(How hospitality websites are impacted by the Americans with Disabilities Act Guidelines)
written* by Bill Mitchell, Co-Founder, RezStream, Denver, Colorado
The digital revolution has impacted all of us in diverse and profound ways. Smart phones and tablet devices are exploding in popularity. Unfortunately, those with disabilities often do not have the same access to Internet information, websites, and online reservation systems, as those without disabilities.
On July 26, 2010 (on the anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act) President Obama stated that ADA accessibility must also apply to the Internet. With that declaration, the Justice Department was tasked with setting rules for ADA accessibility for the Internet and websites. Since that time, the Justice Department has formulated recommended rules for ADA website accessibility. Those rules will soon be refined and officially released in the near future. Until then, there is a set of guidelines currently in place (http://www.w3.org/WAI/WCAG20/quickref) for websites to become ADA accessible. Even with these guidelines in place, many hospitality businesses have not yet complied with the guidelines. Now is the time to begin the process of making your current website ADA accessible or to consider a new website design that is ADA accessible.
The only hospitality businesses exempt for the new ADA guidelines are businesses with 5 rooms or less, and the owner also lives at the business location. All other hospitality businesses are required to meet the new ADA website regulations.
Older people, or people with disabilities, account for 57 percent of all Internet users. By making your website ADA accessible, you open your doors to more customers. Beyond that benefit, you are also protecting yourself against potentially, expensive lawsuits.
According to Creating an Accessible Presence for the Lodging Industry by the American Hotel & Lodging Association, “Many businesses don’t understand that the law actually requires them to make their websites accessible to individuals with disabilities. There is a common misperception that the Americans with Disabilities Act and similar state and local laws only deal with physical buildings and facilities, so-called “brick and mortar” establishments, and that non-building-related business operations—such as websites—are not covered by these laws. Nothing could be further from the truth—at least with respect to websites that have some sort of connection, or “nexus,” to physical places of business.”
In this article, I will explain some guidelines on how to make your website ADA accessible. In a second article, I will explore how online reservation systems will also need to meet ADA compliance standards by the upcoming deadline of March 15, 2012.
The consequences for ignoring ADA guidelines for your website and online reservation system can be costly. In California, each instance of non-compliance is punishable by minimum damages of $4,000, plus legal fees. Class action lawsuits can multiply the damages dramatically. Most states have multiple disability laws, so it only makes sense that your website meets ADA compliance immediately.
People with disabilities may interact with websites and online reservation systems differently than people not affected by disabilities. All types of disabilities need to be considered when setting up your website such as: visual impairments (blindness, low vision, color blindness), hearing impairments, physical disabilities, speech disabilities, cognitive disabilities, and multiple disabilities. Age-related disabilities such as arthritis, hearing loss, and vision loss should also be factored in when making your website ADA compliant.
People with disabilities may use a number of special tools to interact with websites such as: screen readers, speech recognition software, touch screen devices, captioning devices (for video content), Braille, screen magnifiers, alternative keyboard devices, and head pointers. It is important to make sure your website complies with standards that make it possible for those with diverse disabilities to successfully interact with your website.
How to make your website ADA accessible:
There are several phases to go through to make a website ADA accessible. First, it is important to have your existing website evaluated for ADA accessibility. Have this evaluation done by a company that specializes in ADA compliance for lodging properties. Most existing websites will not pass a detailed ADA evaluation. Depending on the results of your professional ADA inspection, you will either have to make necessary changes to your existing website, or have it redesigned to meet ADA accessibility guidelines.
Designing and/or changing a website to be ADA compliant is a deliberate process which should only be performed by a website design firm that fully understands ADA compliant regulations. Do not assume your current website design firm comprehends all the details involved in becoming ADA compliant!
Website guidelines to meet ADA accessibility:
- Design your website design with a consistent & clean layout for both content and navigation throughout all pages.
- Use clear and consistent language on your website.
- Use sufficient color contrast in text and images on your website.
- Your website should be designed using valid HTML and be able to pass W3C
(World Wide Web consortium) tests for errors.
- A person with disabilities should be able to navigate your website using just
- Alt tags (with correct text descriptions) must be used for all images & any visual content on your website. Alt tags also have to be manually evaluated and changed so that they make sense to someone with disabilities. This process is critical for ADA compliance!
- Implement “audio CAPTCHA, or alternative method, elements for website forms that require the typing of any code to complete a form submission.
- Make sure any YouTube videos have proper alternative captioning, and include a transcript.
- Make sure your social media accounts are considered, such as Facebook, Google Plus, etc. For example, there is a Twitter program, “Accessible Twitter” that allows those with disabilities to access tweets.
- Make sure your mobile websites also use valid CSS and HTML with clear and concise language.
- Make sure those with disabilities can access your online specials, online banners, email specials, and other unique offers.
- If you return your availability by room type your our online booking engine must also display and hold accessible rooms only for people with disabilities until all other rooms have been booked. (Rule becomes effective March 15, 2012.) If you return your availability by individual units you do NOT have to hold ADA rooms back until all other units have been reserved. However, all other ADA regulations do apply (ADA room descriptions, using a booking engine that is ADA compliant, and making your website ADA accessible).
ADA accessibility online testing:
Once your website has been modified to comply with ADA guidelines, it must be re-tested. There are a number of online tools that can assist you in this process.
FREE tool in Firefox: http://worldspace.deque.com/FireEyes/login/auth
FREE tool in Windows Explorer: http://www.paciellogroup.com/node/18?q=node/22
However, software tools can judge only 25 percent of all errors.An ADA compliance expert must evaluate the other 75 percent. Once the expert delivers his findings, you must then adjust your website as necessary, until you reach the required threshold for ADA accessibility.
The importance of ADA expert testing:
No online tool can cover all the issues of ADA accessibility. To make sure your website meets the necessary ADA guidelines, employ an ADA compliance specialist that will review your website. Specialists are much better at evaluating the consistency of your website content as well as your current online reservation system. Furthermore, you will get the best results by combining the test results of online tools with the experience of an ADA compliance specialist.
Conclusion: This article covers only the basics behind ADA accessible websites. You can find further detailed information at www.ada.gov. Since most current websites are not yet fully ADA accessible, it is important for you to begin the process now. But be forewarned. The consequences of not becoming ADA accessible can be expensive. The potential of penalty fees, lawsuits, and lost business are all powerful reasons to be ahead of the curve when it comes to ADA accessibility for your website. To make sure your website meets the necessary ADA guidelines, select a website design and consulting firm that specializes in ADA accessible websites and online reservation systems. As always, RezStream is happy to assist lodging properties of all sizes in ADA consulting and website design services. Please call RezStream toll-free at 866-360-8210 for more information on this timely topic.
*Note: Much of the information compiled in this article was included in the American Hotel & Lodging Association’s “Creating an Accessible Web Presence for the Lodging Industry” primer. I would also like to thank the California Hotel and Lodging Association’s (CHLA) and CABBI legal counsel, Jim Abrams, for his invaluable assistance on this topic.
About the Speaker: Bill Mitchell is the co-founder and Chief Operating Officer of RezStream, a company dedicated to hospitality solutions, located in Denver, Colorado. Bill has over 30 years experience in the hospitality industry with extensive knowledge in consulting, sales, support, website design and Internet marketing.RezStream sells reservation software (RezStream Professional PMS), online reservation booking engine services (RezStream Rez2u Booking Engine), Global Distribution System services, custom website designs, and Internet marketing services.
RezStream also offers a full line of ADA compliance consulting services, ADA compliant website design services, and an ADA reservation services consulting. Call 866-360-8210 for more information.