by Nate Lane, Senior Director of Digital Platforms, Travel Tripper
There isn’t a single hotel owner or operator who wants to be found in breach of the Americans with Disabilities Act. But keeping track of all the regulations hoteliers must comply with can be a challenge.
The ADA’s Web Content Accessibility Guidelines were first published in 2008 and have been updated as of June 2018 to include recommendations for users with disabilities. As a result, providing an accessible website in accordance with the ADA is now a responsibility shared by all business owners. For this reason, we put together five of the most important accessibility concerns facing hoteliers today, and what you can do to avoid falling prey to a liability lawsuit.
1. PRESENT YOUR WEBSITE WITH ACCESSIBILITY IN MIND
In the past, ADA lawsuits could be filed by anyone privy to a business’ physical shortcomings, such as the lack of a wheelchair ramp in appropriate locations. Today, one does not need to be a guest of your hotel – or even set foot on property – to note any ADA breaches found on your hotel’s website. Targets of these lawsuits are related to either improper coding of a website or missing or misinterpreted content on the website, which can be difficult to keep track of as ADA compliance statutes change over time.
One way to manage future liability in this area is to institute a system that does not allow an image or video to be posted to your website without providing a caption. Your site’s color contrast is also important, with the industry standard defaulting to a 4.5:1 ratio between a website’s text and images compared to its background, though this is not always the case. Several tools exist online to help assess your website’s color contrast, such as Colorable.1
Lastly, users should be able to navigate your website using only their keyboard or a screen reader. While many websites have already been made compatible with screen readers, mobile devices, and tablets, it is also advisable to design with keyboard-only users in mind. We suggest fewer pop-ups, if possible, a reduced emphasis on visual motion, and foregoing flashing images.
2. STREAMLINE USABILITY
The early internet was constructed on the “three-click rule,” a doctrine of web design suggesting users should be able to find what they need in three mouse clicks or fewer. This rule’s usefulness for creating a user experience that would drive online purchases remains open to debate, but it presents an effective mentality when designing for accessibility.
Many users are unable to use a mouse when visiting your site, or find the act of locating information online to be cumbersome. It is a business’ responsibility to create a browsing and booking experience where the information architecture is clear and straightforward, and users are required to make the minimal number of necessary actions to find what they are looking for.
In order to provide an effective guest experience, as well as an accessible one, optimize your website for all platforms (desktops, tablets, phones, and screen readers). Also, consider any possible input errors a user may encounter and either provide redirects or suggestions should users encounter a dead end while browsing.
3. ENSURE INFORMATION IS IN THE RIGHT PLACE
Guests visiting your website are most likely there to learn about a specific property and book a room, and hotel companies have already made a concerted effort to place that information front and center. The same should be true of accessibility information.
Do your rooms offer zero-depth showers? Where are your fire alarms and exits located? What communication features are found in your guestrooms? Where are the accessible rooms located on property in relation to the lobby and other amenities? This information should be easy for guests to find, and it should be as thorough as possible.
Hoteliers should strive for truth in transparency in this area. It is always better to make this information available rather than try to hide it, because in your hotel’s worst-case scenario a guest arrives on property who you are not equipped to accommodate.
4. SEGMENT ACCESSIBLE ROOMS INTO CATEGORIES AND TYPES
One of the greatest mistakes hotels make when accommodating the needs of travelers with disabilities is creating a single “accessible” room type without providing specific information about what is included in such a room. Many hotels prompt interested guests to contact the property to get this information, and, in some cases, this is the only way to reliably book a room with accessible features. This practice violates the core of the ADA, which stipulates that guests with disabilities must be able to book a room though all of the same channels, and in the same way, as other guests.
To maintain compliance, guestroom segments can be made more specific on your website. For example, if you have a block of single king rooms with full tubs and another block with zero-depth showers, to avoid ADA compliance concerns, it is advisable to group them separately. It also will create a better guest experience, and differentiate your property from others who fail to provide important guestroom information.
5. TAKE ACTION NOW
You may think your property is safe from ADA lawsuits, and, in the past, lawsuits were much more prevalent in major metropolitan destinations and larger properties. In reality, the number of ADA lawsuits filed between 2017 and 2018 has nearly tripled and any hotel is at risk, regardless of location or size. Because ADA legislation continues to have a gray area when it comes to legal interpretation, these lawsuits are unlikely to stop. The only way to protect your business is to adapt and to be proactive about compliance.
We also urge hoteliers not to shift blame to their brands – or even travelers – during this process. Travelers with disabilities have just as much a right to online information as everyone else, and while brands will update their own websites, it is up to you to control the face of your business online. Every property is at risk, even those built before 1991 when the ADA was first signed. Providing accessibility is a responsibility shared by the entire hospitality industry.
Nate Lane oversees the Digital Platforms and Digital Agency groups within Travel Tripper. The Digital Agency services more than 200 retained global hotel clients across multiple direct marketing channels, including websites, SEO, email marketing, content marketing, blogging, copywriting, reporting, analytics, tracking, and other special projects. The Digital Platforms group supports the efforts of the Digital Agency through the development of innovative SaaS website and direct booking solutions for hotels. This includes ADA compliance auditing and monitoring services for hotel websites to achieve and maintain WCAG AA-level standards.
THE CONTENT OF THIS ARTICLE IS NOT ALL INCLUSIVE OF OTHER OSHA-MANDATED PROGRAMS. THE DISCUSSED PROGRAMS ARE CRUCIAL POINTS ONLY AND NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE FULL COMPLIANCE FOR ANY OSHA PROGRAMS