Accessibility, Universal Access, and Web Design

Kimberly Springs

Jeff Rodgers

August 27 10 min read

By Kimberly Spriggs 8/27/2022

Why Accessible Web Designs

Why develop accessible web and app experiences?

Why create universal access and web design?

Just to have an existence on the internet?

To comply with the ADA laws and avoid potential litigation? That’s important.

All of the above yet, accessibility, universal access, and web design are a pivotable part for the survival of any business, and online entity.

How about the human factor?

Growing your businesses and attracting as many visitors as possible to your site is key, and the human side of accessibility, the CDC estimates is 61 million or 1 in 4 American adults who are living with a disability.

Doing what’s right by our fellow human beings, people with disabilities (PWD), ‘people of determination’ as other countries use, yet in the U.S., we still use the word, disability – I will use diverse abilities. Diverse abilities such as aging, motor impairments, blindness, and hearing loss. It is people with varying degrees of abilities that make the human race unique. So, let’s make the internet fit the bigger picture.

It can be a daunting task if you don’t prioritize accessible web design, know how to do it, or understand where to begin. The W3C expresses the Web Accessibility idea perfectly. The Web is an increasingly important resource in many aspects of life: education, employment, government, commerce, health care, recreation, and more. It is essential that the Web be accessible in order to provide equal access and equal opportunity to people with diverse abilities. Access to information and communications technologies, including the Web, is defined as a basic human right in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Diverse abilities (UN CRPD).

Rights of persons with diverse abilities. If the pandemic taught us  anything about online behavior, it is that people utilizing the internet became vital – including those trying to access inaccessible sites. If accessibility, universal access, and web design is not done right it is more than a loss of business and sales, it is 26% of the population. A sizable niche to ignore.

But let us propose a bigger, braver universal access. Building accessible websites makes for a modern web better for everyone, more inclusive. Companies, organizations, government entities, people with and without diverse abilities… everyone. Accessible websites are better websites, not only for some but for all, and are more efficient websites hands-down.

Let us go beyond the ADA legal standards of compliance. We should always be striving to empower more people with all that the Internet has to offer – inspiring us to try harder every day.

Web Design Digital Media Layout Homepage Page Concept

Dual Offerings


If you create a web design and try to mirror it, designing a duplicate site with accessibility issues removed, meeting a density score of 10 or less of WCAG criteria or accessibility issues fixed to comply with ADA laws – well, that’s a dual offering. It is “offered” as a separate site to a segment of the population with diverse abilities and saying, “There, that’s for you.” Did you really try to include them in your ecosystem? No.

That dual offering is making them acknowledge they have a D I S A B I L I T Y by accepting the use of the duplicated ‘accessible’ site, and not fixing the main one.

That is a potential civil rights violation ripe with low hanging fruit begging for litigation picking.

By creating an accessible site or looking to a reputable company like Accessiblü who does not rely on just automated, artificial intelligence (AI), but also hands-on auditing to detect in real-time accessibility issues and remediate them. You can have an aesthetically-accessible site, and keep your branding intact.

A World Before Websites

The world’s first website went live on August 6, 1991, a year later, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), then 11 days after, the publication by the Department of Justice of the Title II and Title III regulations for government and private entities that are open to the public.

Title II applies to state and local government agencies. The DOJ’s statements have been somewhat murkier, and inconsistent in reference to Title III, which applies to privately owned places of public accommodation, but most DOJ pronouncements have affirmed that the ADA does apply to these websites. The preponderance of civil court cases has upheld this as well.

However, a 2006 class action lawsuit against Target led to a federal court decision that the requirements of the ADA do indeed apply to websites. The DOJ has since generally held that the ADA applies to the websites of entities that serve the public, and the DOJ’s 2010 Standards for Accessible Design state, “Although the language of the ADA does not explicitly mention the Internet, the Department has taken the position that Title II covers Internet Web site access.”

Classifying Compliance

Two business people in front of a PC with the word REGULATIONS in big font.

So, what does ADA compliance look like in a website or app ecosystem? The DOJ’s original Standards for Accessible Design (PDF), published in 1991, provided detailed regulations for the physical aspects of the ADA. For example, the maximum reach depth to ATM controls if the ATM can only be approached from a parallel pathway (10 in.), or the maximum height of drinking fountain spouts to be (36 in.). Understandably so, the 1991 ADA guidelines did not express the internet since the internet was in its’ infancy.

This has led to much confusion. What distinguishes an accessible website from an inaccessible one?

In 1999 the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) first published and help establish best practices for accessible design in its Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), it was substantially revised in 2008. While it is a recommendation without the binding force of law, U.S. court rulings, beginning with Gil v. Winn-Dixie in 2017, have identified it as the “industry standard.”

