Is your hotel website ADA Compliant? Here’s why it’s important

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When the Americans with Disabilities Act came into effect in 1990, few industries were more affected than the hospitality industry. All public accommodation is henceforth required to ensure “the full and equal enjoyment of [its] goods, services, privileges, benefits or amenities ”to persons with disabilities. In other words, it was no longer just good business practice to make your hotel rooms and suites accessible to people with reduced mobility; it has become required by law.

Over 25 years later, history is about to repeat itself, this time with websites. Online web pages are not physical public spaces per se, but they are still places of business. As such, many have argued that they should also be suitable for customers who, for example, cannot see or hear. It is not yet in the law, but the keyword is Again: Dozens of leading brands and institutions have been the subject of high profile lawsuits in recent years, including Fordham University, Foot Locker, Brooks Brothers and many more, and it’s only it is a matter of time before hotels are legally required to comply. In fact, the US Department of Justice has announced plans to implement ADA regulations, many of which are expected in 2018.

That being said, if you’re a hotelier who hasn’t made your website ADA Compliant yet, what are the most important things to keep in mind?

First, ADA compliance is measured using a global technical standard known as Web Content Accessibility Guide 2.0 (WCAG 2.0), which describes 12 guidelines across four categories: Perceptible, Actionable, Understandable and robust. Having personally experienced the intricacies of these categories while optimizing websites for my agency’s clients, I won’t go into great detail about each. But each can be summarized as follows:

Perceptible: The website cannot be completely invisible to a user’s senses. Think about it: providing text alternatives to any non-text content (i.e. large text, braille, sign language, etc.) and providing alternatives to time-based media.

Operable: The website must be compatible with the browsing mode of a user on a website. Examples include making sure your site can be used with a keyboard, allowing users to pause certain sections if they need more time, or making sure pages are clearly labeled so that users can know where they are located on the website.

Understandable: The website should have logical language and functionality. Users must be able to decipher any information, and pages must operate in a predictable and consistent manner.

Robust: The content and code of a website must be compatible with a wide range of assistive technologies, such as alternative keyboards, text-to-speech software, and screen magnifiers.

“Compliant” hotels fall into one of three categories: A, AA and AAA. A is the bare minimum and is usually not enough (especially if you were to be sued). AA is okay, but given the important regulations involved, I recommend optimizing AAA from the start and avoiding any complications later. Here are three tips to help your hotel achieve this:

1. Hire a professional auditing firm.

The best way to ensure your site’s ADA compliance is to hire a professional auditing firm that knows the ins and outs of WCAG 2.0. Of course, it is possible to audit your site independently, but the ADA rules are extremely nuanced and difficult to identify. An experienced audit firm is by no means cheap, but in my opinion, it’s well worth the peace of mind – and ensures protection against pending lawsuits and future regulations.

2. Make sure your developers are comfortable with WCAG 2.0.

Before assigning the audit firm’s recommendations to your development team, make sure your developers are comfortable with WCAG 2.0. Keep in mind that this is also a foreign language for them, and there is a good chance that it will be different from the vast majority of the work they have done in the past. Save time and money by choosing developers who have previous experience with ADA and know exactly what works and what doesn’t.

3. Don’t forget the booking engine.

Of all the features available through my agency’s personalized booking engine, ADA compliance is arguably the most important. Too often hotels forget that besides the website itself, the reservation process must also accommodate people with disabilities. These days, ADA compliance begins the second a user enters your site, continues throughout their reservation experience, and peaks when they check in to their physical hotel room.

Ultimately, while ADA is far from the most exciting item in your 2018 budget, I think it could very well be the most important. Don’t think about the costs associated with ADA optimization of your site; think about the penalties and regulations you could face if your site remains non-compliant. The bottom line is that this is an essential feature of a modern hotel site and well worth the investment. Act now before it’s too late.


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