By preventing “places of public accommodation” such as healthcare providers from discriminating based on disability, the ADA makes it easier for the roughly 57 million people in the U.S. with a disability to receive the healthcare they need.
Although the ADA does not explicitly address websites, a number of lawsuits over the years have found that the law extends to an organization’s online presence. Now, two recent regulations from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services make it clear that web accessibility must be a priority for healthcare providers.
“Meaningful Access” Rule
The “meaningful access” rule, effective July 18, 2016, is intended to clarify parts of Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act, which prevents discrimination based on disability for certain health programs and activities.
According to the updated rule, if healthcare providers that receive financial assistance from the federal government provide services via electronic and information technology (EIT), those services must be accessible to people with disabilities.
The “meaningful access” rule applies both to the provider’s website as well as any other EIT used to interact with the public. Because most healthcare providers receive federal financial assistance in the form of Medicare, the “meaningful access” rule has broad implications for the U.S. healthcare industry.
Medicaid Rules for Managed Care Providers
In addition to the “meaningful access” rule, new regulations for managed care programs under the Medicaid umbrella have already taken effect.
As of July 1, 2017, all Medicaid managed care programs must have EIT that is “readily accessible,” which is to say that it complies with modern accessibility standards. The new regulation explicitly mentions two examples of such standards: Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0, Level AA.
WCAG 2.0, in particular, has become the de facto standard for web accessibility for both U.S. government organizations and private businesses. On multiple occasions, the U.S. Department of Justice has cited WCAG 2.0 when deciding web accessibility lawsuits.
The objective of WCAG 2.0 is to provide a set of website design recommendations with three levels of increasing compliance. Some of the relevant WCAG 2.0 guidelines for healthcare organizations advise that:
- Non-textual content containing meaningful information should have a text-based equivalent that can be read by assistive technologies such as screen readers.
- Prerecorded audio and video files should provide closed captions and transcripts for the benefit of users with hearing disabilities.
- The website should be fully navigable without the use of a computer mouse.
- Abbreviations and unfamiliar terms such as medical terminology are easily defined.
Determining whether your own organization’s EIT is accessible is best done through a combination of manual and automated assessment. To get started, sign up for the Bureau of Internet Accessibility’s free automated report to evaluate your website for compliance with the WCAG 2.0 standards. For more information on website accessibility, schedule a conversation with our web accessibility experts.