One of the biggest trends in website design can also have consequential ramifications. As companies review their websites, many are finding holes in their compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Whether your hotel is considering building a new website or not, those three letters — ADA — are ones all hospitality marketers should have in mind.
The Americans with Disabilities Act was passed in 1990 prohibiting discrimination based on disability. More clearly, the legislation’s goal was to provide clear, strong, consistent, and enforceable standards to addresses discrimination against people with disabilities. While websites weren’t clearly defined in the decades-old legislation, a subsection known at Title III addresses public accommodation and notes that hotels and other places of lodging must offer the same services and accommodations to disabled consumers, including online.
In recent years, the importance of ADA has been heightened by legal action and scrutiny, especially against consumer-facing companies. In 2017, Nike faced a class-action lawsuit claiming Nike.com was inaccessible to visually impaired users. According to Seyfarth, there were 10,982 ADA Title III lawsuits in 2020, up from 4,798 just five years earlier in 2015. Of those lawsuits in 2020, 2,523 were website accessibility lawsuits.
At a high level, having an accessible hotel website comes down to the WCAG accessibility guidelines. These guidelines are the closest thing marketers have to rules, or best practices to follow. While the WCAG recently announced its upcoming 2.1 standard, if you’re trying to determine the standing of your current website or are considering building a new one, ensuring your website meets the 2.0 standard is best practice. To avoid potential complaints or even legal action, it's best practice to make sure your website is Level AA compliant.
There are several web-based tools you can use to audit your website for accessibility compliance. These audits will crawl your website and flag any issues that might not meet accessibility standards. While some issues might be easy for anyone to fix, some accessibility issues are more technical and require a developer to troubleshoot and fix the issue.
Not sure where to begin? Follow these four tips.
1. Make sure your hotel website has an accessibility page
Before turning your focus to whether or not your website is ADA compliant, you should first ensure you’re clearly showcasing the services and accommodations your hotel has in place for disabled travelers. We recommend including a general accessibility page on your hotel website that provides a general overview and outlines what you do from an accessibility standpoint.
This accessibility page might include accessibility information on:
- Elevators and/or ramps
- Hotel entrances
- Hallway width
- Emergency exits
- Accessible parking
- Accessible rooms
While it’s important to talk about what you have, it’s just as important to make clear what your hotel doesn’t have. If your property is older and more historic and can’t offer certain accommodations, it’s a best practice to be clear and set that expectation. When guests are looking to book a stay, they want to know that everything from checking in, to getting to their room and ultimately using the room, can be done in an accessible manner.
The other critical website feature is specific listings for accessible rooms and the ability to book those rooms online. Some hotels have faced trouble by asking prospective guests to call about an accessible room. That goes against Title III, which states that you must offer the same services and advantages to everybody. Your accessible room pages should highlight availability, details on the amenities, and accessibility features, such as a doorbell or roll-in shower.
2. Contrast is one of the most overlooked issues
When it comes to the technical details of your website, most ADA issues stem from problems faced by disabled people with vision impairment or blindness. According to the CDC, more than 20 million people in the United States have vision problems and 80 million Americans have potentially blinding eye diseases (and those numbers are on the rise).
One of the biggest issues hotel website audits commonly uncover is color contrast. For example, if you have white text over a yellow background, it won’t be a problem for the average traveler. But for someone with vision problems, they can’t see the difference between the two colors, making it unreadable. Changing the background color to black, for example, can improve the contrast ratio and ensure your design passes WCAG standards. Ensuring your website, from a design perspective, passes with varying contrast ratios, is critical.
3. Adapting your hotel website for screen readers
Outside of color contrast, there are a number of other technical factors that can impact accessibility. Many disabled people require the use of screen readers to read the text on a page, including images, or keyboard navigation to make their way around your website.
Having meta descriptions, alt attributes on images, and video transcripts all help disabled users who use screen readers. If someone can’t clearly see the images on your website, alt attributes allow screen readers to tell them what it is. If they can’t watch or hear the video, a transcript or closed captioning can help them digest the information without being able to see and/or hear it.
Outside of these details, it’s important to use simple font styling and colors. Playing with bolding or different colors can make it more difficult for disabled users to read.
4. Acknowledge your website’s accessibility status
Ensuring your hotel website is ADA compliant isn’t a one-time thing. After you build a website that passes accessibility standards or optimize your old website to get up to date, it’s important to audit the website on a regular basis to make sure it stays that way. Ongoing website additions and updates also means there is a chance your compliance status could change.
Forbes has three tips for hoteliers to stay ADA compliant in the digital space:
- Hire a professional audit firm
- Ensure your developers are comfortable working with WCAG 2.0
- Don’t forget about the booking engine
It doesn’t hurt to independently keep an eye on your ADA compliance with online tools available to you, but as Forbes notes, “Sure, it’s possible to audit your site independently, but ADA rules are exceedingly nuanced and difficult to identify.” While issues such as alt attributes and meta descriptions are easy to fix, some accessibility issues might take more work.
To show that your hotel takes accessibility seriously and is in line with guidelines, we recommend including an accessibility advice page in the footer of your website. This page makes a statement acknowledging your website meets the WCAG 2.0 guidelines and encourages people to let you know if they have any trouble.
At the end of the day, being ADA compliant is more than simply being safe from potential legal ramifications. As a hotel, it’s important to be accessible to all guests and offer a five-star experience from beginning to end, including on your website. Today, more than 61 million adults in the U.S. live with a disability, and it's critical to be there for them.