Eric D. Garcia
Socially Acceptable columnist Eric D. Garcia is an IT and digital consultant who works exclusively with veterinary practices and speaks at veterinary conferences around the world. He founded Simply Done Tech Solutions to help veterinary practices improve their services and marketing communications efforts. He is a member of VetPartners, an association for veterinary practice development. He was named Practice Management Speaker of the Year at VMX 2020. Learn more at ericgarciafl.com
We all find a reason to log onto the web every day, whether to connect socially with friends and colleagues, pay bills, do research, or perform countless other tasks. (That is unless we’re #unplugged!) However, most people — and that includes veterinary practice owners — are unfamiliar with the fundamental guidelines created under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which requires that websites be clearly and easily accessible to everyone, including people who are deaf or blind.
The act, which went into effect in 1990, doesn’t explicitly mention websites. But when subject to interpretation in legal settings, Title III of the ADA has consistently been found to apply to websites. In short, this means that both the content and functionality of a website must be accessible to all users, including those with disabilities.
For many of us who are happy just to keep our business websites up and running, the ADA is easily overlooked. However, having a website out of compliance can lead to trouble. Some veterinary practices have been sued for up to $20,000!
With this in mind, making sure your website is accessible and compliant for all users is imperative. Those with disabilities should be able to enjoy comprehensive access to your website. This access includes, but is not limited to, navigating pages, viewing content and accessing various features.
During court battles that are more frequent than you might think, the U.S. Department of Justice has consistently referenced Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 as a benchmark to measure website accessibility. When a determination about accessibility is being made, 38 requirements are considered.
Some websites might meet all 38 requirements, especially if the developer was familiar with the WCAG guidelines. Still, some developers don’t adhere to the guidelines unless the website owner — you, for instance — insists on it. Taking action before non-compliance becomes a costly legal issue is crucial.
While some consultants recommend that you focus on bringing into compliance your website’s most visited pages, that’s only a partial solution. You can start with those pages, but you should look at your entire website as being subject to ADA compliance. Plus, it’s the right thing to do.
Know the Basics
Now, I’ll provide you with a simple guide for getting your website up to speed and ensuring that it provides total and equal access to everyone who uses it.
The first tool I recommend getting familiar with is userway.org, which describes itself as “a pioneer in innovative website accessibility technologies.” The tool is free and works with existing websites to help them meet accessibility requirements. This resource has helped many veterinary practices quickly reach a state of compliance even when they weren’t aware of the standards of ADA accessibility.
First, you need to understand the following terms and their meanings:
- Perceivable: Content on your website must be available to everyone viewing the website. This means that anyone with disabilities must be able to perceive your website.
- Operable: The web design and overall interface can’t inhibit a disabled person’s use. In other words, interaction and use must be available to those with disabilities.
- Understandable: Your website must be clearly understood by everyone. From your content to details about your practice’s services, items both big and small must be understandable to everyone.
- Robust: To help with operability, your website must be accessible across browsers and devices. You can’t optimize your website for Firefox but make it inaccessible on Safari, for example.
What You Can Do
Now that you have an overview of the terms and the importance of ADA compliance, here are some steps to help ensure that you’re in great shape and making your practice website more accessible to all users.
1. Contact your website company as soon as possible to check on your compliance. If the developer hasn’t already made your website compliant — some provide compliance functionality as a standard feature — they should be willing to make changes upon request. If they are unsure of what you’re looking for, share this article!
2. Ensure that your web developer has accounted for technical ADA compliance requirements. Technical requirements can be tricky, but they’re critical. This includes making sure that alt text (alternative text) is added to images on your website. The same goes for closed captioning on videos, which provides an additional way to communicate information. Also, be sure that a text transcript is available beneath both video-only and audio-only files. Finally, text on your website should be easily readable by a screen reader.
3. Eliminate automatic content whenever you can. Pop-ups and blinking content can be obtrusive for viewers. While not explicitly against ADA compliance protocol, these add-ons are required to be easily paused, stopped or hidden.
4. Understand that online web forms must be accessible to and usable by all viewers. Make sure they’re clearly labeled and that inputs are accessible without a keyboard or trackpad.
5. Confirm that your website is accessible without using a mouse. One way to test this is to unplug your mouse or trackpad and see if you can access your site using the keyboard arrow or tab buttons.
6. Know that websites are complex and have many working parts. Elements requiring compliance include:
- Language and title tags: Set a primary language for your website and clear descriptions for each page.
- Skip to content: All users must be able to skip to the content they need.
- Web navigation and flow: Web pages should be consistent and have a clear structure to ensure ease of use.
- Links and headers: These must be clearly labeled and explain the type of content the user is clicking on.
- Labeled elements: Input fields should be labeled so that the user clearly knows what’s required when filling out a form.
- Error-free: Your website should be well coded.
- Fonts: The font used must contrast with the background at a 4.5-to-1 threshold. Text should be capable of a 200% resize without impacting the functionality of your website.
Do the Right Thing
Just by reading the requirements above and contacting your web developer, you’re making great progress. Many practices are unaware of the requirements and the technical specs baked into websites.
Legal issues arising from non-compliance can cost a defendant tens of thousands of dollars in attorney’s fees and settlements. Wouldn’t you rather have a compliant website and be able to invest that money in equipment, staff training or a range of other items that would grow your practice?
I strongly believe that ADA compliance is the right thing to do, and I would opt for its level of accessibility even without legal requirements. People with disabilities deserve equal access to websites.
If information on your website is readily accessible to everyone in the same way, pet owners can get what they need from your practice. Simply put, that’s a win for your clinic and your clients.