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Is Your Hotel Website ADA Compliant? Here's Why it Matters

December 19, 2017

When the Americans with Disabilities Act first came into existence in 1990, few industries were affected more than the hotel industry. Any place of public accommodation was now required to provide “full and equal enjoyment of [its] goods, services, privileges, advantages or accommodations” to people with disabilities. In other words, it was no longer just good business practice to make your hotel’s rooms and suites accessible to disabled guests; it became required by law.

More than 25 years later, history is about to repeat itself — this time with websites. Online web pages aren’t brick-and-mortar public spaces per se, but they are still places of business. As such, many have argued that they also need to be tailored to guests who, for instance, can’t see or hear. It’s not written into law quite yet, but the keyword is yet: Dozens of high-profile brands and institutions have been hit with sizable lawsuits in recent years, including Fordham University, Foot Locker, Brooks Brothers and more, and it’s only a matter of time before hotels are legally required to comply. In fact, the U.S. Department of Justice has announced plans to implement ADA regulations, many of which are expected in 2018.

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

First off, ADA compliance is measured through a worldwide technical standard known as Web Content Accessibility Guide 2.0 (WCAG 2.0), which outlines 12 guidelines through four categories: perceivable, operable, understandable and robust. Having personally experienced the complexities of these categories while optimizing websites for my agency’s clients, I won’t go into the minute details of each. But each can be summarized as follows:

Perceivable: The website can’t be completely invisible to a user's senses. Think: 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 a user’s method for browsing a website. Examples include making sure your site can be operated with a keyboard, allowing users to pause certain sections if they need more time or ensuring pages are clearly labeled so that users can keep track of where they are on the website.

Understandable: The website must feature logical language and functionality. Users should be able to decipher any information and pages should operate predictably and consistently.

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

“Compliant” hotels fall within one of three classifications: A, AA and AAA. A is the bare minimum and generally doesn’t cut it (especially if you were to be sued). AA is acceptable, but considering the significant settlements at stake, I recommend optimizing for AAA upfront and avoiding any complications later. Here are three tips to help your hotel do just that:

1. Hire a professional audit firm.

The best way to guarantee your site’s ADA compliance is to hire a professional audit firm that knows the ins and outs of WCAG 2.0. Sure, it’s possible to audit your site independently, but ADA rules are exceedingly 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 guarantees protection from both current lawsuits and future regulations.

2. Ensure your developers are comfortable working with WCAG 2.0.

Before you assign the audit firm’s recommendations to your development team, make sure your developers are comfortable working with WCAG 2.0. Remember, this is a foreign language to them as well, and chances are it’s unlike the vast majority of work they’ve done in the past. Save yourself both 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 about the booking engine.

Of all the features available through my agency’s custom booking engine, ADA compliance is arguably the most important. All too often, hotels forget that, besides the website itself, the reservation process also needs to accommodate disabled users. In today’s day and age, ADA compliance begins the second a user enters your site, continues through their booking experience and culminates as they check in to their brick-and-mortar hotel room.

At the end of the day, while ADA is far from the most exciting item on your 2018 budget, I argue it could very well be the most important. Don’t think of the costs associated with ADA-optimizing your site; think of the penalties and settlements you could face should your site remain non-compliant. The bottom line is, it’s a critical feature of a modern-day hotel site and well worth the investment. Act now before it’s too late.

Source: Forbes