ADA Website Compliance: How to Avoid a Web Accessibility Lawsuit
If you’re like most healthcare businesses, chances are your website isn’t accessible to individuals with disabilities. ADA compliance is something many website owners fail to pay attention to until they find themselves face-to-face with a lawsuit.
In this article, we’ll take a closer look at why ADA compliance matters to businesses operating in the healthcare sector and share details of four major healthcare companies that faced ADA lawsuits for overlooking website accessibility regulations. Finally, we’ll share some actionable tips to help you avoid the mistakes major healthcare companies are being sued for.
Why companies in the healthcare sector should pay attention to ADA compliance
Quick background: Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) regulates businesses to ensure all websites are accessible to all users, including those with disabilities. What this means is that you need to take steps to make sure your healthcare website:
- Accommodates people with visual impairments.
- Publishes content that’s suitable for screen readers.
- Displays descriptive buttons, links, navigation menus.
- Allows users to interact with it using a keyboard.
ADA compliance for healthcare websites is especially important as the delivery of healthcare services in the United States impacts all of us. Healthcare is both the largest private employer in the US and the industry is accounting for 20% of the GDP spend. You can expect to pay hefty fines (up to $150K or more) depending on how ADA non-compliant your healthcare site is.
On top of that, here are some additional reasons why you should take measures to make sure your website is ADA compliant:
- You’re legally required to be compliant meaning you risk civil class action lawsuits in case of non-compliance.
- You risk losing federal funding, contracts, and assistance from municipal, local, and federal government organizations if your website isn’t ADA compliant.
- You’ll lose visitors and potential customers with disabilities which amount to more than 40M Americans (12.7% of the population).
4 healthcare companies that faced ADA lawsuits
The number of ADA website accessibility lawsuits filed against companies has increased significantly from around 800 in 2017 to over 1K in the first half of 2018. By the end of 2018, there were more than 10K ADA website compliance lawsuits on record in the US. These include websites of organizations in the healthcare sector.
Let’s step through the examples of four healthcare companies that faced ADA lawsuits as a result of non-compliance.
- Tenet Healthcare. Tenet Healthcare was part of a class action lawsuit filed on behalf of Americans with visual impairments as the company’s websites weren’t accessible to users browsing the web using screen readers.
- WellPoint, Inc. In 2014, WellPoint Health Networks Inc. (now Anthem) faced an ADA lawsuit filed by two Californian citizens – Sam Chen and Steven Mendelsohn – with visual impairments. In 2011, Chen and Mendelsohn who were members of an affiliate company of WellPoint at the time informed the organization that it was difficult for them to access the main website. And, as a result of negotiations, WellPoint agreed to comply with WCAG 2.0.
- HCA Holdings, Inc. Frazier, a legally blind American, filed a lawsuit against HCA Holdings in 2017 claiming that some of the websites of hospitals owned by the company had glaring web accessibility issues.
- CAC Florida Medical Centers. Andres Gomez – a legally blind citizen – filed an ADA website accessibility lawsuit against CAC Florida Medical Centers in 2017 arguing the company’s website wasn’t accessible via a screen reader.
Considering the significance of these lawsuits and the hefty fines associated with non-compliance, it’s easy to understand why ADA compliance is something healthcare organizations should take seriously.
How to make your site ADA compliant (and avoid the mistakes major healthcare companies are being sued for)
According to Digital Authority Partners, organizations – including those in the healthcare sector – need to prioritize and commit to web accessibility for their sites. The ADA encourages organizations to follow the WCAG 2.0 (Level AA) guidelines on web accessibility until the Department of Justice (DOJ) provides guidance and clarity.
Here are some measures you can take to make your site ADA compliant:
1. Use headings and subheadings throughout your web page
Since all websites are written in HTML, ADA compliance requires that your site’s HTML code is in line with the W3C coding standards. In simple words, use headings and subheadings in your site’s HTML code to give it structure and make it easier for users with disabilities to navigate through.
When used correctly, users with disabilities will be able to understand the structure and logical flow of your web page with the help of screen readers.
2. Ensure keyboard control and navigation
Users who are legally blind or have poor muscle control might find it difficult to use a mouse. Instead of struggling with a mouse, they use keyboards (or modified keyboards) to interact with websites. For this reason, it’s important to make sure that all functionality of your healthcare website is operable via a keyboard.
Users should be able to click on links and buttons, access menus, select checkboxes, fill out form fields, use drag and drop functionality, and resize regions using only their keyboard. More complex tasks, such as initiating a chat with an online healthcare agent, should also be possible using only the keyboard.
3. Add clear labels and error messages to web forms
Users with disabilities should be able to access and fill out web forms using assistive technology. Any web forms you add to your healthcare website should have clear labels and descriptive error messages. This way, users who rely on screen readers will be able to understand the form and fill it out correctly.
4. Include alt text in all graphics
Alt text is metadata that’s assigned to graphics, icons, illustrations, and photos on your website describing what’s depicted in the image. Screen readers rely on alt text to describe the image to users with visual impairments. When a user encounters an image on a web page, the screen reader reads out the description provided in the alt text.
5. Write descriptive call to actions
All buttons and text links should be descriptive meaning that you should write them in a way that clearly explains what will happen when a user clicks on them. So, instead of writing Learn More you might write Learn more about how to update your health plan. This lets the user know that they can find out more information about updating their health plan by clicking on the link.
Healthcare companies should take appropriate measures to make sure their website is ADA compliant – especially because these are sites that are important to (and thus, frequented by) users with disabilities.
You can use the WCAG 2.0 Markup Validation Service to get an idea of where your site currently stands in regards to web accessibility though you will likely need to work with an expert website agency to conduct a thorough ADA compliance evaluation and fix accessibility issues.