Web Accessibility vs. ADA Compliance: Understanding the Differences

The internet has become a vital amenity in the 21st century. It is essential in government, business, medicine, entertainment, education, and so much more.

In this age of online interconnectivity, a wide range of people need to use the internet. Not everyone is fully capable of doing so. People with various disabilities find it difficult to access traditionally designed websites. Making the internet accessible to people from various walks of life is the goal of an ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) compliant or web accessible website.

Let’s talk about ADA Compliance and Web Accessibility.

ADA Compliant

Accessibility is governed by the ADA act. The act in and of itself doesn’t apply to websites, but the ADA’s Title III has been interpreted to cover website access by US courts.

An ADA compliant website is a website that fulfills the legal requirements of accessibility. To that end, the US courts and Department of Justice require that a website meets all the WCAG 2.0 Level AA success criteria to be ADA compliant.

The WCAG is concerned with four major principles:

  • Perceivable: A website’s content presented must be obtainable by anyone, even if they have disabilities.
  • Operable: any interaction required by the website’s interface must be one that any person with a disability can perform.
  • Understandable: Any information on the website and the maneuvering of the website’s user interface should not be so complicated that users will be confused. Everything on the website should be as simple as possible and, any tasks to be performed on the website must come with clear and concise directions.
  • Robust: A website cannot be limited to a small number of web browsing mediums. A large variety of user agents and technologies such as various screen readers and browsers should be able to access your website.

Making a website ADA compliant is not an easy task. Some of the common types of disabilities include:

  • Vision: partially impaired or total blindness
  • Hearing: reduced ability to hear or deafness
  • Motor skills: difficulty or inability to move body parts, especially those that require precise motions
  • Photosensitive seizing: seizure causes by flashing lights like epilepsy.
  • Cognitive disability: difficulty in thinking, speech, and decision making like dementia and dyslexia.

You’ll need voice recognition software or a different input device substitute for those who can’t use traditional input devices, captions for those without a hearing, etc.  A website designed to be ADA compliant is available to all users of the internet.

Web Accessibility

Web accessibility, on the surface, seems to be identical to ADA compliance, but there are some major differences.

For instance, web accessibility isn’t just for those with disabilities that make it difficult to access traditionally designed websites. It also applies to people without disabilities but still have difficulty accessing the net like:

  • Those losing abilities due to aging
  • Those with temporary disabilities like broken bones or broken glasses
  • Those with non-traditional web browsing devices that have different screen sizes and diverse modes of input like smartphones and smart TVs
  • Those afflicted with limitations due to their situations like loud noises and bright sunlight
  • Those in rural or developing areas of the world
  • Those whose connection to the internet is slow, limited, or expensive

Web accessibility is not a legal issue, but it is a broad one. If a website is ADA compliant, it is web accessible, but a web accessible website isn’t automatically an ADA compliant website.


Overall, it is easier to make a website web accessible than it is to make it ADA compliant. The legal hoops required for a web developer to jump through in order to develop a website considered ADA compliant are many.  The cost associated to building an ADA compliant website is much higher than a web accessible site. A web accessible website fills the requirements, not so much to be considered ADA compatible, but enough to provide access to many internet users with varying needs.

Accessibility does more than open the internet to those who are differently abled or those who are hampered by their situations. The principles connected to accessibility can also be applied to other principles in other fields like mobile web design, search engine optimization (SEO), usability, design for the elderly, etc.

Is your website accessible?  You can check for web accessibility here.

LightHouse Graphics specializes in several areas of online presence, including website design, social media management, and content creation. If your business needs assistance in these areas, contact us. We’d love to work with you.