We are in favor of accessibility in websites, and we build all websites with that in mind. But I want to propose a thought experiment to you. Imagine that you have a small resort, dude ranch, maybe even a bed and breakfast or a roadside motel. Imagine further that someone who has no intention of visiting you or staying the night at your establishment visits your website, decides that you are not clear enough about the accessibility of your property, and sues you. You are required to pay thousands of dollars in damages to someone who never even planned to use your facilities. Does that sound right?
This doesn’t take too much imagination. A case that is coming up before the Supreme Court is looking at one individual who did this to more than 600 hotel owners. This individual focused on small companies that would have to settle rather than incurring the costs of fighting the lawsuits. In an interview with the Washington Post, she presented her lawsuits as a way of fighting discrimination against people with disabilities. Others have described what she does as “extortion.”
We’ll leave it up to the Supreme Court to decide. But the case certainly should give us all a reminder to make sure our websites are meeting the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
What the ADA says about websites
We usually think first about access to the website itself. The ADA specifically calls out things like these:
- Low color contrast that makes it hard for people with low vision to read the screen
- Use of color alone to give information, so that color blind people or people using assistive devices can’t understand
- Lack of alt text on images
- Lack of captions on videos
- Forms that can’t be read by assistive devices
These issues should be part of your planning when you build or update a website.
Wait — there’s more!
The case before the Supreme Court is not about any of these things. It is, as the Post explains, about the web content. “Justice Department rules implementing the ADA in 2010 require hotels to include in reservation systems ‘enough detail’ about a property’s accessibility features so that people who rely on service dogs or wheelchairs, for instance, can assess whether a hotel meets their needs.”
If you use a wheelchair and arrive at a hotel with a reservation, only to discover that there is no elevator to the floor where your room is located, you will naturally feel frustrated. It’s reasonable to expect a hotel website to address this issue.
But it’s not just hotels. The ADA applies to all public places. Any business that doesn’t make their location accessible to all is violating the law — and any website that doesn’t make your business’s level of accessibility clear could do the same.
2022 was a bumper year for ADA lawsuits based solely on websites. Healthcare providers, retail stores, and many more kinds of businesses have been targeted, and they are usually small businesses. If you’ve been overlooking ADA compliance, it’s time to change that.
What should you do?
Here are some steps you can take:
- Check out the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines and make sure you’re able to check off all the items.
- Use tools like Access Scan to do a quick check if you are not sure you meet the criteria.
- Include information on your website that a person with a disability might need, such as the location of accessible entrances and parking spots.
- If you have a physical location and it is not ADA compliant, say so and describe the accommodations you are able to make.
Do you need help with these issues? Contact Haden Interactive and we will help ensure that your website is compliant.