A Top Priority in 2018: 7 Steps to Achieve Hotel Website Accessibility and ADA Compliance – By Max Starkov

7 Steps to Achieve Hotel Website Accessibility and ADA Compliance

There are approximately 48.9 million Americans with some form of disability. People with disabilities spend over $17.3 billion annually on travel, and the economic impact is at least double that figure since many of them travel with at least one or two other adults (Open Doors Organization). The vast majority of them use the Internet to plan and book travel.

Background: 

There are approximately 48.9 million Americans with some form of disability. People with disabilities spend over $17.3 billion annually on travel, and the economic impact is at least double that figure since many of them travel with at least one or two other adults (Open Doors Organization). The vast majority of them use the Internet to plan and book travel. 

Many travel consumers with disabilities use desktops, tablets, smartphones and other devices to access the Internet with the help of assistive technologies, including text-to-speech screen readers, refreshable Braille displays, keyboard navigation, and captioning. Such technologies have been available and widely used for decades, and today’s hotel website must enable these assistive technologies to allow travel consumers with disabilities to get the information they need and complete a transaction on the hotel website. 

Over the past few years, a number of hotel companies—big and small—have been contacted by law firms with legal complaints and lawsuits related to the hotel website not conforming to the Americans with Disability Act (ADA) and various website accessibility guidelines. These law firms seek hefty compensations and claim they represent clients with disabilities who have not been able to use the hotel website to find information or complete a booking. Using simple free HTML scanners and validators that are highly inaccurate, these law firms can easily find examples of non-compliance on any hotel website. In fact, over 95% of all websites are in some form of non-compliance with website accessibility standards (Criterion508). 

To be clear, as of this moment, there is no binding law or technical standard in the United States defining website accessibility or requiring adherence to the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 (“WCAG 2.0”). Issued by the W3C’s Web Accessibility Initiative, WCAG 2.0 is a globally recognized, technology-neutral standard for web content. However, these guidelines do not carry the force of law in the United States. In fact, the Americans with Disability Act (ADA) does not even mention “Internet” or “website accessibility” and does not provide any concrete website accessibility legal requirements. 

There are two main legal justifications, though very vague and confusing, for the onslaught of legal demands and lawsuits:

The Department of Justice is currently developing regulations to provide specific guidance to the entities covered by the ADA, including website accessibility. Companies are encouraged to use the WCAG 2.0 level AA guidelines as a guide on how to become accessible until the DOJ defines the regulations.  

The situation is rather confusing and ripe for various interpretations and frivolous lawsuits. 

What Does HEBS Digital Recommend? 

In spite of the existing uncertainty and lack of clear mandate and guidelines for website accessibility, hoteliers should undertake all necessary steps to ensure that their websites are in all material respects accessible to and navigable by customers with disabilities, and substantially comply with the WCAG 2.0 AA principles. It is important hoteliers take these steps for the following reasons:

At the minimum, hoteliers must ensure that their websites are accessible to and navigable by customers with disabilities, and substantially comply with the WCAG 2.0 AA principles including:

THE ACTION PLAN: 7 Steps to Ensure Your Hotel Website Accessibility and ADA Compliance 

First, make sure your website vendor has undergone website accessibility training and certification and understands and complies with website accessibility and WCAG 2.0 guidelines. 

For example, here at HEBS Digital, we have followed, and continue to follow, best practices in website design and website accessibility for over 18 years now. All HEBS Digital web designers, UX experts, web developers, and software engineers have completed rigorous Criterion 508 website accessibility training and have been certified by Criterion 508 Solutions, Inc., which is the most comprehensive ADA compliance consulting, testing, and training solutions company in the U.S., and is used by many Fortune 500 companies. 

Second, make sure your property website is enabled to be read and navigated by screen readers, which are often used by consumers with a disability. Screen readers have been available and widely used for decades and today’s hotel website must enable these assistive technologies to allow travel consumers with disabilities to get the information they need and complete a transaction on the hotel website. 

The easiest way to test your website accessibility is to use JAWS screen reader software, which is the most widely used screen reader technology, and ensure that users can navigate through the website using only their keyboard (without the use of a mouse). You must also ensure that users can

Third, make sure your booking engine vendor complies with website accessibility and WCAG 2.0 guidelines. You can easily test your current booking engine accessibility by trying to complete a reservation without using a mouse—just the keyboard. 

Fourth, make sure all buttons and calls to action include text labels, since the lack of these may “hide” the function or purpose of these buttons or calls to action from the screen reader users. Form labels also provide visible descriptions and larger clickable targets for form controls. 

Fifth, make sure to provide text alternatives for non-text content: All images on the website must have alternative tags, and ALT Tags should be added any time a new image is uploaded to the website. 

Sixth, make sure all internal and external links on the site contain text descriptors since the lack of these may introduce confusion for keyboard and screen reader users. Empty links that contain no text prevent the function or purpose of the link from being presented to the user. 

Seventh, make sure your website addresses the Americans with Disability Act (ADA) compliance at the property, and

Conclusion: 

Though there is no binding law or technical standard defining website accessibility or requiring the hotel website to conform with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 (“WCAG 2.0”), hoteliers must take all necessary steps to ensure their websites are accessible to and navigable by customers with disabilities and comply with the WCAG 2.0 AA principles. This compliance will accommodate travelers with disabilities and fulfill government travel requirements, two very lucrative segments of the traveling public, and avoid expensive frivolous lawsuits.   Partner with a website vendor, trained and certified in website accessibility, to ensure your website complies with website accessibility and WCAG 2.0 guidelines. 

About the Author and HEBS Digital

Max Starkov is President & CEO of HEBS Digital. Founded in 2001, HEBS Digital is headquartered in New York City and has global offices in Las Vegas, Europe, and Asia Pacific. Through its Smart Guest Acquisition Suite, including the smartCMS®, Smart Personalization Engine, Smart Data Marketing, and full-stack digital consulting and marketing solutions, HEBS Digital helps hoteliers drastically boost direct bookings, lower distribution costs, and increase lifetime value of guests. 

Part of NextGuest Technologies, HEBS Digital and Serenata CRM, the most comprehensive Hotel CRM Suite today, are the creators of the hospitality industry’s first Fully-Integrated 360-Degree Guest Engagement & Acquisition Platform.

A diverse client portfolio of top-tier luxury and boutique hotel chains, independent hotels, resorts and casinos, franchised properties and hotel management companies, convention centers, spas, restaurants, DMO and tourist offices across the globe are all benefiting from HEBS Digital’s direct online channel strategy and digital marketing expertise.

HEBS Digital’s technology, website design and digital marketing services have won more than 500 prestigious industry awards, including World Travel Awards, HSMAI Platinum Adrian Awards, Stevie Awards (American Business Awards), Travel Weekly’s Magellan Awards, and more.

The HEBS Digital team is comprised of thought leaders, a diverse team of experts comprised of over 33 nationalities speaking over 22 languages. Contact HEBS Digital’s experts at 1 (800) 649-5076 (North America), +64 (0) 9 889 8489 (Asia Pacific) or success@hebsdigital.com.