President George H.W. Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Act or ADA in July 1990. The law forbids discrimination against people with different forms of disabilities and provides equal opportunities and access that covers all aspects of life.
But ADA did not specifically cover online accommodations because the law was created before the widespread use of the internet. Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) emerged to provide guidance, relating solely to providing online accessibility, as an accumulation of case law asserts that it is a business’s obligation to include website accessibility.
In 2021, more than 2,895 ADA website accessibility-related lawsuits were filed in federal court, an increase of 14% over 2020. New York, Florida and California are the busiest states. Major real estate brokerages have been sued, as have individual real estate agents. While some cases have been dismissed, these lawsuits generate negative publicity and take significant legal resources to defend.
Individuals with disabilities are suing to gain access to information online that a non-accessible site can give them. For example, blind or other visually impaired people use screen reading software to describe pictures. But if the website doesn’t have “alt-text” for every image, the user won’t know what the photo is. One lawsuit noted the plaintiff could not find the hours of operations on the brokerage’s website, and that prevented them from visiting their physical offices.
Making sure your website meets ADA requirements can do more than protect you from potential liability. An ADA accessible website also offers agents and brokerages market advantages that we detailed in the past (“Why Making Your Website ADA Compliant Is a Double Win“).
With one in four American adults living with a disability, providing website access is smart business. As a group, they spend $15 billion online annually. Avoiding penalties that can run in the tens of thousands of dollars is another huge benefit when websites are ADA accessible.
The good news is there is plenty of online help to guide agents, brokers, and the folks they contract with for their website technology to become ADA accessible.
Online tools AccessiBe and Monsido offer a free analysis of your website’s ADA compliance, breaking down the areas where you are accessible and providing a list of areas that need improvement to become accessible.
Staying up to date is also important because as recently as March, the Department of Justice provided additional guidance on website accessibility.
Fortunately, because ADA compliance for websites can be confusing, even for the most tech-savvy real estate agents, the National Association of Realtors created a short video for members:
The NAR recommends that members should identify and address accessibility deficiencies on their websites.
Other tools available online that can help include ADA website compliance checklists. While these are not intended to be legal advice or guidance – always consult a professional for these services – these lists can help you better understand what is required for a website to achieve ADA compliance.
Here are summary checklists that help highlight what you need to know about websites and ADA compliance, according to internet developer, WishDesk:
Level A compliance (lowest level):
1. Alt text for images
2. Alternatives for pre-recorded audio/video
3. No auto-playing audio
4. Use of color and other indicators
5. Instructions for search boxes, web forms, captchas, and other input fields
6. Add input error explanations
7. Navigation fully accessible via a keyboard
8. Allow users to extend the time for time-limited content
9. Give users the option to control blinking, moving, or scrolling content
10. Add “Skip to” to allow users to bypass repetitive content
Level AA compliance (sufficient level):
1. Add captions for live audio/video
2. Provide audio descriptions for pre-recorded video
3. Set your contrast ratio to at least 4.5:1 (stronger contrast makes text more readable)
4. Allow text to be resizable up to 200%
5. Avoid using text over images (can be misinterpreted by screen readers)
6. Use clear headings and labels
7. Provide users with instructions on how to correct an input error
8. Offer sensitive data input error prevention, allowing users to review/edit errors on a submitted form
9. Use consistent menus and buttons
10. Identify the same elements the same way
11. Use clearly visible keyboard focus indicators to assist with navigation
12. For multilingual websites, languages should be identified in code to assist screen reader technology.
Level AAA compliance (highest level):
1. Offer sign language for pre-recorded audio/video
2. Set your contrast ratio to at least 7:1 (stronger contrast makes text more readable)
3. Eliminate or dramatically reduce (20dB or lower) background sounds in an audio recording
4. Remove time-limited content, except for live streams or online auctions
5. No interruptions – no popups or other intrusive content except for safety warnings
6. Restore user data after re-authentication so users can pick up where they left off
7. Avoid any flashing content
8. Provide explanations of abbreviations, idioms, or business jargon
9. Add explanations for hard to produce words and use a phonetic transcription or audio recording.
As you can see from these checklists, many of ADA’s compliance guidelines can make the user experience for everyone better. You can learn more about ADA website compliance at ada.gov/pcatoolkit/chap5toolkit.htm.