Your website is a great way to market your practice and distinguish you from others. However, it’s important to evaluate the universal accessibility of your site.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was enacted in 1990, before the internet’s usage was as ubiquitous as it is today. So while it didn’t specifically articulate website accessibility standards, courts have since inferred it to contain such mandates. For this reason, providers should follow the ADA guidelines applicable to all public accommodations.
The Department of Justice has recently considered changes to the ADA’s implementing regulations which would explicitly require businesses to ensure their websites’ accessibility, but those have stalled, per President Trump’s executive order to reduce federal regulation. But the absence of federal regulations doesn’t insulate practice owners from ADA litigation. Indeed, the U.S. District Court in Chicago has seen several lawsuits against big-name retailers this fall (read that Chicago Tribune article here).
Before meeting you, many prospective patients use your website to learn about who you are and the services you provide. But even many healthcare providers erroneously assume that everyone sees and experiences their site in the same way. The key to crafting an accessible website design is overcoming that assumption.
Since your website is a cornerstone of your business, it needs to be accessible to all – a relatively easy task. Below, we address a few common website problems and explain our proposed remedies. To learn more about these issues, visit our health tech page or contact us.
Problem: Multimedia Pictures and Videos
Many people who are blind, visually impaired, illiterate, or intellectually disabled navigate the internet using software programs and various technology aides. A commonly used device is a screen reader, which speaks aloud the text displayed on a computer screen. This device, and others like it, are useful only with written text. They do not work with other media platforms like pictures and videos.
Solution: Detailed Captions
We realize that in many cases, it’s essential for your practice to have pictures and videos to give prospective patients insight into your practice’s personality. A simple fix to this problem is to include captions for every picture and video used throughout your site. These captions should be detailed enough to express the same information that other users would discern by looking at the image or video. This will enable users with visual disabilities to get the same experience from your website.
Problem: Special Colors and Fonts
While it can be appealing to use special colors and fonts on your website, it could pose a problem to some users. Many people with eyesight disabilities like low vision, farsightedness, or colorblindness do not see your webpage the same way you do. Certain color combinations can be hard to decipher, and font styles and sizes can become unreadable. As a result, some website viewers require high-contrast settings like bolded black text in a simple font on a stark white background. Others need the opposite, a white bolded font on a black background.
Solution: Allow the Option to Manipulate
It can seem impossible to comply in a way that makes your site usable to everyone, but the solution is simple. Many website platforms make it easy for you to allow viewers to manipulate the color and font settings, making the site more accessible to read. By installing this feature, your business gets to keep its favorite fonts and color scheme while still allowing users with various visual impairments to change the settings until your website becomes accessible to them.
Problem: Inaccessible Document Formats
Many practices have patient documents on their websites in PDF format – including intake forms, consent forms, or home-program guidance. Indeed, PDFs serve many practical uses and are a great way to reach many patients, but not all visitors are able to access them. PDFs and other image-style formats for documents don’t work with screen readers and don’t allow users to change color contrasts and font settings.
Solution: Add Additional Document Formats
In addition to having PDF forms on your website, you should also have additional document format options available, such as plain text-based documents. Text-based documents are ideal for viewers using aides like screen readers, and they also allow for the manipulation of font and contrast settings. You might also consider including text on the webpage where the forms are available for download, explaining that you’re willing to provide the forms in a variety of formats upon request to accommodate visitors’ disabilities. For the intake and consent forms specifically, you might offer to complete them with the patient at his first visit.
So… what happens if I don’t comply?
Most importantly, a disabled individual may find it impossible to access your services because of your website’s inaccessibility. For healthcare providers, this is typically seen as the worst-case scenario.
Additionally, your failure to create an ADA-compliant website could land you in hot legal water. In Illinois, the Attorney General’s Disability Rights Bureau enforces state and federal disability laws, which includes the ADA and the Illinois Human Rights Act (ILCS 775 ILCS 5/1-101). An aggrieved website visitor can file a complaint with the DRB quickly and easily using an online form. You might also find yourself served with a lawsuit in federal or state court, and if found to be noncompliant, you could be on the hook for your attorney’s bills, the aggrieved party’s legal bills, plus additional “compensatory” damages (legal speak for money that compensates the wronged party for your wrongdoing).
Okay, I’m ready to do this!
Luckily, ADA compliance isn’t typically too challenging. You can implement most of these changes yourself by modifying the format of your downloadable forms, or by tinkering with the settings of your Squarespace or Wordpress website. If you need more help, we can have our in-house IT professional handle this in conjunction with your next HIPAA compliance check-up (or we can schedule a separate virtual “visit” immediately!).
We also recommend creating a practice policy for addressing the specific needs of your disabled patients and articulating your compliance with all applicable anti-discrimination laws. This can help demonstrate that your practice is accessible if you were investigated by the DRB or sued, and it also ensures that disabled patients are served as effectively as your non-disabled patients.
about the author
Erin K. Jackson is Jackson LLP's Managing Partner. She is responsible for all aspects of firm management, is a sought-after speaker for healthcare conferences, and is a published author. She is specifically focused upon the intersection of the patient experience in healthcare with the legal and ethical responsibilities of providers.
© 2017 Jackson LLP.