In 1990, when the Americans with Disabilities Act came into existence, it marked a turning point for civil liberties and prohibiting discrimination or inaccessibility for persons with disabilities. However, this step forward meant that many public and private institutions would have to implement changes, and hotels specifically were dramatically affected. All places of public accommodation were required to provide people with disabilities with “full and equal enjoyment of goods, services, privileges, advantages or accommodations.” In other words, making your hotel’s rooms, grounds and amenities accessible to disabled guests was now required by law.
While it was indeed a hit to operations budgets at the time, hotels have made great strides in the last thirty years. Accessible rooms and amenities are now easily booked, whether through a reservations agents or booking online.
Today, online web sites are now in the hot seat. Even though accessible rooms are now readily available, the government wants to make sure that anyone, regardless of ability, can easily access and navigate all hotel websites. While the regulations aren’t yet written into law, dozens of high-profile brands and institutions have been hit with sizable lawsuits in recent years around accessibility, and the US Department of Justice is planning to implement ADA regulations.
As hotels begin to prepare for laws to take hold, here’s what you need to know: ADA compliance is measured through a worldwide technical standard, Web Content Accessibility Guide 2.0 (WCAG 2.0), which outlines 12 guidelines in four categories: perceivable, operable, understandable and robust.
Perceivable: The website can’t be completely invisible to a user’s senses. Think: providing text alternatives (i.e., zoom functionality, compatibility with screen readers, alternative text, etc.) to non-text content such as on an image-heavy website.
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 individual sections if they need more time and 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 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.
Hotels looking to become compliant should start preparing. Professional audit firms exist that can help your developers (or web agency) meet the needs of WCAG 2.0. There are also websites that can crawl your site for compliance and highlight issues. Here are the key things you want to look for to ensure you’re designing for everyone.
- Visual media should have a text-based analog. Images should have “alt” text describing the content. This is already a best practice you should be following. Videos also need descriptive text, such as closed captioning.
- Documents should be available in HTML text-based formats. People with visual impairments use screen readers to describe images, so important documents should not be posted as either images or unreadable PDFs. Are your Spa and Restaurant menus in PDF? It might be time to change that.
- There should be components that rely solely on sight or hearing. Websites shouldn’t rely upon the customer having to read an image or listen to an audio file to get information or navigate the site.
- Text should have minimal formatting. Not everyone who is visually impaired is fully blind. Think of your older clients, many of them use high-contrast or zoom features on their mobile devices. It’s always better to stick to a large, standard font with black text on white. Web safe fonts are a great way to start.
- Audio signals should also be displayed visually. Individuals who are hard of hearing may not realize that there is an error if the only prompt is an audio signal. Any prompts should also be represented visually by an alert.
Focusing on creating ADA-compliant websites isn’t just something you have to do: It’s something you should want to do. Providing exceptional service to all your guests, regardless of age or abilities and wherever they are on their travel journey, should be a goal for any hotelier.