Healthcare providers can face legal ramifications if their websites fail to consider the needs of those with disabilities, but the reasons for developing an accessible website go far beyond adhering to government regulations and represent the rare opportunity for businesses to align moral obligations with their financial bottom line.
During a June 26 webinar hosted by Becker’s Hospital Review and sponsored by Scorpion Healthcare, Brian Q. Davis, senior vice president at Scorpion Healthcare, outlined how hospitals and health systems can bring their websites into alignment with web accessibility guidelines while also furthering their broader business and marketing goals.
Mr. Davis outlined how regulators have applied the ADA to internet accessibility in recent years. In this regulatory environment, Mr. Davis said predatory lawyers have targeted companies with non-conforming websites and threatened legal action as a means of yielding a quick settlement. However, developing a website compliant with ADA expectations is not just a good way for businesses to avoid frivolous lawsuits and fulfill legal obligations. Mr. Davis argued businesses have a moral imperative to provide equal access to their websites for all citizens.
“People with disabilities, the one thing they want to feel is independent. They don’t want to feel like a burden to other folks and that experience with the web can often create that emotion for them,” Mr. Davis said. “So, having a website that meets their needs is less about the laws and getting sued and more about our obligation help the entire population. It’s the right thing to do, end of story.”
Four pillars and eight best practices
During the webinar, Mr. Davis outlined the four essential pillars of websites that meet Web Content Accessibility Guidelines.
The key pillars follow the acronym “P.O.U.R”
1. A perceivable website ensures content is easily recognizable, visible and understandable for all users. A key to a perceivable website for visually impaired individuals is a text alternative for all non-text content.
“It’s not only good because it helps those that are using assistive technology to access the website but there are elements of this process that benefit your site a search engine optimization perspective,” Mr. Davis said.
2. An operable website is keyboard accessible, allows the user enough time to read the content and limits the number of links per page. These features are not only helpful for users with disabilities, but also are fundamental principles of good web design.
3. Understandable websites present information in a way that is easy to navigate and comprehend.
4. The website structure must be robust and compatible with current and future assistive technologies. The websites code should not contain duplicate attributes and should be as clean as possible with respect to the way they are coded and architected.
Mr. Davis also outlined eight best practices for web design that can not only help achieve compliance goals but also curate a better experience for all consumers.
- Video captions are necessary for hard of hearing consumers and are also a convenient option for people who want to watch videos in loud places.
- Colors with good contrast make reading easier for those with limited sight but also improves readability for all consumers
- Voice recognition technology benefits those with physical limitations, whether they are temporarily or permanently disabled, and is also a convenient feature many consumers have grown to expect.
- Text to speech technology is not only necessary for those who are blind but also helps multi-taskers and provides search engine optimization benefits.
- Clear layout and design eliminates difficult navigation for disabled users while also creating an easy user experience for people who may not be confident around computers.
- Large links, buttons and controls make it easier to navigate for those with limited dexterity while also making it easier for users accessing the site from mobile devices.
- Understandable content cuts down on difficulties for users with cognitive issues and learning disabilities while also making it easier for non-native speakers to understand content.
- Keyboard compatibility is a necessity for those with physical limitations and is more convenient for people who prefer not to use a mouse.
Make accessibility a part of your business model
If hospitals and health systems demonstrate a good faith effort to identify and correct accessibility issues, they may be able to avoid penalty when those issues are first reported. One way to demonstrate that intent is by deploying a website accessibility statement. These statements help describe policy and goals while providing a channel for disabled visitors to get assistance and report any problems.
While companies can utilize web analysis tools to help scan their sites for accessibility issues, investing in managed services and technology supports best practices while freeing up staff and preserving valuable resources.
“Start to look to invest in technology and services that allow delivering accessibility to be part of your business model without creating additional overhead and huge amounts of expense long-term,” said Mr. Davis.