A class-action lawsuit against HCA in January, 2017 is only the latest in a growing list of actions taken by disability activists to make websites available and usable by everyone.
Legal actions against big brands has been a common tactic to raise awareness of the challenges of website accessibility and to encourage organizations to prioritize the costs and trade-offs of improved web accessibility. As far back as 2009, Target Corporation was sued for web inaccessibility. In more recent years, Universities such as Harvard and MIT have come under fire followed by online retailers such as Patagonia, Ace Hardware, Aéropostale and Bed Bath & Beyond. Healthcare has simply become the next industry to come under scrutiny at a time when the number of legal actions and threatened legal actions is rising dramatically.
What is Web Accessibility?
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in places of public accommodation. ADA covers a long list of common disabilities including vision, hearing, cognitive, and motor skill impairments.
The ADA doesn’t specifically mention the digital world but, following the Target lawsuit, it has generally been considered to apply. Proposed changes in the ADA formalize the requirement for web accessibility.
It’s not always easy to see how these disabilities might impact a visitor’s experience with your website particularly for those not familiar with the functioning of assistive technologies. For example:
- Hearing impaired visitors can’t follow video assets without closed captioning or transcription
- Blind visitors using screen readers rely on a range of technical elements such as form tags to communicate important information about the page
- A visitor with Parkinson’s disease may have difficulty with some tasks requiring use of a mouse if they cannot be performed with a keyboard
- Text placed on top of images or patterned backgrounds may not be legible for colorblind visitors
What can organizations do to comply?
Lawsuits are happening today and all signs point to an increase in such actions over the next few years. With literally hundreds of possible accommodation options available, healthcare organizations should work with agencies with Accessibility professionals on staff, such as Geonetric, at least for an initial audit of your current level of accessibility compliance.
It’s also a good idea to familiarize yourself with the Web Content Accessibility Group (WCAG) 2.0 requirements.
Compliance programs typically have several phases.
- An initial audit to assess the current state of compliance and baseline against which to measure progress
- Recommended actions to improve the current accessibility compliance of the organization’s digital properties
- A work plan which prioritizes the recommendations and assigns ownership and timelines for completion
- An ongoing management plan which often includes training of content contributors to reduce the risk of introducing new accessibility issues in the future and annual reviews to assess progress and identify new compliance challenges and issues
Website accessibility has hit the front burner for many healthcare organizations because of these lawsuits. As we look at embracing accessibility for your organization, it’s important to remember that the reasons for treading this path go beyond risk management. Ultimately, making your web properties available to all visitors is the right thing for your organization to do, particularly for healthcare organizations. The organizations that we serve are driven in no small part by a mission to serve our patients and the community and this is an important part of that mandate.