How ADA/WCAG Compliant Websites Can Attract Customers and Prevent Litigation

Posted In - Web Accessibility Education
October 06, 2021
Prevent Litigation
Prevent Litigation

The American Disability Act (ADA) became law in 1990. The ADA is a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination against disabled people in all areas of public life, including hotels, jobs, transportation, schools, restaurants, and all private and public spaces open to the general public. 

The ADA aims to ensure that people with disabilities have equal rights and opportunities. This law protects the civil rights of people with disabilities, similar to the civil rights granted to people based on race, color, gender, ethnic origin, age, and religion in The Civil Rights Act. It ensures equal access for people with disabilities in public housing, employment, transportation, government and local services, and telecommunications.

 

Understanding ADA Compliance and How it Associates With Your Hotel's Website

 

ADA Title III prohibits discrimination based on disability in public housing areas and businesses usually open to the public (such as hotels, restaurants, schools, child care centers, recreation centers, and doctors' offices). The law also requires newly built or altered areas of public residential and commercial properties to be constructed as per ADA standards.  While many tenets of Title III pertain to the accessibility of the physical plant of facilities, there are crucial points that we at INNsight dub 'The Five Points of ADA Accessibility Online' burrowed in the code.  These Five Points are specifically detailed in Section 36.302e and pertain specifically to the online presence of accommodations.

Serial litigants were rampant in filing lawsuits targeting physical plant characteristics originally; however, their efforts have turned to a new focus area as they have mostly exhausted the accessibility complaints on physical characteristics of properties.  In early 2018, hotel-related ADA victim complainants started to increasingly target the online accessibility of accommodations, forcing hotels to improve their website standards to meet ADA Title provisions, namely those spelled out in Section 36.302e of ADA Title III. The ADA sets out several requirements for all categories on websites. In a nutshell, these requirements state that accessibility features provided by hotels must be posted throughout the booking process and that accessible guest room types must be bookable online to avoid discrimination. 

In addition to adhering to ADA Title III, many recent court cases are adjudicating that websites themselves need to be accessible as well.  While semantically this may be confused with ADA Title III Accessibility, web accessibility is its own concept and can be very complex.  According to common law, websites of all types must be made accessible to individuals with audio, visual, or mobility impairment.  In order to achieve this, websites need to be coded to a standard that permits them to be consumed by accessibility tools such as screen readers.

Hoteliers certainly want as many people as possible to reach their websites, reserve rooms online, and otherwise do business with them. However, it has been challenging for hotel owners to determine how to improve such access. Unfortunately, no current regulations or certifiable standards exist to set a precedent for making your hotel website accessible and ADA Title III compliant.

The industry trade group, World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) has helped fill this void by publishing Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). Most courts and litigants acknowledge WCAG Version 2.1 Level AA as the de facto or default standards for website accessibility.

The best practice for hoteliers to insulate themselves from ADA lawsuits is to bring their website into compliance with ADA Title III and with the WCAG Standards. 

 

5 Requirements Under ADA Title III

 

 

1. Ability to Book An Accessible Room

 Modify policies, practices, or procedures to ensure that individuals with disabilities can make reservations for accessible guest rooms during the same hours and in the same manner as individuals who do not need accessible rooms. 

2. Transparency of Information

Identify and describe accessible features of the place of lodging and guest rooms offered through its reservations system in enough detail to reasonably permit individuals with disabilities to assess independently whether a given place of lodging or guest room meets his/her accessibility needs;

3. Property Management

Ensure that accessible guest rooms are held for use by individuals with disabilities until all other guest rooms of that type have been rented and the accessible room requested is the only remaining room of that type;

4. Inventory Management

Reserve, upon request, accessible guest rooms or specific types of guest rooms and ensure that the guest rooms requested are blocked and removed from all reservations systems;

5. Confirmation of Booked Accessible Room Type

Make sure that each accessible guest room is reserved and confirmed for the designated guest, even if a particular room is held in response to reservations made by others.

