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Did you know that businesses, including medical practices, can be sued for having an inaccessible website? By inaccessible, we mean that a person with a disability can’t fully use the website’s features.
In 2021, 2,895 businesses were sued for this very reason. And many small medical practices were among those numbers. These lawsuits were tied to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the primary law in the U.S. that governs the accessibility of public spaces and services for disabled individuals in the U.S.
As a healthcare professional, you’re probably aware of ADA regulations regarding medical offices, but you might be less familiar with the ways the law governs websites and online communication. There’s been a 320% increase in ADA Title III lawsuits over the past eight years, many of which are related to website accessibility.
An average settlement cost related to website accessibility is $5000, while other companies have reported up to $20,000 in settlement costs.
For legal and moral reasons, it’s becoming more and more important to maintain accessible digital resources and communication for your patients.
In this piece, we’ll cover:
- How the ADA impacts your website
- How to know if your website is ADA-compliant
- What to do if it’s not and how to avoid violation fees
- Examples of common accessibility features
ADA Compliance for Medical Practice Websites: Why Now?
Since the ADA has been around since 1990, you might be wondering, why is it a bigger issue now?
Back then, the internet wasn’t an important part of everyday life. And there were no smartphones or tablets. Most businesses were conducted in person or over the phone.
Over the next 30 years, however, the internet and other digital devices have become a necessary part of how we interact with the world. And this includes healthcare: from setting up online appointments to researching medical providers.
The problem is that federal regulators have struggled to keep up.
Since 2003, the Department of Justice (DOJ), which maintains the ADA, has been regulating federal websites using the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). The WCAG is a set of standards that federal sites must meet to be in compliance with the ADA.
Since 2004, the DOJ has made several attempts to add similar website accessibility standards for everyone else (including small businesses). But the DOJ has never succeeded in publishing clear standards.
There Are No Set Standards for Non-Governmental Businesses, But You Can Still Be Sued
Over the past few years, there’s been increasing pressure by accessibility activists for the government to regulate online services and communication for all businesses — not just federally-funded organizations. And, as we saw above, this pressure has amounted to an increase in lawsuits, as well.
According to the National Law Review, “The lack of specific requirements does not absolve a business from its obligations.”
In March of 2022, the Department of Justice issued a statement that included a link to a beta website that offers guidance to businesses about web accessibility. Here’s what the DOJ has to say:
To be fully accessible, the DOJ recommends making sure your website meets the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) standard, the same standard required for all federal websites.
Common Components of an Accessible Website
Here are some of the issues people with disabilities face online and the related features of an accessible website.
1. Accessibility for the Visually Impaired
Visual impairments that can impact someone’s website experience include low vision, issues with color, as well as dyslexia.
People with visual impairments may look for ways to visually enhance a screen, like increasing the size of the text on a page, or they may use a screen reader device.
This video offers examples of ways we allow individuals to change how our own website is displayed, such as:
- Changing the size of the text
- Changing the spacing between words or the line-height
- Changing the size of a cursor or how the cursor can be used
- Changing the font
The way you use color on a website can also cause issues for individuals who are color blind. They may not be able to see elements with little contrast.
Another common issue is when color is used as a requirement to make a choice or take action.
2. Accessibility for The Hearing Impaired
The most common site issue for individuals with hearing issues is videos which typically rely on sound to make sense of the narrative. And the simple solution is to use captions on all videos.
3. Accessibility for the Individuals With Motor Issues
Sight and sound are the most common examples when it comes to site accessibility, but there’s one more important category.
Individuals with motor issues may not be able to use a mouse or scroll pad. A website needs to be fully accessible using a keyboard. This is something that needs to be built into the website when designing it.
How To Know If Your Website Is ADA Compliant
You can use the free site checker at accessibility.org to find out if your site meets the WCAG standards.
Plugin your URL, and it will give you an audit of the accessibility issues on your website and whether you’re at risk for accessibility lawsuits.
What To Do If Your Website Is NOT ADA Compliant
Most website builders, such as WordPress or Weebly, do not, by default, create accessible websites. And if your site is custom-built, it is not likely to be ADA-compliant unless that is something you specifically requested.
If you work with a web development company, you can ask what it would take to revise your website.
Want help? We offer a custom website builder tool specifically designed for medical practices that create ADA-compliant websites by default.
We can build a website for you and help you maintain it. Our site builder is designed for medical practices, including an appointment scheduler, testimonials, and more.
If your existing website isn’t ADA-accessible or meets your other needs, we can perform a detailed audit and work with you to improve site architecture, design, and responsiveness.