Comparing Website ADA Levels

April 7, 2020

When you provide an ADA conformant website, you embrace the 38% of Americans with disabilities that are actively surfing the web. You also protect your business from the increasing threat of lawsuits. Despite the DOJ announcement in July 2017 to not immediately make this a definitive law, making a website conformant to WCAG 2.0 is not only a way to protect a business from potential lawsuits but is also the right thing to do for the millions of disabled website visitors.

Website ADA compliance is not one size fits all. The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) outline three standard conformance levels: A, AA, and AAA. Similar to baseball, level A is weaker and AAA is stronger. While you might immediately want to strive for the strongest level, it is important to understand that the level of conformance can affect your site’s current design, feel and functionality. We’ve outlined a few things to consider when deciding which ADA level to strive for:

  • Level A conformity has minimal effect, but also minimal impact. While WCAG 2.0 Level A allows screen readers to more effectively scan a site, it will not make your site compliant to the current standards the DOJ or lawyers want to see.
  • Level AA is a happy medium that most businesses currently strive for. Level AA conformance satisfies all Level A criteria and more, while still allowing for more flexible design choices, making this level not too light but not too restrictive in its effect on your site design. This is the most popular level of conformance most projects strive for.
  • Level AAA captures all conformance factors at the highest level. While this is the most comprehensive level of website conformance, it is also the most restrictive on key interactive elements that can contribute to the design and functionality of your site.

Below is a broader comparison of exactly what website features are configured on a site to meet each level of conformance included in the WCAG

Feature Level A Level AA Level AAA
Provide text alternatives for any non-text content
Provide alternatives for video-only and audio-only content
Add captions to all prerecorded videos with sound
Describe movements that provide extra information in pre-recorded video that not are audibly explained in the video.
Live videos include captions


Provide sign language translations for videos


Record alternative video with extended audio description


Provide a transcript for video and audio content


Include closed captions with live audio


All content has intuitive page structure and formatting

Use meaningful sequence of content

Provide instructions via more than one sense

Do not rely only on color to convey information

End-user control of audio
Use minimum color contrasts


Resize text up to 200%  
Limit images of text  
Contrast is at least 7:1 relative to the background    
Limit background noise on video and audio content


Allow users to customize their view


Restrict images of text


All parts of a site must be keyboard-accessible

Allow keyboard user to navigate away from all parts of a site

All parts of a site must be keyboard-accessible with no exceptions


Time limits are user adjustable

Moving, blinking, scrolling, or auto updating can be user paused, stopped, or hidden

No time limits are enforced


Ensure no interruptions of content consumption


If re-authentication is necessary, data entered is saved


No content may flash more than three times in a second

No content may flash more than three times in a second with no exceptions


Provide Skip to Content links

Page titles must be descriptive

Focus order must be logical


Every link’s purpose is clear

Multiple ways exist for users to find pages


Headings organize content and all elements are labeled


Keyboard focus must be clear


Ensure user always knows location on the site


Every link’s purpose is clear even when using the link out of context    
Every new topic has a heading


Every page has a defined language
Language changes on a page are communicated


Avoid or explain all jargon


Explain all abbreviations


Write for reading level of 9 years of school


Explain words that a screen reader will have trouble pronouncing


Content does not change on focus

Content does not change on input

Menu usage is consistent across site


Icons and buttons are obviously icons and buttons


Elements on the site do not change unless the end-user asks


Clearly describe form input errors

Provide clear form input instructions with labels

Clearly describe form input errors and how to fix them


On forms, validate input and allow input to be changed

Provide instruction for completing tasks, especially forms


On forms, validate input and allow input to be changed without exception


HTML is validated against standards

All content generated by scripts must be accessible

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