What is the ADA?
A significant legislation passed in 1990, the Americans with Disabilities Act or ADA serves to shield the individuals with disabilities against discrimination. It specifically mentions, “no individual shall be discriminated against on the basis of disability in the full and equal enjoyment of goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, or accommodations of any place of public accommodation.” This law is segregated into 5 titles or coverage areas namely,
Out of these, our focus will be on Title III as the policies centering on Website compliance are generally closely linked with commercial facilities. Basically, this area states that private businesses must offer similar features, services, and accommodations to disabled beings as they do to the able-bodied ones. However, once again a discrepancy arises here as the section title does not conspicuously mention the term ‘website’ anywhere. In fact, none of the five titles mention the term ‘website.’ But again, this is obvious, keeping in mind that at the time the law was written, there weren’t any websites as the first website came about in 1991.
Why is the ADA Confusing?
However, there is a lot of confusion over this issue. While one group maintains the opinion that commercial websites are the places of public accommodation, another group is of the view that ADA regulations could be imposed on the website only if there is a close ‘nexus’ between the site and location. Thus the online application of ADA regulations still stands as hazy as ever.
Thus the ADA Compliance is one of the most complicated pieces of legislation in the spheres of accessibility and stems as an extension of the effort to end discrimination based on differing abilities.
Obviously, there has been an astonishing amount of grey area to determine whether or not this concept extends to the websites too. However, title III states that the owner or operator of a “place of public accommodation” provides equal access to users who meet ADA standards for disability. Again, as a law it should be honoured as the ignorance of law is not a good defence and working in spirit of ADA rules does not mean compliance.
Is the ADA Compliance Necessary For Hotel Websites?
So if your question is: “Is the ADA Compliance necessary?” one must take into account the demographics that about 26 percent (one in 4) of adults in the United States have some type of disability. Thus it is always a good idea to have a website that does not leave out this section of the population and makes sure that they are entitled to the same service as the general population out there. This will surely work in your hotel’s favor as it will encourage even the disabled guests to book with you. Thus from both the empathetic and profitability point of view, it seems like a good endeavor. Again, it is always wise to be on the safe side and be cautious even though nothing has been stated explicitly in this regard.
But one cannot really take the chance of being hit by a potentially costly lawsuit. For instance, very recently only the Domino’s lawsuit was doing rounds where the popular pizza chain was sued by a blind man who failed to place the order using the website and mobile-app, despite the presence of the screen-reading software, claiming that the website had violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Again, around 2,300 lawsuits were filed in 2018 against the accessibility issues which were 3x times the number of cases filed in the previous year.
How to Ensure that Your Hotel Website is ADA Compliant?
Many hoteliers fear the lawsuit and are often confused about their website being ADA compliant. Again a lot of legal requirements in this regard are not clear or in place. Hence uncertainty abounds! All hotel websites, even the ones in the US, Canada, EU, and Australia are required to meet the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines. Especially in the US, it is important for the hotel websites to be ADA Compliant as per the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) put forward by the World Wide Web Consortium. Basically, it ensures that the website content can be accessed easily by all kinds of users, even the ones with disabilities. This includes the image, nature, and general makeup of the website.
The World Wide Web Consortium has broken the accessibility issues down into three phases or levels: A, AA and AAA.
Again, the hotels falling under level “AA” have a specific set of guidelines that pertain to them and that culmination can be referred to as the “POUR ( Perceivable, Operable, Understandable and Robust) Website:”
However, the WCAG Guidelines saw an update from version 2.0 to 2.1 in June 2018. This update has definitely been an improvement on the first version and covers a lot of changes in technology by bringing within its yoke a wider range of people with various kinds of disabilities.
How to Achieve the ADA Compliance for Hotels?
ADA Compliance for Hotel Websites
Not just the website but almost all the features and facilities accorded by a hotel should be in compliance with the ADA Guidelines such that it can cater to all types of users or guests.
To begin with the hotel website, compliance can be achieved both through the website content as well as its other technical aspects:
Clear information, especially the accessibility information should reflect on every page that a person might visit. For instance, if a user is looking for accessibility information where the rooms and room features are concerned, such taglines or headings should be given which encompasses it all. For instance, an Accessible Deluxe Room with a Roll-in Shower would be a perfect example. In other cases, you can also give out more clarity by breaking down the room and shower components into two different sections. Again, a list of all the essential and accessible room features is a must to prevent your website from giving out any sort of misleading information as far as the disability/accessibility issue is concerned.