In 2003, the DOJ published “Accessibility of State and Local Government Websites to People with Diverse abilities,” which established website accessibility standards for state and local governments, but rules for non-governmental entities remained in limbo.

Starting in 2010, the DOJ gave advance notice of a rule-making process that clearly codified the U.S. legal standards of website accessibility for non-government entities. That process went through years of delays, until a 2017 executive order effectively halted the process again.

An official U.S. codification of website accessibility compliance for non-government entities remains on hold. Understandably, the core principle remains unchanged and upheld in hundreds of court cases. Courts across the country have differing on opinions, often mixed messages to businesses. Additionally, serial litigation is putting disability users in a bad light too. At the end of the day, the users who need the clarity are not getting justice at all.

Until now.

August 2022, the DOJ is implementing Title II rulemaking Department of Justice (DOJ) announced its intent to begin the rulemaking process to enact  Website Accessibility Regulations On The Horizon: DOJ To Start Title II Rulemaking For State and Local Governments Next Year. And website accessibility regulations applicable to state and local governments under Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Websites of companies and other organizations that serve the public must be accessible and have accessible design. This is about much more than avoiding litigation.

Accessibility Shifts

Digital environment ecosystem with monitor, laptop, tablet, and mobile phone.
Responsive Design ecosystem with monitor, laptop, tablet, and mobile phone.

From the 2000’s and 2010’s, web design shifted from static to responsive, and from desktop first to mobile first. As developers adapted their original desktop websites to be more accessible on mobile devices there was a noticeable shift. Smartphones dominated the market so mobile design became increasingly influential.

Designing for mobile devices not only make websites better for smartphones, but for all websites too. They became less cluttered, excessive content was streamlined and easier to navigate. It turned out that a site built to be better on mobile devices became a better website for all. More responsive, and adaptive, ergo more accessible.

There’s a recurring pattern to creating accessible designs in both the built and digital world.

  1. First, accessibility is not even a consideration.
  2. Then the law makes it a compliance concern.
  3. Public and private entities rush to remediate the existing environment.
  4. Enterprising people come along with easier ways to retrofit accessibility in the digital landscape.
  5. Then people begin designing, and building for accessibility from the beginning, which ultimately proves more cost effective.

We have discovered that accessibility, universal access, and web design benefits us all. Leading towards a new concept of an accessible website design, and universal access are the natural order.

Read how digital overlays or plug-in widgets are not accessible or compliant:

Universal Design

Universal Design was first described by architect Ronald Mace, is “the design and composition of an environment so that it can be accessed, understood, and used to the greatest extent possible by all people regardless of their age, size, ability, or disability.”

It’s an idea that started in the built environment.

Today, we’re integrating his principles into web environments.

We can no longer ask: How do we adapt “regular” websites to work better for people with diverse abilities. Instead, we’re asking: How do we design and build websites that can be “accessed, understood and used to the greatest extent possible by all people”? We need to think about users with diverse abilities. Those whose needs create the greatest challenges and whatever tools they need to use them. This thinking drives innovation, and that innovation benefits us all.

Consider predictive type for text messages and Google Search. How about voice assistants like Siri and Alexa, and automated subtitles in YouTube, Instagram, and Tik-Tok. These all began as accessibility innovations designed for people with diverse abilities. Innovations driven by compliance, but now a boon for us all.

How to Build, and Keep It Accessible

How to make your platform accessible—and keep it accessible—will depend in part on the platform’s complexity. How often content, and layout are changed. Simple testing tools can detect problems like the lack of alternative-text tags, and broken links. Still, there are many other technical criteria in the WCAG that can render digital accessibility. For feature-laden sites and apps, this can be a daunting challenge. Accessibility requires a larger commitment, which can include an audit by accessibility professionals such as Accessiblü. We can guide the development of web design protocols to follow, whenever a site is created or updated through our monitoring services.

Accessiblü, creating equitable pathways to accessible opportunities – we practice what we preach

With 26 years’ experience in agency web design at our back our accessibility labs work in real-time with hands-on remediation at the source code. We make it work the right way. Offering real-time digital accessibility remediation through AI and hands-on screening, rooting out the causes for inaccessibility. Our lab of experts is comprised of brilliant developers, and techs, some who have diverse abilities themselves.

At Accessiblü we are the forward-facing leaders on digital, and website accessibility. Working closely with our clients to bring that accessibility experience to them and to the digital communities. With take pride that our values are very clear: inclusion is at our center for change. We practice what we preach. Every project we undertake is unique to the construct of the businesses we work with.