A hot topic in dental and orthodontic study groups is the matter of website accessibility and being compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act (AwDA). Recent news of dentists in Texas receiving letters from attorneys alleging that their websites violate AwDA has sent shock waves through the dental and orthodontic professions.
The letters seem to request some amount of money in order to avoid a lawsuit. It is still unclear whether any moneys were paid or if any of these cases involving dental practices have gone to court. At this stage, we are still in fact-finding mode.
What we do know is that dental and orthodontic offices are subject to the AwDA and bear a legal obligation to make their business accessible to persons with disabilities. As the consumer landscape has shifted to digital interactions and e-commerce, the laws have adapted to include websites. What does this mean for you and your website?
What the Law Says About Accessibility
Although there is still no legal definition of an “accessible” website, it basically means a website that people with disabilities can use. For example, a blind person may access a website using screen reader software that reads aloud the text on the page, as well as the title and alt text of images if available (alt text is an attribute of web images that tells search engines and screen reader software what the image is about). Giving your images alt text and giving your videos closed-captioning are good ways to make your website more accessible.
From the American Dental Association:
The Americans with Disabilities Act (AwDA) requires that places of public accommodation, including physicians’ and dentists’ offices, be accessible to persons with disabilities. With the advent of the internet, and of websites that businesses utilize to provide additional access to the public, the U.S. Department of Justice has taken the position that websites open to the public must also be accessible in various ways to persons with sight or hearing impairment.
To delve too deeply into the legalities of this issue would be missing the point. Would the allegations made against the dental practices in Texas hold up in court? It’s complicated. There is some precedent for businesses being forced to modify their websites based on the AwDA.
High-profile businesses such as Netflix, Expedia, Charles Schwab, Disney, CVS, and WeightWatchers were all persuaded to make their websites more accessible due to lawsuits and claims brought against them.
Let’s shift the focus away from the outcome of a potential lawsuit and instead look at what steps can be taken to avoid being a target of such litigation.
How to Make Your Website Compliant with AwDA
To make your website accessible, you want to provide text alternatives for non-text content like graphics, images, and videos. Provide captions and other alternatives for multimedia. Make it easier for users to see and hear content. Here is a link to instructions from Google for managing the caption settings on YouTube.
The lawsuits concerning website accessibility typically demand that the business make its website conform to a set of privately developed standards called the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines version 2.0, Level A and AA (WCAG 2.0 AA). The goal of these guidelines is to provide a single shared standard for web content accessibility.
The ADA recommends adding an “Accessibility” page and providing a link to this Accessibility page on every other page of your website. The Accessibility page should include tips on how the user can digest the information on your website as well as a phone number where your business can be reached for further assistance.
Another factor of accessibility is color contrast. Individuals with visual impairment or colorblindness may find it difficult to read light-colored text on a dark background. Some color combinations, particularly certain shades of green and brown, can be especially challenging.
Text size is an issue as well. Small text is a very common problem on many websites. If your text is too small and difficult to read, your website may be more susceptible to claims of inaccessibility.
The US Social Security Administration has provided some tips for adjusting your computer and/or browser window to improve your online experience:
- Use your computer to read web pages out loud with Dragon Speaking Software
- Use the keyboard to navigate screens
- Increase text size
- Magnify your screen
- Change background and text colors
- Make your mouse pointer more visible (Windows only)
Does Your Website Accessibility Need to be Evaluated?
Here is a link to a helpful Google Chrome extension called Siteimprove Accessibility Checker. You can add this extension to your Google Chrome browser and then run it on the Home page of your website to see how it stacks up. (This tool will not work in Firefox, Internet Explorer, or any other browser besides Google Chrome.)
Bear in mind that virtually every website on the Internet has varying degrees of accessibility issues. If you run the Siteimprove Accessibility Checker on your site, you should expect it to find instances of nonconformance. Don’t panic; minor accessibility issues do not necessarily mean you are at risk.
Do you still have concerns about your own website? We can help. Call our office or fill out our evaluation request form, and our team of experts will go over your website with a fine-tooth comb.
Does your website need fixing? Maybe you just have a few minor shortcomings to address. If your site has been neglected over time, perhaps it would be more cost-effective to start over with a new website that is compliant under the current guidelines. We recommend that practices be proactive and get out in front of potential drive-by lawsuits coming down the pike. Contact us today to make sure your business is protected against accessibility claims.