The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was passed by Congress in 1990 to prevent discrimination against people with disabilities as employees and recipients of services. Now, the public and legal focus on the ADA has been revived in the digital age. In the past year, there has been a surge in complaints and lawsuits against healthcare providers and businesses across a range of industries because their websites are not accessible to people with disabilities.
Healthcare providers are well acquainted with taking measures for HIPAA compliance, but now ADA compliance has come to the forefront as well. For a healthcare organization, a website that isn’t ADA compliant is both a legal risk and a lost opportunity to recruit or retain patients with disabilities.
Providers Have Seen This Before: How is the ADA like HIPAA?
To a healthcare professional looking at the policy profile of the ADA, it becomes apparent that it’s similar to the Health Insurance Accountability and Portability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) in several ways. Both are old laws, but today, important questions have come up about their relevance on the web. Neither law’s digital applicability has been allotted clear federal guidance, and there is still an absence of federal auditing. Yet for both laws, failure to comply can have serious legal repercussions for a healthcare organization.
Like with HIPAA, when we read about the ADA we become concerned about lawsuits. While the risk of a lawsuit can still feel like a long shot, patient complaints are already a very real issue. Most patients have become well educated on the basics of HIPAA law and can be aggressive in making their complaints heard. Patients with disabilities are usually aware of the ADA and its regulations. They can quickly escalate their complaints about a healthcare organization and petition for remediation, getting important advocacy groups involved. Healthcare organizations need to ask themselves: How would we react to a complaint about the accessibility of our website? How could we be proactive with ADA compliance?
Why the Rise in ADA Lawsuits for Websites?
Title III of the ADA prohibits private entities of all sizes who provide services to the public, like healthcare providers, from discriminating against individuals with disabilities. This used to focus on physical measures — like wheelchair accessibility and signs with Braille lettering — but recent lawsuits have pointed to discrimination in the digital environment. Consumers are suing businesses and healthcare practices because their websites are not accessible to people with disabilities.
There were 814 website accessibility lawsuits filed in 2017, and well over 1,000 in 2018 so far. A healthcare provider’s website may offer current and prospective patients a variety of services, like opportunities to learn about the healthcare organization itself, access health education materials, inquire about treatment, schedule appointments, and others. But the problem is that many people with disabilities — including blindness, deafness, nearsightedness, limited movement, and cognitive impairments — can’t take advantage of these features. For a healthcare organization, not only does this mean failing to cater to a large proportion of prospective patients, but can also result in losses incurred in responding to complaints and legal action.
How are Healthcare Providers Failing to Comply?
The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), an organization that has compiled a set of best practices for website accessibility, stipulates over 70 specific ways that a website should be accessible to individuals with disabilities. What are some examples of ways that healthcare organization websites are falling short?
Not Navigable with Assistive Technologies
Have you tried using screen reader technology to navigate around your healthcare organization’s website? Assistive technologies are the only way that people who are severely vision impaired can access content and applications online. Accessibility with a screen reader depends on a variety of attributes: properly tagged headings and sections, images and formats that do not distract the screen reader from the content, a clear navigational structure, and others. Many healthcare websites don’t measure up on these parameters. Furthermore, a main navigation that is not logical or buttons that are not intuitively labeled are also problems for users with learning disabilities, who are navigating your site without assistive technology.
Multimedia Content Not Universally Accessible
Multimedia content is a major trend for healthcare provider websites. It’s a popular feature that makes a healthcare organization competitive by allowing prospective patients to get to know your practice before walking in the door, hear testimonials, meet your doctors, and interact with educational content. However, people who are blind or deaf miss out on multimedia content if appropriate measures aren’t in place. On many sites text alternatives are not provided for video-only content, audio-only content, or video with audio.
Not Adaptable for a Range of Disabilities
Because the ADA encompasses a range of disabilities and degrees of disability, a website should allow the user to alter the appearance of content for ease of access. This means being able to take actions like changing the background color if it’s too similar to the text color, resizing the text, increasing the line spacing, pausing and restarting audio that is too fast to follow, and turning off background music. Unfortunately, the websites of many healthcare organizations are designed in a rigid way that can only be used to their full potential by fully abled individuals.
Ensuring Website Accessibility
For healthcare organizations, the current rise in website accessibility lawsuits is concurrent with the continuing trend of an aging patient population. An increasing proportion of patients are seniors who often have age-related disabilities. With any digital product, it is only logical for a healthcare organization to ensure ADA compliance to cater to the needs of aging patients while reducing the risk of ADA digital accessibility lawsuits filed by current and prospective patients.
Medical Web Experts offers healthcare providers ADA compliance audit services and custom development packages to improve your website code and content for full ADA compliance. We are also industry-leading experts in custom web development and design. Contact us today to speak about improving or developing your ADA compliant healthcare website.