The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was passed in 1990, prohibiting discrimination against individuals with disabilities in all areas of public life, including places that are open to the general public. However, this important legislation only accounted for physical property—not digital property such as websites and web applications. Now, as consumers largely interact with brands online, it’s becoming just as important for businesses to ensure their digital property is also accessible to all.
Recent web accessibility lawsuits under Title III of the ADA against public accommodations have made many lodging providers nervous. Confusing the issue, there is currently no law requiring ADA compliance of websites, resulting in a bit of a gray area. There are, though, widely accepted industry standards for website accessibility as outlined in the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.0 and 2.1) established by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C).
The guidelines and success criteria defined by the WCAG are organized under four fundamental principles of accessibility:
Users must be able to perceive the information presented (it can’t be invisible to all of their senses).
Users must be able to operate the site interface and navigate the website.
Users must be able to understand the information and operation of the website.
Users must be able to access and interpret content via a wide variety of evolving user agents, including assistive technologies.
By striving to provide a single shared standard for web content accessibility, the WCAG supports a more inclusive online community, ensuring everyone has access to the web. Hotels and other public lodgings that ensure their websites comply with accessibility standards provide a more user-friendly experience for all—which is not only the right thing to do but results in more bookings too.
What makes an accessible website?
The way a website is programmed can affect whether it is accessible to people with disabilities or not. For example, many people with disabilities, including vision and hearing impairments and limited fine motor control, rely on assistive technologies such as text-to-speech screen readers, refreshable Braille displays and keyboard navigation to use computers and mobile devices to access the internet.
The more your property’s website aligns with accessibility standards, including compatibility with assistive technologies, the better the user experience is for everyone.
Your web designer should be familiar with the standards set out by the WCAG, and can help to ensure that all information and elements necessary for understanding, navigating and using your website are accessible—including your online booking engine.
Here’s an overview of the steps that can be taken to improve website accessibility for all:Perceivable
- Provide text alternatives (ALT text) for non-text content, for example: ALT tags for all images, icons and graphics, brief descriptions of audio and video files, and text labels for buttons, links and other calls to action.
- Provide closed captions and transcripts for multimedia files to help people who cannot hear audio or see video.
- For users with limited sight and hearing, make sure content is easy to see and hear by ensuring sufficient contrast between foreground and background, font is easy to read, text is easily resizable, and audio can be paused, stopped and the volume adjusted.
- Ensure documents are available in HTML text-based formats as screen readers cannot read PDF files or images.
- Audio signals such as error sounds should also be displayed visually, for example, with a text alert.
- For users that are unable to operate a mouse, ensure web content is navigable by keyboard. This includes navigating through menus, playing videos (videos should only play on demand), exiting pop-ups, and accessing and completing the online booking process and other forms.
- Ensure users have enough time to read and use content. To help people who need more time to type text, operate controls or process instructions, allow users to stop, extend or adjust time limits, and pause moving or scrolling content.
- Users should easily be able to navigate, find content and orientate themselves throughout your website. This is helped by ensuring content is well organized and pages are clearly labeled, and by providing more than one way to find relevant pages and ways to bypass repetitive blocks of content.
- Ensure text is easily understandable by identifying the primary language of the web page, providing definitions for any unusual words, and using the clearest and simplest language possible (or providing simplified versions).
- Ensure content appears and operates in predictable ways by using predictable navigation mechanisms that are consistent throughout the site.
- Your website should help users avoid and correct mistakes when completing forms, through the use of descriptive instructions, error messages with suggestions for corrections, and the opportunity to review, edit and reverse submissions.
- Make sure content is compatible with current and future user tools, including different browsers and assistive technologies, by ensuring markup is valid, and by providing a name, role and value for non-standard user interface components.
And last but not least, make sure your website users are informed about your property’s accessible rooms, services and amenities too. Include information about accessible features in room descriptions, amenity lists and throughout the website as appropriate.
As an extension of your property’s hospitality, your website should be accessible to all in order to better serve your guests—and bring in more bookings. It’s a win-win for everybody.