The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) became law in 1990. The ADA is a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in all areas of public life, including jobs, schools, transportation, and all public and private places that are open to the general public.
Any business that is considered a "place of public accommodation" is required to provide equal access to services under the nondiscrimination requirements of Title III of the ADA. This includes hotels, entertainment venues, legal and accounting firms, and retail stores.
The Department of Justice (DOJ) has specifically stated that websites should be designed so they are accessible to disabled individuals, including those who have vision, hearing, and physical disabilities. Numerous courts have issued similar rulings.
In the absence of DOJ regulations or other legal standards that provide express specifications required for website accessibility, a set of technical standards has been created by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) called the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines. The latest version, WCAG 2.1, is the standard presently applied by many website owners and operators. WCAG 2.0 & 2.1 has also been favorably cited by the DOJ in various contexts.
The WCAG 2.0 & 2.1 Success Criteria are categorized according to three levels providing successively greater degrees of accessibility – A, AA and AAA. There is no black and white legal guideline for determining whether Level A, AA, or AAA should be applied to a particular website. Level A is a relatively low bar, though rarely sufficient alone to achieve full accessibility, and level AAA is an "ideal world" standard that few companies are able to reach. Level AA is what many companies target.
Recommendations for all websites to promote accessibility:
- Minimize errors: Build websites with as few WCAG 2.1 level A & AA issues/errors as possible.
- Ability to use a screen reader: Booking can be made utilizing a screen reader for visually impaired guests.
- Ability to navigate with a keyboard: All pages and features of your website can be navigated and accessed using a keyboard/arrows only, without using a mouse
- Closed captions: All videos should include closed captions for the hearing impaired.
- Accessibility Statement: Maintain an Accessibility statement on the website.
- Hotel accessibility features: The hotel’s physical accessibility assets are described on the website (g.: accessible rooms, accessible room features, ramps, etc.). These descriptions should include specific accessibility features of common areas, and of specific accessible rooms.
- Bookable accessible rooms: Accessible rooms are bookable online via the website.
- Ongoing training: Regularly train any team members to edit content on accessibility best practices.
- Ongoing audits: Periodically audit the site for WCAG 2.1 level A & AA issues using an automated tool, although be aware that automated tools, while helpful, will not catch all accessibility issues. Testing should also involve “live user” testing to catch accessibility errors.
- Log of audits and remediation: Maintain a log of the last audit performed and progress being made to remedy issues identified.
- Documentation: Document the above which can be used to demonstrate the Accessibility Program should questions arise.
- Accessible third-party tools: Require third-party vendors such as any loyalty program or payment facilitator to provide accessible tools that conform to the WCAG 2.1AA Guidelines.
- Colors: Colors should serve as an enhancement and not the sole way you convey any type of meaning or information. All content should have sufficient color contrast (minimum of 4.5:1 for text and images of text; 3:1 for graphics and user interface components)
- Forms: Helper text should be above the field as a label. Display inline error messages within the form. Highlight fields that a user skipped or where they entered information incorrectly.
- Images: All images should have sufficient, meaningful alt text.
- Videos: All videos should include closed captions. There should always be a way to replay, pause, or stop any video or animation.
- Content Markup: Ensure proper markup to guide users through the website in the correct order. There should only be one descriptive and informative <h1> per page.
- Keyboard Navigation: Each navigational item should have a focus indicator that highlights each element as you tab through the website with a keyboard. Links should have color and design variation for the activation state.
- Hover & Click States: Design hover and click states with enough contrast to be noticeable.
- Buttons & Hyperlinks: All buttons and hyperlinks should be descriptive and not open-ended.
- Consistent Navigation: Throughout the website, navigation labels, styles, and positions should be consistent. Include breadcrumbs for easier navigation.
Implementing the above items will further hotels’ efforts to provide a consistent website experience to all guests. This list is intended to cover what Cendyn sees as important issues and best practices. However, each hotel should consult with their own attorney.
This is intended as a general guide only. It is not legal advice for hotels, and it is not a legal statement binding Cendyn. Based on our experience, we believe carefully following these steps can reduce the risk of getting sued for an alleged ADA website violation. Unfortunately, due to the lack of guidance in the ADA and from the courts, there can be no guarantees in this area.