How and Why to Make Your Practice’s Website ADA-Accessible
A headline-grabbing lawsuit against Domino’s has many healthcare practice owners wondering if their websites are accessible to patients with disabilities— and what to do if they’re not.
(Updated July 15, 2022.)
Perhaps you’ve never considered whether your website is user-friendly for someone with, say, a visual impairment. However, a lawsuit against Domino’s Pizza captured headlines and raised awareness when the U.S. Supreme Court cleared the way for people with disabilities to sue businesses over website accessibility issues.
The ADA and Websites
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was enacted in 1990, before most people had even heard of the internet. But while it didn’t specifically articulate website accessibility standards, courts have since inferred it to contain such mandates.
In March of 2022, the Department of Justice issued guidelines on web accessibility. In it, the department explicitly takes the position that “the ADA’s requirements apply to all the goods, services, privileges, or activities offered by public accommodations, including those offered on the web.” The guidance specifically identifies medical offices as a type of business that is open to the public and, therefore, must take steps to communicate effectively online with people who have disabilities.
As the Domino’s case shows, practice owners should take the threat of ADA litigation seriously. Indeed, thousands of plaintiffs file suit each year, and many of them win.
Your website is a great way to market your practice and differentiate yourself from others. Before meeting you, many prospective patients visit your website to learn about you and your services. But often, healthcare professionals erroneously assume that everyone sees and experiences their website as they do. By overcoming that assumption, you can craft a more accessible website. Below, we address a few common web accessibility issues and possible remedies.
Problem: Multimedia Images and Videos
Many people who are blind, visually impaired, illiterate, or intellectually disabled navigate the internet using software programs and various technology aides. A commonly used device is a screen reader, which speaks aloud the text displayed on a computer screen. This device, and others like it, are useful only with written text. Screen readers do not work with other media like images and videos.
Solution: Detailed Captions or Alt-Text
We realize that in many cases, it’s essential for your practice to post photos and videos on your site. A simple fix to this problem is to include captions detailed enough to express the same information that other users would discern by looking at the image or video. This will enable users with visual disabilities to get the same experience from your website.
At a minimum, consider describing any images in the alternative text or “alt text” of your website. The alternative text appears onscreen only when images fail to render. Thus, the typical user will not see this description. However, most screen readers will read the alt text aloud.
Problem: Special Colors and Fonts
While special colors and fonts can add pizazz to your website, they could pose problems for some users. Many people with low vision, farsightedness, or colorblindness do not see your web pages the same way you do. Certain color combinations can be hard to decipher. Some font styles and sizes can become unreadable. As a result, some users require high-contrast settings like bolded black text in a simple font on a stark white background. Others need the opposite, a white bolded font on a black background.
Solution: Allow Users to Adjust the Settings
Many websites allow users to manipulate the color and font settings, making the site more accessible. By installing this feature, your business gets to keep its favorite fonts and color scheme while still allowing users with visual impairments to enlarge the text, increase the contrast, or change other settings to make your site more readable to them.
Problem: Inaccessible Document Formats
Many healthcare practices post patient documents such as intake forms, consent forms, or home-program guidance in PDF format. Indeed, PDFs serve many practical uses and are a great way to deliver documents to many patients. Unfortunately, all visitors cannot access them. PDFs and other image-style formats for documents don’t work with screen readers and don’t allow users to change color contrasts and font settings.
Solution: Add Additional Document Formats
In addition to having PDF forms on your website, you should also have additional document format options available, such as plain text-based documents. Text-based documents are ideal for users who employ aides like screen readers. They also allow for the manipulation of font and contrast settings.
Along with your downloadable forms, you should make it possible to request the forms in other formats. For example, you could provide the option to complete intake forms in person at the first visit, potentially with the assistance of a staff member.
What happens if you don’t comply with the ADA?
A disabled individual may find it impossible to use your services because of your website’s inaccessibility. Healthcare providers typically think of this as the worst-case scenario.
But your failure to create an ADA-compliant website could also and you in legal trouble. In Illinois, the Attorney General’s Disability Rights Bureau enforces state and federal disability laws, which include the ADA and the Illinois Human Rights Act (ILCS 775 ILCS 5/1-101). An aggrieved website visitor can file a complaint with the DRB quickly and easily using an online form. You might also find yourself served with a lawsuit in federal or state court, and if found to be non-compliant, you could be on the hook for your attorney’s bills, the aggrieved party’s legal bills, plus additional “compensatory” damages (in other words, money that compensates the wronged party for your wrongdoing).
Get Legal Support
You can make important strides towards ADA compliance by modifying your downloadable forms and adjusting the settings of your website.
However, we also recommend creating a practice policy for addressing the specific needs of your disabled patients and articulating your compliance with all applicable anti-discrimination laws. This can help demonstrate your practice’s efforts towards accessibility if you were investigated by the DRB or sued. More importantly, it helps ensure that you serve your disabled patients as effectively as your non-disabled patients.
An experienced healthcare lawyer can help you develop legally compliant policies for practice accessibility and other crucial federal requirements. If you operate in one of the states where we are located, reach out to us for a free consultation. We can discuss your needs and determine if we’re a good fit.
This blog is made for educational purposes and is not intended to be specific legal advice to any particular person. It does not create an attorney-client relationship between our firm and the reader. It should not be used as a substitute for competent legal advice from a licensed attorney in your jurisdiction.