from WebAIM or Google Lighthouse – you can run a quick spot check on your website and even see a score of your current standing. It is important to note that automated testing tools find about 30% of WCAG violations. However, running these tools can provide a quick and easy way to better understand your current compliance level or outline the importance of a web accessibility plan to your leadership or legal teams.

Is WCAG Compliance the same as ADA Website Compliance?

One of the most common misconceptions around website compliance is that ADA Website Compliance is the standard that an organization must meet. While this technically is not the case, it’s also not entirely off base as the WCAG standards and the ADA are closely connected when organizations work to ensure their website or mobile application is accessible to users with disabilities.

Among many others, here are three key areas where WCAG Compliance and ADA Website Compliance are closely, or nearly exclusively – when we consider web accessibility legal settlements – connected:

  1. ADA Title III: The ADA is a U.S. civil rights law that prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities – this specifically includes public accommodations. Title III of the ADA outlines that places of public accommodation include both physical spaces (a bank, retail or grocery store, school, restaurant, and so on) and the digital realm. We can likely all agree that with the digital boom in recent years, this includes websites and online services that should not discriminate access based on the consumer having a disability. WCAG comes into play when aiming to digitally comply with Title III of the ADA as it is the internationally recognized standard for website compliance.
  2. Legal Interpretation: Many times, when individuals and organizations first dive into web accessibility following a demand letter or lawsuit being aimed at their website, they are surprised to hear the ADA does not explicitly mention web accessibility standards or WCAG 2.1 AA conformance. However, there have long been legal interpretations and court rulings that have established that websites and digital platforms can, in fact, be considered places of public accommodation. Therefore, under Title III of the ADA, as outlined above, they are subject to ADA requirements, making WCAG highly applicable for brands considering website accessibility as a form of risk mitigation.
  3. Recognized Standards: Although the ADA does not currently outline specific technical standards for web accessibility, its primary purpose is to ensure that individuals with disabilities are not discriminated against. The Department of Justice (DOJ), which enforces the ADA, has referenced WCAG as a recognized standard for web accessibility in various legal settlements, consent decrees, and formal statements on this topic – including very recently in a letter to colleges and universities.

Does WCAG Compliance apply to my business’ website?

At the most baseline level, if your business has a website, the answer is yes!

As with any business decision, you have the choice to disregard WCAG Compliance and web accessibility. However, it’s important to acknowledge how significant the WCAG standards can be for your bottom line, depending on your industry vertical and the nature of your work.

Naturally, there are certainly more high risk verticals when we think about web accessibility legal cases that might make the business case for complying with WCAG much simpler. 

The historical case law data shows that the most heavily targeted business verticals specifically offer purchase paths (such as retail and e-commerce) or digital services (such as financial institutions or hospitality). 

Additionally, as outlined above, organizations operating in the Title II space where Section 508 compliance applies are legally required to conform with WCAG 2.0 AA for all digital content they publish – including websites and PDFs and other documents posted for consumption online.

More simply stated, no business is inherently immune from WCAG compliance. 

If you have a website or other digital property that allows consumers to engage with your brand – WCAG compliance is applicable. It is, by and large, the only widely recognized and accepted standard for website accessibility conformance. Not trying to build out a web accessibility plan or consider the implications of WCAG conformance in any fashion will inherently mean your business is assuming at least some legal risk. 

Additionally, providing equitable access to your business and services is simply the right thing to do!

Is WCAG a Global Standard?

The great news for many brands – including our long list of international customers who offer their websites in various languages across the globe – is that WCAG applies regardless of where you are offering your website to consumers. 

Without a doubt, WCAG is acknowledged as the worldwide benchmark for website accessibility. This is mainly because the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) developed and maintains these standards. For background, this is an international community that focuses on creating web standards more broadly (not just for accessibility).

Over many years, WCAG has gained widespread acceptance and adoption worldwide. Governments, organizations, and web developers across different countries refer to the WCAG success criteria nearly exclusively as a reference point for ensuring websites and digital properties are accessible to people with disabilities. 

More recently, many countries (or states and provinces) across the globe have adopted WCAG as the basis for their accessibility standards and regulations – including regulations such as the EU Web Accessibility Directive, the AODA in Canada, and of course, Section 508 Compliance in the United States.

So, is my website WCAG Compliant?

As outlined above, we strongly recommend organizations do a quick self-assessment when kicking off their web accessibility journey! If nothing else, it can introduce your design, development, and digital marketing teams to the WCAG standards and the types of violations you might need to work to resolve as you focus on driving compliance with your website through an expert audit.

However, we are always happy to help by giving our expert opinion. Our team here at Allyant would be happy to provide you with a free quick assessment of your website’s current compliance level and discuss how we can get you on your way to equitable access in no time. 

Simply chat with our team of experts to get this started, or fill out the contact form below!

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