It’s not hard to see why hospitals that lack accessible features such as ramps, elevators, and signs in braille would do a poor job of serving their patients and employees. Similarly, any hospital that refused to provide care to a patient based on their disability would quickly find itself the target of a lawsuit.
While the situations above are fairly obvious instances of discrimination, hospitals may be unintentionally shutting their doors to patients with disabilities by not considering accessibility when designing their websites. In order to adequately care for the 56 million Americans with a disability, hospitals must make web accessibility a priority.
Legal Requirements for Web Accessibility at Hospitals
Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act requires that “places of public accommodation,” including hospitals and other healthcare facilities, must not discriminate on the basis of disability. While this most obviously applies to the physical location of a business, a growing number of ADA lawsuits have set the precedent for Title III to apply to web accessibility as well.
For example, Tenet Healthcare, which operates three hospitals in Florida, was recently the subject of an ADA class action lawsuit. The plaintiffs alleged that the hospitals’ websites were not accessible using screen reader technology, and therefore violated the ADA by discriminating against people with visual disabilities.
As the number of ADA lawsuits increases, healthcare companies have been and will continue to be scrutinized for their web accessibility. Other healthcare companies that have been sued due to web accessibility problems include the health insurance provider WellPoint and the pharmacy chain Rite Aid.
How Hospitals Can Improve Web Accessibility
Not only should hospitals be concerned about an expensive ADA lawsuit, they should also care about providing excellent service to all of their patients, including those with disabilities. People with disabilities require more access to healthcare than the general population: although they make up 19 percent of Americans, they account for 26 percent of U.S. healthcare expenditures. As the U.S. population continues to age, these numbers are only expected to rise in the future.
In order to serve their patients with disabilities, and for the best chance at avoiding a lawsuit, hospitals and other organizations should demonstrate that they are taking steps to comply with an established web accessibility framework, such as the popular Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0.
WCAG 2.0 includes a variety of common-sense guidelines in order to improve web accessibility for people with visual, hearing, motor, and cognitive disabilities. Some of the general WCAG recommendations include:
- Both pre-recorded and live videos should provide closed captions to the viewer.
- Images and other non-textual content should have a text-based equivalent that can be interpreted by a screen reader.
- Content should be presented in a meaningful hierarchy, and the website can be navigated without the use of a mouse.
- Users can resize the text while preserving the website’s functionality.
- The website provides suggested corrections when it detects errors in user input.
With the Internet becoming more and more important to Americans’ daily lives, hospitals must make web accessibility a priority to better serve their patients and employees with disabilities. Check the accessibility of your website here for free. For more information about web accessibility in healthcare, follow the Bureau of Internet Access blog to receive the latest news and updates.