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Why Making Your Website ADA Compliant Is a Double Win

October 26 2017

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in all areas of public life, became law in 1990, and added web access guidelines in 1999. Recently, there's been a rapid growth in ADA Title III lawsuits over websites. As a result, today, many real estate agents and brokerages are exposed to hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees, as well as penalties.

Because of the increased legal activity, there's a buzz in the industry to get your website fixed. If you attended a recent workshop or webinar on making your website ADA complaint, you probably heard a lot about this "stick" being used to motivate folks to update their websites to meet the requirements. But what about the "carrot" – the extremely valuable business reason you should update your website to be ADA compliant?

Did you know that one in five Americans (22 percent), or almost 57 million people, and one in four women, have a disability? What real estate agents can appreciate from these stats is the business opportunities that emerge by investing in making one's website ADA compliant. So let's look at what it takes to become what's called Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) compliant, and what makes this a double win for an agent's and brokerage's business.

What's required?

The purpose of the ADA guidelines is to simply make web content more accessible to people with disabilities. The word "content" generally means information on a web page or in a web application. This included images, text, sounds, but it can also mean the code that defines the structure of the web page or app because of what is presented on the page to the user.

To break it down more simply, the guidelines focus on these primary elements:

  • Text alternatives for images
  • Captions for videos or other multimedia
  • Presenting content in different ways
  • Making content easier to see and hear
  • Making it easier for everyone to use and navigate
  • Website use from a keyboard
  • Giving users enough time to read and use the content
  • Making sure the content you present doesn't cause seizures
  • Having text that's readable and understandable
  • Consistency of content and navigation throughout the site
  • Use of error messages and ways to get back to where one started
  • Content is compatible with various web browsers

Now if you looked at these guidelines and didn't know they were related to an ADA compliance requirement, wouldn't you want your website to meet these guidelines anyway? That's the irony about so many of these guidelines: many of them are already website best practices!

The penalties

So what could happen if you don't have a website or web app that meets WCAG 2.0? According to the legal firm Porter Wright, publishers of Employer Law Report, the U.S. Justice Department has delayed implementation of the rulemaking for the guidelines until sometime next year in 2018. But, they note, that has not stopped legal aggression. They point out that law firms have targeted retailers about web accessibility, writing, "A typical approach involves a letter from a law firm asserting that the retailer's website is not accessible and offering to discuss an 'agreed plan' for bringing the website into compliance. The threat typically also insists on payment of significant attorney's fees and sometimes alleged damages as terms to settle."

While many initial lawsuits have been dismissed because of the Justice Department's delay, in June, the first Federal Court, a Florida District Court, ruled against grocery chain Winn-Dixie that having an inaccessible website violates Title III Of The ADA. The Judge issued a 13-page Verdict and Order finding that grocer Winn-Dixie violated Title III of the ADA by having a website that was not useable by a blind plaintiff to download coupons, order prescriptions, and find store locations.

The growing concern among experts is a flurry of lawsuits. Litigators will sue when companies and people are exposed and they see a financial opportunity. It's certainly not just real estate that has websites that are not ADA complaint – nearly every major industry, from retail to financial services is scrambling to be prepared. The challenge for real estate is that 93 percent of all brokerages and nearly every real estate agent has a website. Overlay the fact that 88 percent of buyers use websites to find a home. The importance of a website is paramount in a path to purchase, says the data from the NAR.

A market opportunity

The bigger win comes from the carrot, not the stick: you are creating a huge market opportunity for your business by making your website ADA complaint. Just think about the numbers, and not just those who are legally disabled, but those who also have limitations: Nearly 10 million Americans are blind or visually impaired, 37.2 million Americans adults are hearing impaired, and in terms of physical disabilities: 77 million Americas have at least one basic actions difficulty or complex activity limitation.

When you look at the aging Baby Boomer generation and the growing trend of longevity in America – we are living longer and more likely as a country to deal with more limitations and more disabilities in the future – there is a huge and compelling marketing opportunity to become ADA compliant!

Making sure your website reaches the largest number of buyers is often what real estate agents tell sellers they work hard to do. Making one's website ADA compliant helps deliver on that promise. It's a wise business investment that supports your ability to extend your market reach.

It's a double win

When a business website becomes ADA compliant, it's a double win: a business is protected and so is one's pocketbook from potential lawsuits. The time and money that can be wasted from a lawsuit is avoided. That's a win. But more importantly, the bigger win comes from the terrific market opportunity that comes from reaching more people. Being ADA compliant reaches people in a way that personally connects them to one's business and shows them a business that is not only up-to-date but cares about its customer. And that's the kind of message most real estate agents and brokerages want to share with their marketplace.

Tricia Stamper is director of technology with Florida REALTORS®, which owns Tech Helpline and Form Simplicity.