For the perfect getaway, a certain amount of pre-planning always needs to be done to ensure that transportation and accommodations line up with what you had in mind. This planning phase is even more important for people with a disability, making them more likely to spend extra time researching and asking questions before setting off on a trip. Therefore it is vital that travel agencies and websites serving the tourism industry are fully accessible, allowing the same level of access to their services for all users.
Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) regulates providers of public accommodations and services in the U.S., prohibiting discrimination against customers with a disability. This applies to all types of tourism and hospitality operators including hotels, travel agencies, and tour operators. The best way for travel operators to comply with their responsibilities under the ADA is to follow the guidelines found in the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.0). These guidelines detail how the public-facing websites of all travel operators must be accessible to people with disabilities.
It makes good business sense for travel agencies to ensure that their websites and services are easily accessible to as many people as possible. Travelers with specific disability-related needs are simply not going to commit to booking a trip and placing a deposit unless they are comfortable that their needs at a hotel or during a travel excursion are going to be met.
Making the grade
A recent report regarding accessibility in the travel industry by digital user experience agency Sigma looked at ten major travel websites and scored them in terms of accessibility and ease of use across multiple device types. Websites in the report included Airbnb, Booking.com, British Airways, Co-operative Travel, Expedia, Laterooms.com, Lastminute.com, On the Beach, Skyscanner, and Virgin Atlantic.
The assessment was made up of 11 different categories that covered aspects like design of the website, including logical headings and color contrast, and descriptive alternative text that replaces website images for people with a visual impairment. In addition to looking at the suitability of the sites for people with visual or motor impairments, the study also included a deaf and partially sighted independent consultant who actually tested out the accessibility of each site by completing a holiday booking with them.
The average score across the ten sites was 23 out of a maximum of 35, indicating that many of these top operators are still lacking many of the features that make sites easily accessible for users with disabilities. Skyscanner topped the list with a total score of 28; Expedia also performed well across most categories. The worst-performing site was Co-operative Travel, with LastMinute.com also performing poorly.
Making accessibility easy
Travel sites can significantly improve the accessibility of their services by following some basic recommendations. This includes:
- Using a simple layout with clearly defined and logical headings
- Making all elements on a page accessible to visitors who use a keyboard and screen reader
- Adding descriptive alternative text to all website images
- Including a zoom function so people with a visual impairment can easily view the site without needing to rely on assistive devices
Ultimately, travel operators benefit from making their services accessible to the widest possible audience. By employing the WCAG 2.0 guidelines, operators can meet their requirements under the ACA while improving all users’ customer experience.