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The Process and Cost of ADA Compliance

Explore the key international digital accessibility laws shaping how organizations worldwide make digital content accessible to everyone, including people with disabilities.

Navigating the intricacies of ADA compliance is crucial for anyone involved in digital content creation, from web designers to mobile app developers. This law, which aims to ensure accessibility for all individuals regardless of disability, sets forth a clear mandate that digital services must be accessible to people with disabilities. Understanding and implementing ADA standards is not just about adhering to regulations—it’s about making sure your digital offerings are inclusive and can be enjoyed by everyone.  

This blog provides a detailed guide on ADA compliance for mobile apps and websites, focusing on the costs, impacts, and best practices involved. 

What is the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)? 

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a civil rights law enacted in 1990 that prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in all areas of public life, including jobs, schools, transportation, and digital platforms (e.g., websites and mobile apps) available to the public. The ADA ensures that people with disabilities have the same rights and opportunities as everyone else. 

ADA Standards for Digital Accessibility 

The ADA references the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) as the standard for making web content and mobile apps accessible. These guidelines are developed by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) and consist of three levels of accessibility standards: A, AA, and AAA. Websites and mobile apps are generally expected to meet AA standards to be considered compliant since it deals with the biggest and most common barriers for users with disabilities.  

Cost of ADA Compliance 

Costs associated with ADA compliance

The cost of making a website or mobile app ADA compliant can vary widely based on several factors. 

  • Audit and Assessment Costs: Before any remediation can occur, an initial audit is necessary to identify accessibility issues. This can cost anywhere from $1,000 to $15,000, based on the complexity and scope of the website or app. 
  • Remediation Costs: Correcting accessibility issues can be the most variable cost, often ranging between $5,000 to $50,000, or even higher for very complex sites. This includes: 
  • Redesigning non-compliant elements. 
  • Recoding parts of the website or app for accessibility. 
  • Integrating accessibility plugins and tools. 
  • Maintenance Costs: Ongoing costs to maintain ADA compliance as updates are made to the digital products. This might include periodic re-auditing, updates, and retraining staff, typically costing a few thousand dollars annually. 
  • Training Costs: Educating development and content teams on accessibility guidelines and best practices can also incur costs, especially if external consultants or training programs are involved. 

These investments are essential not just for compliance but for broadening your user base and enhancing user experience, ultimately contributing to greater customer satisfaction and retention. 

Factors Impacting Compliance Costs 

Several factors can impact the cost of ADA compliance: 

  • Complexity and Size of the Website/App: More complex sites with numerous features and pages require more extensive effort to audit and remediate. 
  • Type of Content: Sites with dynamic content, video, and interactive tools may require more work to make it accessible. 
  • Development Environment: Custom-coded websites might need more intensive manual coding solutions, whereas sites built on CMS platforms like WordPress could be cheaper if accessible themes and plugins are available. 
  • Issue Difficulty and Severity: Some issues are more difficult to fix, requiring more time and resources.  

ADA Tax Incentives for Accessibility 

Image showing someone working on ADA tax incentives.

To encourage businesses to improve accessibility, the ADA offers valuable tax incentives

The Disabled Access Credit (Section 44 of the IRS Tax Code) states that small businesses with 30 or fewer employees or annual revenue of $1 million or less can qualify for a tax credit. This credit, up to $5,000 per year, can offset costs involved in enhancing accessibility. Eligible expenses include removing access barriers, hiring interpreters or readers, and producing accessible format documents (like large print or audio). 

Additionally, the Barrier Removal Deduction (Section 190 of the IRS Tax Code) states that businesses of any size can claim a deduction up to $15,000 annually for the costs associated with removing physical barriers in facilities or vehicles to improve accessibility. 

These incentives make it financially viable for companies to invest in accessibility improvements, ultimately aiding compliance efforts and enhancing accessibility for people with disabilities. 

Costs of Ignoring Accessibility 

According to UsableNet’s 2023 year-end report, 4605 lawsuits were filed in federal courts and New York and California state courts. Out of those lawsuits, 82% were for the eCommerce industry, followed by the food service industry (7%), and Education (4%).  

Ignoring ADA compliance can result in significant costs, including: 

  • Legal Fees and Settlement Costs: Legal actions can result in expenses that often exceed $50,000. 
  • Remediation Costs: Post-lawsuit remediation is often more extensive and expensive. 
  • Reputational Damage: Companies face negative public perception which can impact customer loyalty and sales. 
  • Operational Disruption: Dealing with lawsuits can divert attention from normal business operations. 
  • Indirect Costs: These include lost revenue from inaccessible services and a potential reduction in market share. 

Examples of Accessibility Lawsuits 

Most businesses that receive lawsuits have an annual revenue of under 25 million. However, there have been several high-profile companies that have faced lawsuits over ADA compliance, including: 

  • Target Corporation: Target faced a lawsuit in 2006 because their website was not accessible to blind users. The lawsuit resulted in a $6 million settlement and an agreement to update the website to meet accessibility standards. 
  • Netflix: In 2012, Netflix agreed to a settlement to make its video streaming service accessible to people with hearing impairments, providing closed captions in its video content. 
  • Bank of America: Bank of America was one of the first companies to enter into a structured settlement to improve the accessibility of their website for users with visual impairments, back in 2000. 

These high-profile lawsuits prove that while smaller businesses are the primary target of accessibility lawsuits, larger enterprise companies are not exempt from public scrutiny.  

Best Practices for ADA Compliance 

To ensure ADA compliance, consider the following best practices: 

  • Regular Audits: Conduct accessibility audits regularly to ensure ongoing compliance. 
  • Shift Left with Accessibility: Test early in the software development lifecycle (shifting left) and design and develop with accessibility in mind to reduce costs and ensure a wider user base. 
  • Educate Your Team: Provide training for developers and content creators on accessibility standards and best practices
  • Use Automated Tools: Leverage automated testing tools alongside manual testing to cover various aspects of accessibility. 
  • Create an Accessibility Statement: Draft an accessibility statement and publish it on your site. This demonstrates a commitment to accessibility and provides transparency to users. 
  • Avoid AI Accessibility Widgets: In 2023, over 900 businesses with an accessibility widget or overlay on their website received a lawsuit. While AI-powered technology is on the rise, don’t be fooled by accessibility overlay widgets that claim to detect and fix ADA violations.  

Ensuring ADA compliance is not just about avoiding legal risks; it’s about enhancing the user experience and opening your digital properties to a wider audience. By implementing these best practices, developers and businesses can improve their products for all users while adhering to necessary regulations.