Pitfalls in using automated tools to ensure website ADA compliance

pitfalls in using automated tools to ensure ADA compliance
Ever since the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) became a civil rights Statute in 1990, companies and other organizations are required to ensure accessibility to people with impairments, and this includes online.

More than 30 years later, to comply with the law, digital presence and accessibility is getting a lot of attention. The act formerly only applied to physical locations like brick-and-mortar stores, hospitals, or government facilities. But with digitalization, things have shifted more and more away from the offline world with most consumers now accessing companies online. This has raised the challenges with how to meet ADA compliance with every company’s web presence.

Since 2017, the growing number of court rulings have clearly determined that the ADA guidelines apply to websites and mobile applications to the same extent as to physical locations, requiring websites to meet accessibility standards. On the basis of this decision, the number of ADA compliance lawsuits is accelerating. According to the law firm Seyfarth Shaw, more than 11,400 complaints were filed in 2021, resulting in a 4% increase over 2020 and a 320% spike relative to 2013.

For executives, this creates challenges as well as opportunities. On the one hand, they are pressured by attorneys to meet ADA compliance guidelines (also called WCAG standards) in order to avoid fees that may put organizations in a tough position… On the other hand, meeting accessibility standards also opens up benefits for companies to cater to a broader market and an expanded audience, as we elaborate in our blog post 5 Reasons to be ADA-compliant.

In recent years, not only the number of legal proceedings has increased, but also the possibilities for companies to (supposedly) address the issues with automated tools. Using automated assessment tools such as AXE, AChecker, Google Lighthouse, or others, serve as a popular way for eCommerce departments to identify ADA compliance issues on their website
automated assessment tools
What sounds like a convenient solution, often turns out to be a pitfall as these testing tools each have certain limitations, leading to companies remaining exposed to several risks:

Lulled into a false sense of security

We continue to run into this scenario with so many: They assume that their website does not have a need for ADA compliance work as tests have given them a sense of security that their sites meet accessibility expectations – However, this does not mean that the webpage is free from all accessibility violations. While AXE might point out other violations than Google Lighthouse and again different infringements compared to an AChecker report, it is certain that a manual check will find more than any of these tools, simply because of their technical conditions. Whilst they scan websites for common ADA compliance issues such as the existence of Alt-texts or inadequate color contrast, there are a lot of violations that cannot be detected. In fact, according to multiple studies, ​​automated scans only check for 20-25% of issues, meaning that a majority will not be caught, unless manually addressed by an experienced pro.

In the case of our clients, there is no exception. By leveraging our expertise and utilizing advanced reporting software along with manual audits on their sites, our team identifies violations that are not present in assessment tool reports. We assist our clients with successfully addressing these remaining compliance issues, eliminating the risk of becoming subject to a lawsuit for breaches they previously assumed were resolved.

Not aligned with lawyers’ way of working

Even if companies do not see the need to check their websites for ADA compliance with a more sophisticated tool, they can be certain that attorneys will. In our experience, claims are often based on comprehensive reports from various applications such as AXE DevTools. Applications like these provide summary information about each site’s violations and do not prevent the fees a company has to pay for not meeting ADA guidelines. In accordance with the Department of Justice (DOJ), the first violation may result in a penalty of $55,000 to $75,000, while subsequent non-compliance can result in a $150,000 fine for each infraction.
Testing tools surely can help as an initial review of whether and in which areas a website violates WCAG standards, but do not provide a comprehensive review of a site’s ADA compliance. This goes hand-in-hand with Karl Groves, Chief Innovation Officer of Level Access, who states that accessibility is far too subjective and nuanced for an assessment tool to deliver well-founded results that help evaluate ADA compliance for websites or mobile apps.
“This cannot be said often enough or loudly enough: There are just too many things in Accessibility that are too subjective and too complex for a tool to test with enough accuracy to be considered a judgment of the system’s level of accessibility.”
Karl Groves
CIO at Level Access

Not only do these assessment tools miss certain issues, but organizations can also still end up with a non-ADA-compliant website after making changes and achieving satisfactory results.Therefore, the risk of a lawsuit is in no way reduced, as attorneys conduct manual audits and deploy in-depth software other than AChecker, Google Lighthouse, and Co. to check if ADA requirements are met.


At ELASTECH, we leverage leading tools and other applications to run the first assessments of a website. Based on the outcomes, our UX team starts to work on providing clients with a frontend design along with modern features and functionality for accessibility while guaranteeing an unmatched user experience (and even improved conversion rates with Commerce sites).


As the next step in our process, we proceed with a second audit to reassure WCAG compliance and uncover remaining problems, providing our clients with reliable outcomes:
(I) Eliminating the risk of an ADA lawsuit and
(II) The opportunity to take advantage of the benefits that a fully ADA-compliant website delivers


To explore how our expertise can serve you and help prevent ADA violation fees, please click on the link below to speak with one of our experts.

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