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How New Accessibility Requirements Will Impact Healthcare Websites

If accessibility isn’t one of your digital priorities, it should be. New requirements may have you rethinking your to-do list.

Ensuring the best user experience possible on your website is always a top priority. And that means being thoughtful about the way people with disabilities – such as those with color blindness and hearing loss – interact with your hospital’s site. Although accessibility is always important, an upcoming refresh to accessibility requirements is getting lots of attention. Keep reading to learn what you need to know about accessibility and healthcare websites, important details about the upcoming deadline, and recommended next steps.

Accessibility and healthcare websites

Millions of Americans have disabilities that affect how they use the web. And your chances of acquiring one of these disabilities increases as you age. But thanks to technology that can assist using the web is still possible in everyday lives.

It’s your job to make sure the way your website is built aids those assistive technologies, rather than hindering them. From ensuring your code can be read by screen readers to adding closed captioning on videos, there’s a lot you can do.

There are many guidelines and legal requirements that in some way touch on digital accessibility, but these two are the main ones healthcare marketers tend to focus on.

Most websites do not lawfully comply with all these guidelines. And recent lawsuits are making more healthcare organizations take notice of accessibility guidelines.

What’s changing on January 18, 2018 – the 508 “refresh”

In 2017, the United States Access Board announced updates to national accessibility requests under Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act. The refresh, as they are calling it, is scheduled to go into effect January 18, 2018, and updates accessibility requirements for federal organizations as well as harmonizes these requirements with other guidelines and standards such as the WCAG.

Specifically, this refresh references Level A and Level AA of the WCAG 2.0 guidelines and applies them to websites as well as other electronic documents and software.

While these updates directly apply to federal agencies, most healthcare organizations are required by ACA Section 1557 to address the accessibility of their digital communications. Section 508 provides a clear legal standard.

Next steps for healthcare marketers

Regardless of future laws or potential lawsuits, making your website accessible now for those with disabilities is a recommended best practice for healthcare organizations – and it prepares you to better meet any future legal requirements.

Not to mention, there’s also an inherent SEO benefit for implementing many accessibility best practices. That’s because accessible content and optimized content are both machine readable.

So now that we’ve convinced you, what are your next steps?

  • Review Section 508 and WCAG section A and AA. Here’s a handy comparison table. Some of the rules have to do with how you provide alternative text, video captions, and transcripts for audio files. There are also rules around how you use color and contrast ratios, as well as moving banners and video backgrounds. Some of it you can likely tackle, some of it will need a developer. This helpful post highlights a few of the guidelines for healthcare marketers.
  • Understand how your CMS, design, and content all play a role in accessibility. Some changes you’ll be able to go out and make right away – like changing all those “click here” links. But some could require design changes – or even a new CMS.
  • Talk with your in-house legal counsel. Get their interpretation of your organization’s current and future liability. They will be an important source to help you prioritize next steps.
  • Talk with your digital agency partner. If you work with a web vendor or digital agency, reach out to them for help and guidance. Chances are they’re already working on how to make your site more accessible, and if they’re not they should be.

If you’re about to undertake a redesign or CMS change, it’s the perfect time to talk about accessibility. It’s easier to create and maintain an accessible site than to retrofit a non-accessible site – but even that is still possible!

Accessibility is never “done”

It’s important to remember accessibility is never “done.” As changes and updates are made to your site over time, it increases the risk of violations. With these new changes taking effect soon – and with mobile accessibility criteria likely coming later in 2018 – there’s a lot to tackle.

We’d love to discuss your accessibility needs and help put you on track. We’ve been developing and designing websites for healthcare organizations with accessibility in mind for over a decade. And we’re already developing our sites to meet mobile accessibility best practices. That’s because we don’t wait for regulations to build accessible websites. It’s just part of what we do.

Website accessibility isn’t just about avoiding litigation – it’s about serving all of your audiences equally and fairly. And for healthcare organizations, that’s a rallying cry that’s easy to get behind.

Contact us today to get started.

Andrea Joyner

Product Strategy Director

How New Accessibility Requirements Will Impact Healthcare Websites