If ADA-compliance for your practice website hasn’t been on your radar screen, it should be now.
In a landmark lawsuit, the first of its kind to make it to trial, a Florida federal judge ruled in favor of a blind man who alleged that the Winn-Dixie company website violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
And more cases are on the way. The plaintiff in the Winn-Dixie case, Juan Carlos Gil, filed some seventy similar lawsuits against companies in Florida, making headlines nationally and making website accessibility and ADA compliance a hot issue. In fact, over 2,000 website ADA-compliant lawsuits were reported to have been filed in Federal court during 2018, up from 700 the previous year, with California, New York, and Florida leading the charge.
Not only that, counties and cities across the state of Florida have come under legal fire by proponents for the disabled, who claim the electronic information on the public websites is not accessible to people who are deaf or blind.
In an effort to insulate themselves from legal action, at least three Central Florida cities — Lake Mary, Longwood, and Oviedo — have temporarily removed numerous public documents from their websites. The municipalities plan to restore the documents on their websites once they buy and install ADA-compliant software, a costly process that could run into the thousands of dollars and take months or even years to complete.
As a result, many medical practices have started asking themselves if they should be worried about ADA compliance and what they should do. Below we’ll break down what ADA website compliance could mean for your practice and the potential benefits of being proactive in doing so.
What Is ADA Compliance?
The ADA came into force in 1990. The law forbids any public-serving institution from discriminating against people with disabilities. Where the private sector is concerned, businesses that employ fifteen or more people must ensure their premises can accommodate people with disabilities. Because of the proliferation of the internet and digital devices in people’s daily lives, this protection has extended to company websites as well.
Title III of the ADA states that all “places of public accommodation” are obliged to remove any “access barriers” preventing someone with disabilities from accessing a company’s products or services. In early 2018, new federal regulations went into force requiring that all websites of federal institutions meet AA (double A) compliance on Website Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). More on that coming up.
Why Is This Happening Now?
According to Forbes magazine, in 2010, the Department of Justice was supposed to release long-promised clarifications on the ADA that would help judges untangle differing claims of business websites not being handicap-accessible.
However, that hasn’t happened leaving a patchwork of judicial decisions and rules that have confused businesses and led to an onslaught of litigation. Another factor could be that lawyer fees have run up to $100,000 per case in some instances, making the litigation very lucrative for some attorneys.
Who Should Be Compliant?
If you want to err on the side of caution, if you run a business that could be deemed a “public accommodation,” your website should be as ADA compliant as possible; that applies to most B2C, retail, or any enterprise the public at large can easily use and access.
You may have a beautiful and easy to use website that your patients love, but ask yourself if a disabled individual can easily access it? Can visually impaired people understand the pictures, graphics and other non-text characteristics of your website and what they do? If not, tweaking your site may be a prudent idea, or you might risk receiving a lawyer’s letter claiming you are in violation of ADA compliance.
How Can Your Practice Become ADA Compliant?
Although there are over 60 guidelines included in WCAG 2.1, your website is most likely up to snuff on the majority of them, and an experienced web developer will be able to get you up to speed in no time at all.
However, some aspects of your site may be more challenging to fix, so circle them here to give to your technical team.
- The text on your site needs to attain a minimum contrast ratio against the background – this can have a considerable impact on some elements of your design.
- Your website should be completely navigable by keyboard only. This can involve things like skip navigation buttons and manually inserting tab index attributes across the site (your tech team will know what we’re talking about).
- Your site should be navigable with screen reader software – a challenging process to test and may involve similar steps as in keyboard navigation.
- Your website should be capable of processing text scaling up to 200% without creating horizontal scrolling or content-breaking layout issues.
The Benefits of ADA Compliance
Taking the necessary steps to enhance the ADA compliance of your website will do more than keep potential legal letters from reaching your office. You stand to gain from a host of benefits including:
1) Increase Your Target Audience – disabled people number some 50 million in the U.S. Optimizing your ADA compliance will drive some of those patients through the front door and give you a leg up on the practice around the corner.
2) Boost Your Search Engine Optimization (SEO) – search engines like Google reward websites with clear human intentions. The crawlers in screen reader software interact with your website much like the crawlers used by search engines, increasing your website’s appeal and rewarding how you rank in search. Plus your SEO will get an added boost if you use things like meta tags, alternative image text, and video transcripts.
3) Enhance Your Reputation and build patient loyalty – potential patients with disabilities who find your ADA compliant website will be thrilled that you have taken the time (and effort) to adapt your site to their needs (unlike some of your competitors). You’ll establish a connection with those prospective patients right out of the gate. And the word will spread to their families and friends (you know how social media works, right?) giving you free publicity without spending a dime.
Tools that Can Help
Some great software tools exist to help you achieve optimal ADA compliance.
- WAVE is effective to help you get going, but it’s not always the most reliable particularly where contrast ratio issues are involved
- Lighthouse generates reports on potential problems
- Contrast ratio calculators can help you test your contrast manually
- Test manually with screen reader software and keyboard only navigation
Online tools can help you identify simple issues, but you’ll probably need to conduct a series of manual tests for your website as a whole to properly initiate and optimize ADA functionality and compliance.