Last year, there were more than 3,000 digital accessibility lawsuits filed. The number has increased by 23% from the year before. Internet users may sue healthcare organizations and practices with impairments and disabilities who allege site-use access barriers. These types of barriers can violate various state laws and the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act). Businesses caught up in these types of lawsuits can ultimately pay millions and be bound by the settlement to create specific alterations to their websites.
Since leaping to make the web entirely accessible by 2025, medical organizations can not only avoid these lawsuits but attract new clientele by adapting their website to accommodate those with impairments and disabilities as well. AcessFind, a new search engine, can connect individuals with disabilities to gain full access to these websites, and healthcare organizations should strive to be discovered by these types of patients.
Numerous state laws and the ADA include provisions that mandate businesses to remove any access barriers, with the goal for users with disabilities to have equal access to goods and services. In searching for non-compliant websites, law practices use scanning tools, technology, and user testing to discover these violations. While the laws regarding website accommodations aren’t explicit, courts have considered these internet properties an extension of a business and have ruled in favor of the plaintiffs.
With a lack of direct guidance from legislators, healthcare practices and organizations can face a few challenges in meeting ADA regulations and numerous state laws. However, an organization responsible for developing international standards for the web, also known as the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), has recently launched a Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI). The WAI articulates best practices for usability, also known as the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). As experts in the technology field continue to identify new opportunities for improving accessibility, updates regarding this resource will be made accordingly.
Which Healthcare Organizations Have Been Sued for ADA Compliance?
Large, nonmedical corporations like Domino’s, Nike, and Target, amongst others, have been hit with web-accessibility lawsuits. However, smaller and midsize organizations like healthcare providers have also suffered. Organizations that own multiple healthcare entities need to take action to prevent these suits, as they’re also more likely to be targeted.
The following includes a few of the more notable cases against healthcare providers:
1. Frazier v. HCA Holdings, Inc.: HCA Holdings is viewed as responsible for many medical websites, with over 100 hospitals in its portfolio. The accessibility issues found on their websites included:
- Lack of alt text for pictures and images (where the text is read aloud by a screen reader)
- A failure to aid keyboard navigation (used by individuals who can’t operate a mouse)
2. The American Blind Community v. Tenet Healthcare: Tenet Healthcare runs many medical facilities, including Hahnemann University Hospital, Hialeah Hospital, and Coral Gables Hospital. Tenet Healthcare was a part of a class-action lawsuit filed on behalf of the American Blind Community, alleging that these three major hospital websites weren’t compatible with screen readers.
3. Andres Gomez v. CAC Florida Medical Centers: A blind man known for filing lawsuits based on the protections of the ADA, Andres Gomez filed a lawsuit against the CAC Florida Medical Centers once it was confirmed that he couldn’t access their website with a screen reader. Although the case was ultimately dismissed, those who have been sued are aware that regardless of whether or not a judgment has been made against them, the process of litigation can still be a costly one.
Benefits of Making Websites ADA Compliant
Despite legal risks and accountability, various healthcare organizations view website accessibility as a smart business move. A few advantages in making your website accessible can include:
- Public relations and reputation maintenance. Having a positive experience with any website leaves your readers with a lasting impression. In announcing these accessibility improvements, inclusivity becomes one of your business’s core and personal values.
- Increased return on investment. Your website is both an expense and an investment. So when deciding to optimize your site to cater towards a better user experience, you get more in return. Google recognizes when a site has been optimized for usability and rewards site owners with higher search rankings among other search engines. In turn, this can lead to more patients and potential clients in our competitive world.
- Funding opportunities. Receiving funding, contracts, and other governmental benefits may be jeopardized when an organization isn’t ADA compliant.
- Managing relationships with clients or patients. Some patients will acquire new disabilities as they age over time. Having a thoroughly accessible website can ensure patients can continue using your website despite any challenges they face.
- Target market development. When your website can be used by anyone, anywhere, you acquire leads from all types of demographics. The disabled demographic are amongst the largest minority groups in the U.S., making up about 18.7%, or 54.4 million people. As older generations continue to age, the number of disabled people will ultimately increase, since more than 50% of people over 75 have a disability.
ADA Accessibility Is More Available Than You May Think
Widgets or on-page self-service tools can allow your readers and visitors to customize their experience towards their accessibility needs. AI-enhanced tools can take it one step further in making websites more user-friendly. Companies like Medical Advantage’s medical web design arm, iHealthSpot, can provide you with these tools. Once website owners have implemented remediations for these access barriers, they should include an ADA accessibility statement. iHealthSpot recommends that this statement contains:
- A positive statement regarding why changes have been made, without mentioning lawsuits.
- The specific areas of the site experience that have been changed or modified.
- A short guide with directions on how to make use of the changes and accommodations.
- Contact information to utilize in case issues arise.
There are a variety of examples of ADA accessibility statements that are available online. Once changes and modifications have been made, consider performing an audit with scanning tools or user testing with an individual with a disability. Doing so informs you that changes have been successful and can allow those with disabilities to have a positive experience with your website.
To learn more about ADA compliance issues concerning healthcare, see the ADA’s FAQ page.
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