While it is advisable to flash the accessibility information on every web page visited by the guest, care should be taken to break down each of the specific areas in an equivalent manner. For instance, if a differently-abled person is looking to book with you, it is obvious that he/she will need precise information about the room type, accessibility features, areas that are accessible, whether the ramp or wheelchair facility is available, how much time it will take to move from one area to other, etc.
These areas might include:
Other features that might be helpful for a disabled person in this regard include the ways in which he/she can:
[NOTE: If the hotel is pet-friendly or simply allows service animals even if it’s not primarily pet-friendly, mention should be made of that as well on the website.]
2. Technical Aspects for the ADA Compliance
Technical aspects need to be in place to ensure that it becomes feasible for the guests with visual and auditory impairments to navigate the website with ease. Various Web accessibility evaluation tools can come in handy to solve this problem of website accessibility. The following are the ideas which need to be worked upon:
• Screen Reader
• Page Title Tags in HTML format
• Minimal Font and Styling
• Text-based Analog for Visual Media
• Appropriate Use of HTML 5 Element
• Use Simple and Clear Language
ADA Compliant websites should ensure that the site is accessible even through the use of the keyboard for a user. Scrolling through the keyboard should be permitted for easy navigation.
(ii) Screen Reader
A screen reader scans the websites starting from the top and going all the way down, reading every element on the page and taking into account the connected tags, more like how a human eye does it. So make sure that the content befits the screen reader requirements. Hence the main content is not the only significant part of the website. Make sure that you include a lot of skip links that allow the user to navigate easily and jump into the bulk of the main content section on the website.
(iii) Page Title Tags in HTML Format
Visually impaired users cannot read the content in the form of PDF and images. Since these cannot be translated for the blind, attempts are to be made to convert the visuals in an audio form to cater to the people who are visually impaired. Here lies the importance of page title tags.
(iv) Minimal Font and Styling
Instead of experimenting with various font styles and vibrant colors or colorful backgrounds, it’s advisable to go for a large, common font in black or white against a white or black background respectively. You can try out the appropriate color contrast/high contrast as well.
(v) Text-based Analog for Visual Media
There should be a good amount of Alt text for images or descriptive text for videos for further clarity on the part of the screen reader and to provide a holistic meaning to the content.
(vi) Appropriate Use of HTML 5 Element
HTML is always a good basis for accessibility and care should be taken to ensure that the HTML 5 elements (<main>, <nav>, <header>,<footer>, <aside>, <article>, etc.) are used appropriately. Even landmark roles should be in place to ensure ADA Compliance. For instance, for the HTML <header> the role would be “banner” and will serve as an introduction to a page or section and can contain a heading (H1-H6), navigation, site logo, etc.
(vii) Use Simple and Clear Language
The language also plays an important role in providing accessibility. So make sure that your website uses a language that is simple and devoid of any sort of complexity, ambiguity and also shuns the use of jargon or slang terms.
Other Ways of Ensuring the ADA Compliance for Hotel Websites
With HTML semantics and other technicalities in place, there are even other ways in which one can ensure the ADA Compliance for hotel websites:
a) Regular ADA Compliance Audit
This audit as a collaborative endeavor between the website vendor and ADA compliance vendor is highly recommended. You can check this to get a lot more information on how a complete, step-by-step ADA Compliance Process looks like:
The initial ADA Compliance Audit step-by-step process
b) Put Yourself in “their” Shoes
Nothing can beat the first-hand experience. In order to ensure that the website is ADA compliant and your hotel features and facilities are compatible with the Act, you can put yourself in the shoes of the disabled guests. For instance, you can do a practical exercise and sit in a wheelchair to ascertain whether the hotel areas are accessible to the guests or not. Even you can try to be your own critic by checking for yourself whether the website is easily accessible. Can it be easily navigated using the keyboard?
If you are designing your own hotel website or hiring a designer to do the same as per the ADA compliance, you can dig a bit deeper and gauge the accessibility by referring to the checklist provided by the U.S Department of Health and Human Services.
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