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.

Until recently, it’s likely that you never considered whether your website is user-friendly for someone with, say, a visual impairment. A lawsuit against Domino’s Pizza, however, 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 Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was enacted in 1990, before the internet’s usage was as ubiquitous as it is today.  So while it didn’t specifically articulate website accessibility standards, courts have since inferred it to contain such mandates. For this reason, providers should follow the ADA guidelines applicable to all public accommodations.

The Department of Justice has recently considered changes to the ADA’s implementing regulations which would explicitly require businesses to ensure their websites’ accessibility, but those have stalled, per President Trump’s executive order to reduce federal regulation.  But as the Domino’s case shows, the absence of federal regulations doesn’t insulate practice owners from ADA litigation. Indeed, thousands of plaintiffs file suit each year, and many of them win.

Your website is a great way to market your practice and distinguish you from others. Before meeting you, many prospective patients use your website to learn about who you are and the services you provide. But even many healthcare providers erroneously assume that everyone sees and experiences their site in the same way. The key to crafting an accessible website design is overcoming that assumption.

Since your website is a cornerstone of your business, it needs to be accessible to all – a relatively easy task.  Below, we address a few common website problems and explain our proposed remedies.

Problem: Multimedia Pictures 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. They do not work with other media platforms like pictures and videos.

Solution: Detailed Captions

We realize that in many cases, it’s essential for your practice to have pictures and videos to give prospective patients insight into your practice’s personality.  A simple fix to this problem is to include captions for every picture and video used throughout your site. These captions should be 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.

Problem: Special Colors and Fonts

While it can be appealing to use special colors and fonts on your website, it could pose a problem to some users. Many people with eyesight disabilities like low vision, farsightedness, or colorblindness do not see your webpage the same way you do. Certain color combinations can be hard to decipher, and font styles and sizes can become unreadable. As a result, some website viewers 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 the Option to Manipulate

It can seem impossible to comply in a way that makes your site usable to everyone, but the solution is simple. Many website platforms make it easy for you to allow viewers to manipulate the color and font settings, making the site more accessible to read. By installing this feature, your business gets to keep its favorite fonts and color scheme while still allowing users with various visual impairments to change the settings until your website becomes accessible to them.

Problem: Inaccessible Document Formats

Many practices have patient documents on their websites in PDF format – including intake forms, consent forms, or home-program guidance. Indeed, PDFs serve many practical uses and are a great way to reach many patients, but not all visitors are able to 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 viewers using aides like screen readers, and they also allow for the manipulation of font and contrast settings. You might also consider including text on the webpage where the forms are available for download, explaining that you’re willing to provide the forms in a variety of formats upon request to accommodate visitors’ disabilities.  For the intake and consent forms specifically, you might offer to complete them with the patient at his first visit.

So… what happens if I don’t comply?

Most importantly, a disabled individual may find it impossible to access your services because of your website’s inaccessibility. For healthcare providers, this is typically seen as the worst-case scenario.

Additionally, your failure to create an ADA-compliant website could land you in hot legal water. In Illinois, the Attorney General’s Disability Rights Bureau enforces state and federal disability laws, which includes 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 noncompliant, you could be on the hook for your attorney’s bills, the aggrieved party’s legal bills, plus additional “compensatory” damages (legal speak for money that compensates the wronged party for your wrongdoing).

Okay, I’m ready to do this!

Luckily, ADA compliance isn’t typically too challenging. You can implement most of these changes yourself by modifying the format of your downloadable forms, or by tinkering with the settings of your website. 

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 that your practice is accessible if you were investigated by the DRB or sued, and it also ensures that disabled patients are served as effectively as your non-disabled patients.

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