From parking spaces to curb cutouts and accessible restrooms, you (or the landlord for your practice) have already done plenty to make your physical office accessible for physically challenged or disabled persons.
But what about your medical website? How easy is it for people with low vision, physical impairments, and other challenges to learn more about you online? An accessible website is no longer a “nice to have” – it’s quickly becoming a critical need for businesses across the country who find themselves facing lawsuits and legal headaches due to websites that aren’t easily accessible.
What Law Do I Need to Follow?
Anyone doing business in the US is required by Federal law to provide equal accessibility to all people under Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). While this law and subsequent rulemaking does not explicitly state that accessibility extends to a business’ website, recent court cases have made it more likely that you can successfully be sued if your site is not accessible. Plus, it’s just the right thing to do so that you are being welcoming to a full range of patients and potential patients online.
But let’s say you don’t really feel like Federal or state discrimination laws should apply to your website. You’re welcome to have that opinion, but the legal community doesn’t share it. In 2019, according to an analysis by Seyfarth Shaw, web accessibility federal lawsuits hit record numbers, with 11,053 website accessibility lawsuits were filed in federal court in 2019, a new record.
We don’t expect these types of suits to decrease anytime soon. If anything, more people from all walks of life are spending more time than ever online, and people with disabilities may be having a particularly hard time accessing the resources they need to stay safe and informed. And in our experience, putting in the work upfront to improve accessibility can payoff big in terms of ADA lawyers looking elsewhere to bring suit, or at the very least minimizing the risk of serious liability should you receive a demand letter in the mail.
What Are the Standards for Accessibility?
This is where it can get tricky. Conceptually, an ADA-compliant website needs to be free of barriers that would make it difficult or impossible for people with disabilities to use it. But no law or regulations clearly define how you can achieve a sufficiently accessible site.
When finding for ADA plaintiffs, most courts are requiring defendants to follow the technical requirements of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0. These guidelines contain additional levels of compliance within them, with Level A compliance being the most basic and subsequent levels adding additional requirements for compliance. Level AA is most often cited as the level a website needs to meet to comply with ADA law.
What Do I Need to Do?
For our clients, we will be getting much more aggressive in ensuring your site is and remains in compliance with WCAG 2.0 Level AA. We have helped individual clients achieve this level over the past couple years, but the time has come for all clients to put in the necessary development upgrades and design tweaks so that they minimize the risk of lawsuits and better serve the full community of people who make be interested in their services.
For others, it’s critical to talk with your web vendor and get a compliance plan in place. In many cases, the bulk of the effort involves initial accessibility changes such as allowing user-selected font sizes, applying a minimum level of contrast between text and background, and adding alt text to describe images that disabled users may not be able to view. But keep in mind that accessibility is not a “set it and forget it” proposition – you will need to review your website often to ensure it remains compliant as new content and other changes are made.
We wish website accessibility standards were more clearly articulated by the Federal government, and further regulations clarified compliance timelines instead of businesses being threatened by ADA lawsuits in what appears to be a completely luck-of-the-draw process. But the net effect of more businesses taking online accessibility seriously is a good thing. We look forward to working with clients to improve accessibility and educate about what it takes to stay compliant and welcome as many people as possible to their website.
Please contact us to learn more about the latest in this ever-evolving area of website marketing.
Website Accessibility FAQs
What can I do to make my website more accessible?
Before jumping into a full-on website ADA overhaul, you should first educate yourself. We suggest reading the Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act as well as the WCAG 2.0 first before searching any further. Next, your website should be audited. For many of our clients, simple changes like adding alt tags to images and videos, providing transcripts for audio and streamlining their layout can make a huge impact on making their content more inclusive.
Does ADA compliance only relate to my content?
No. While content is a huge part of ADA compliance, there are other aspects of your website that may need to be updated in order to meet WCAG 2.0 Level AA standards. Your website’s design, navigation, functionality and forms must be accessible as well. Even spelling errors and broken links can fall under ADA compliance.
Content is much easier to fix and most manual ADA scan tools only focus on the content. However, ADA compliance is much more nuanced and often requires the expertise of developers, website designers and content creators to identify and fix different accessibility issues.
Will ADA compliance negatively affect my website’s design?
On the contrary, the need to create clear and comprehensible content for all users have lead designers and developers to streamline websites. A website that is designed to be accessible for a wide spectrum of users is typically cleaner, easier to use and provides a better experience for people of all abilities.
With our expert team, you don’t have to worry about sacrificing form for function. We can help you achieve a sleek website while also optimizing user experience.
How can I create a website that will be accessible for people of all abilities?
The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) created four main principles to help people better understand the importance of ADA compliance, and how they can adhere to guidelines for functional accessibility of technology.
When thinking about creating an accessible website, think in terms of POUR:
Perceivable — Can my users experience my website’s content and interface using their senses such as seeing, hearing or touching?
Operable — Can my users operate my website’s interface using their accommodations?
Understandable — Is the content easy to understand and access?
Robust — Is my content robust enough to be accessed using a variety of different tools including new and emerging assistive technology?
Isn’t there an app that can audit my website for me?
We’ll be the first to tell you that we’d much rather use a good automation system whenever possible. Automation saves both you and our team time and money. While there are a lot of well-built accessibility apps out there, we’ve found that the majority of those apps will only be able to pick up a fraction of website accessibility issues.
This is because most apps are geared toward only one aspect of the entire accessibility spectrum. Furthermore, you’ll likely find that these apps are only capable of identifying that there is an issue, but you’ll still need someone to evaluate and fix the issue.
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XThe owner of this website is committed to accessibility and digital inclusion. Steps are being taken to correct issues and to conform with WCAG 2.1 AA Web Accessibility standards. Automatic and manual testing is ongoing.
XThe owner of this website is committed to accessibility and digital inclusion. This website has completed the automated testing process and conforms with most WCAG 2.1 AA Web Accessibility standards. Manual testing may still be ongoing, routine automated testing continues, new and updated content is evaluated for issues.
XWe use Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 level AA, with the exception of content from third party sources (such as embedded videos), and color contrast ratios in order to keep with our branding style, as the minimum technical standard to develop and maintain this website. Where possible, we try to exceed this level of guidelines. We ask that you report any problems you may experience with our site and we will make every effort to correct the issue.