Despite forming 19 percent of the population, people with disabilities incur 26.7 percent of U.S. healthcare expenditures. Whether their disability is auditory, visual, physical, or cognitive, people with disabilities often require additional care and attention from healthcare organizations. Healthcare providers must reassure patients with disabilities that they will be able to get the information they need and receive an equal standard of care. Crucial to this, as the Internet grows ever more important in our daily lives, is web accessibility.
Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act recognizes the important role that healthcare providers play for people with disabilities. The law prevents “places of public accommodation” such as healthcare organizations from discriminating against people with disabilities. Websites are places of public accommodation. For this reason, healthcare providers must take steps to bring their website into compliance with accessibility standards such as the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0.
The Role of Web Accessibility in Healthcare
Healthcare activities and operations are increasingly moving online. Not only do primary care providers have their own websites where users can find information and schedule appointments, diagnosis and treatment can now happen entirely over the Internet through a virtual primary care provider.
Patients can use the Internet for more than that. They go online for a variety of healthcare-related purposes: researching their symptoms, finding physicians in their network, looking up reviews of different doctors and practices, paying their bills, and accessing test results just to name a few. Connected wearable technologies, implants, and sensors can even monitor patients around the clock from home, tracking, for instance, their vital signs or ensuring that patients comply with their doctors’ orders.
For these reasons and more, web accessibility is crucial if patients with disabilities are to receive quality healthcare. If, for instance, a patient with a hearing disability can only obtain certain information by making a phone call instead of finding it online, then the website that patient visited failed to meet an acceptable level of accessibility for users with disabilities.
Web Accessibility Statements for Healthcare Organizations
A web accessibility statement serves as a contract between a website owner and its users. It describes the level of web accessibility that the owner seeks to achieve for the website and the methods by which the owner hopes to attain this accessibility level. The statement often involves a commitment to a preexisting web accessibility standard such as WCAG 2.0.
One example of a strong web accessibility statement can be found on the website of the health insurance provider Anthem. This statement performs several important functions:
- It describes the accessibility standards that the website aims to meet—in this case, WCAG 2.0.
- It lists the accessibility features that the website includes, such as skip links, alternative text, and ARIA attributes.
- It includes advice for common tasks such as increasing text size and viewing PDF files.
- It provides contact information if users have difficulty accessing parts of the website.
Web accessibility is important for healthcare organizations of all types and sizes to ensure they provide an equal standard of care to patients with disabilities. For more information about how your healthcare organization can meet web accessibility standards such as WCAG 2.0, contact the Bureau of Internet Accessibility for a free 30-minute consultation.