The hospitality industry remains a frequent target for web accessibility lawsuits filed under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
Plaintiffs frequently cite issues on hotel booking websites that prevent folks with disabilities from booking rooms or identifying hotel accessibility features — and in most cases, they’ve got a point.
Most websites have serious accessibility failures, which can be frustrating for real-life users. That’s especially true when the website provides essential functionality, which certainly applies to the hospitality industry: An estimated 90% of travelers rely on the internet to research (and book) lodgings.
To improve compliance — and increase conversion rates — hospitality businesses need to prioritize accessibility. Here are a few tips for getting started.
1. Develop a web accessibility testing strategy
If you’re not testing for accessibility, your website probably has issues that need to be addressed.
Published by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) are considered the international standards for digital accessibility. WCAG contains dozens of success criteria, pass-or-fail statements that can be used to measure accessibility.
All organizations should regularly test content against the Level AA criteria of the latest version of WCAG. For hospitality businesses, this is particularly important — and if you’re rolling out changes to your booking system or performing any other update, you should complete a full audit.
Here’s what to know when developing your accessibility testing strategy:
- Automated tools can identify (and fix) many common WCAG failures. However, some criteria require human judgment. The W3C recommends using a combination of manual and automated tests. Read: What’s the Difference Between Manual and Automated Accessibility Testing?
- Test your content regularly. Hotels should test their websites every 4-6 months, but you may need to audit more frequently depending on your website’s complexity, current level of accessibility, and other factors. Read: How Often Should You Test Your Website for Accessibility?
- WCAG provides three levels of conformance: Level A (the least strict requirements), Level AA, and Level AA (the most strict). Most websites should aim for Level AA conformance. Read: What's The Difference Between WCAG Level A, Level AA, and Level AAA?
After you’ve tested your website, you can begin remediation — and you should start with the issues that have the highest potential impact on your users.
2. Pay attention to keyboard accessibility, particularly in reservation systems
Many people with disabilities use screen readers or other assistive technologies to browse the web. These folks may not use a mouse for navigation — so if your website isn’t accessible with a keyboard alone, you’ve got some work to do.
You can perform a simple test of your reservation system by setting your mouse aside and navigating through the process with your keyboard’s Tab and Shift+Tab commands. For more guidance, read: Give Yourself an Accessibility Test: Don't Use a Mouse.
While you’re testing your forms, make sure they have accurate labels and instructions. Labels are particularly important for screen readers: Without an accurate label, the user may not understand how to complete the form.
3. Make sure travelers can find information about accessibility features
ADA regulations may require hotels to disclose basic information about room accessibility. In 2010, the Department of Justice (DOJ) filed a complaint against Hilton Worldwide, Inc. for allegedly failing to provide guests with disabilities with info about accessible rooms via internet reservations systems.
To resolve the complaint, Hilton Worldwide agreed to provide “details about the configuration, amenities, and views available in each accessible room.” The company also agreed to make its websites compliant with WCAG 2.0 Level A.
The takeaway: Customers need to know whether rooms are accessible. Setting ADA compliance aside, you have a strong incentive to provide them with that information.
- If your reservation portal uses a logo or image to indicate room accessibility, make sure to provide alternative text (also called alt text).
- Provide as much relevant information as possible. Include info about bed types, bathing fixtures, and available amenities such as roll-in showers.
- Make sure the information is accurate. If possible, provide photos of the room (again, with appropriate alt text).
4. Use color and images thoughtfully
Review WCAG’s requirements for color contrast, which require text and other foreground elements to maintain a specific level of contrast with their background.
Low-contrast text is effectively unreadable for many people with vision disabilities. Unfortunately, it’s the most common digital accessibility issue — particularly in the hospitality industry, as hotels often place text over images of their facilities without considering their users.
You can use the Bureau of Internet Accessibility’s a11y® Color Contrast Accessibility Validator to test your website or specific color-pairs against WCAG standards.
You should also avoid using color alone to convey meaning (for example, writing a call-to-action that reads “click the green button to book your room"). Avoid using images of text and ensure that all images have accurate alternative text.
Digital accessibility is a powerful tool for business growth
Compliance is a crucial consideration for hoteliers, but it’s not the only reason to embrace accessibility. The best practices of WCAG deliver a streamlined, user-friendly experience, which often leads to better search engine optimization (SEO) and higher conversion rates.
According to one estimate, about 85% of hotel website visitors leave before completing their booking. When your website works well for every user — regardless of their abilities, preferences, or browsing habits — people stay engaged.
WCAG provides a framework for driving engagement and creating a frictionless experience. By testing your content and prioritizing users with disabilities, you can enjoy the enormous business benefits of accessible design.
Building a Web Accessibility Strategy
If you’re ready to build a plan for WCAG conformance — and improve digital compliance with a number of international non-discrimination laws — we’re here to help. Visit our Compliance Roadmap for free resources including eBooks, checklists, and accessibility audit tools.