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December 06, 2018

ADA Compliant Websites: A Hot Issue for Hotels, Restaurants and Tasting Rooms

Think your hospitality business is ADA compliant? If you haven’t checked your website for accessibility issues, don’t be so sure.

Under Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), businesses that provide goods or services to the public – which include hotels, restaurants, bars and stores, among others – must make reasonable accommodations to help people with disabilities obtain access. This is true regardless of the size of the company.

While it’s widely understood that this means businesses must do things like allow service dogs on the premises and ensure that the building is accessible to someone in a wheelchair, fewer people may realize that websites can also present accessibility issues. As more and more activities are conducted online, it is increasingly vital to ensure that people with disabilities can easily navigate your company’s website.

The Rising Numbers

According to the United State Census Bureau, 19 percent of the U.S. population has a disability. That’s about one in five people. For business owners, this means that a significant portion of the population may need some sort of accommodation to ensure access.

When business don’t make accommodations, they can face lawsuits as a result. According to an analysis from Seyfarth Shaw, federal ADA Title III lawsuits have been on the rise in recent years. In 2013, there were 2,722 such lawsuits. In 2017, there were 7,683. A major factor in the increase appears to be the rise in claims over website access.

Confusion Abounds

There’s a great deal of debate and confusion over exactly how ADA Title III should apply to websites. However, this hasn’t stopped people from filing lawsuits. Hospitality businesses, which often use online reservation features, are prime targets for these claims.

In a recent example of this, Forbes reports that multiple wineries in New York have recently been targeted for a lawsuit over claims that their digital services are not accessible by the visually impaired.

Protecting Your Business

Even if you’re not sued over accessibility issues, you could lose customers. According to the Click-Away Pound Survey, 71 percent of customers with a disability will leave a website if it doesn’t meet their access needs.

To protect your business and serve your customers, review your website for common accessibility issues.

  • Is your website compatible with screen-reading technology? Screen readers help the blind and visually impaired access the internet. The Stanford University Online Accessibility Program has information about screen reader testing.
  • Do you provide alt text for images?
  • Do you provide captions or scripts for videos?
  • Does your site use colors that are easy to distinguish? According to the National Eye Institute, 8 percent of men with North European ancestry have red-green color blindness.
  • Is your site well organized, making it easy to navigate?

For more in-depth guidance, see the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines. Also ask your webmaster to test your site for accessibility and make any recommended changes. There are several tests online which can be applied. When your site is accessible, you may want to place a note in the footer stating the date and level of compliance. As with other liability matters, good faith effort and showing positive intent can put you in a better legal position if you are sued.

Need risk management and insurance guidance for your hotel, restaurant or hospitality company? Heffernan’s Hospitality and Restaurant Insurance team can help.

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