 

WCAG Click-by-Lawsuits and How To Ensure Your Website is Accessible
 

1:- National Federal of the Blind v. H.R block

The complaint alleged that H&R Block failed to code its website in a way that would make it accessible to people who have vision, hearing, and physical disabilities. As a result, the DOJ filed a consent decree. Under the terms of the five-year declaration, H&R Block's website, mobile app, and tax filing utility will conform to the Level AA Success Criteria of the WCAG 2.0.

2:- Robles v. Dominos

Robles alleged that Blind or vision impaired persons could not access Domino's websites and mobile apps. The judge sided with Domino's due process argument and dismissed the case. The Court noted that it is for Congress, the Attorney General, and the DOJ to take action to set minimum web accessibility standards for the benefit of the disabled community.

3:- Gil v. Winn-Dixie Stores

It was one of the first lawsuits of its kind to go to trial. The judge concluded that Winn-Dixie's website was closely linked to the company's shopping malls, making it subject to the ADA. Gill, a blind man, wanted to use the supermarket's website to get coupons and refill his existing prescriptions online for in-store pickup. The company's website, however, was incompatible with Gil's screen reader software. As a result, the Court issued an injunction that required Winn-Dixie to change its website to be accessible to individuals with disabilities.  Specifically, they had to conform their website, including third-party vendors to Web Content, to the Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 (WCAG). The injunction also required Winn-Dixie to implement a publicly available Web Accessibility Policy and provide mandatory web accessibility training to its employees.

 

Why is WCAG (Website Accessibility) Important? 

 

Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) are required to address legal policies worldwide regarding your web content.

Another essential consideration for organizations is that laws and policies, in some cases, require web accessibility.

Web-accessible design also improves overall website experience and satisfaction. 

Choosing a suitable checklist for your hotel website is essential. Besides common website issues and fixes, checklists also explain why these issues create a problem for disabled people. They may even connect you to more extensive detailed information.

 

The WCAG 2.1 Guidelines Ensure Your Website is...

 

Perceivable: The website is presented in an easily perceived manner. Examples of this are, offering alternatives to text, such as audio alternatives or assistive technology, and allowing sight-impaired individuals to perceive your website correctly.

Operable: Navigation should be easy to operate. One example of this is including an accessible keyboard. In addition, users with disabilities should be able to navigate your website and access content easily.

Understandable: The website is easy to understand. Examples include making content readable and predictable and offering assistance if needed.

Robust: Various devices and platforms will interpret your website's content. You want to ensure content is compatible with user agents like assistive technologies.
 

Essential Accessibility Checklist

 

A thorough checklist must address the many types of digital barriers related to the user experience. These include:

Alternative Text for Images:

Without accurate alt-text for non-text elements on the page, a vision-impaired person will have difficulty understanding the page with a screen reader.

Text - Resize:

Having resizable text will help people with impaired vision alter the text on web pages to fit their personal viewing needs.

Keyboard Navigation:

A person who doesn't have full hand mobility should be able to use a mouse, arrow keys, or voice-controlled navigation and still navigate adequately.

Blinking and Flashing Content Elements:

Web content that flashes or blinks should be slow enough to avoid this risk of epilepsy.

Video and Audio: 

People who have a visual problem won't access the visual information unless an audio or text description is available. People who can't hear won't know what's being said in a video unless captioned or a text transcript is available. Make your website video and audio accessible, helping people who can't watch or listen to multimedia content when using the website.

Color Contrast:

Always use the contrast between the text and the background color to help people with vision disabilities.

A good checklist should measure WCAG 2.1, as it contains the most comprehensive and universal requirements for web accessibility.

If there are accessibility problems with your hotel website, you may need to consult an expert who can address them adequately. Working with an expert consultant like INNsight is the only way to ensure your website is ADA Title III Compliant and conforms to WCAG Standards.

 

How to Get Compliant and Shield Your Hotel from Liability and Lawsuits

 

Failing to comply with ADA Title III means your hotel is susceptible to legitimate lawsuits. In addition, a website that does not provide accessibility features to users with disabilities tends to lose out on potential customers. If the customer cannot navigate your hotel website, it means you're missing out on maximizing your sales revenue.


To find out more about ADA Compliant Website Design and how you can protect your hotel from ADA and Accessibility Lawsuits, consider consulting with INNsight, The Leading Experts in Online ADA Title III Compliance and Web Accessibility Conformity.