Get Accessible! The ADA Goes Virtual
A few years ago, I joined the ranks of the middle aged when purchasing and subsequently wearing my first pair of “readers.” Those ubiquitous reading glasses are necessary for me to read the labels on food items, to navigate a restaurant menu and to edit the piles of paper that cross my desk daily. I have also embraced two tools not originally designed for my aging eyes, the dyslexic font on my e-reader and a screen reader on my computer. These tools were designed to make e-books and websites accessible to all individuals; they are just a few of the many tools we should all become familiar with in our personal and professional lives.
Since 2020, there have been many demands for our industry’s services to “go virtual.” An important part of the virtual environment is to ensure all individuals can access services. When the Americans with Disabilities Act was adopted in 1990, the internet was in its infancy and specific website accessibility requirements were not included. As the internet has evolved, so has the role of the ADA in how websites should look and function. In the absence of federal guidance, the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) drafted by The Worldwide Web Consortium (www.w3.org) provides excellent guidance on website accessibility.
WCAG 2.1 is broken into four sections with the following recommendations:
- Provide text alternatives for non-text content.
- Provide captions and other alternatives for multimedia.
- Create content that can be presented in different ways, including by assistive technologies, without losing meaning.
- Make it easier for users to see and hear content.
- Make all functionality available from a keyboard.
- Give users enough time to read and use content.
- Do not use content that causes seizures or physical reactions.
- Help users navigate and find content.
- Make it easier to use inputs other than the keyboard.
- Make text readable and understandable.
- Make content appear and operate in predictable ways.
- Help users avoid and correct mistakes.
- Maximize compatibility with current and future user tools.
To succeed in this industry, we must be continuous learners. I’ve created a few homework assignments to help you focus on making your website accessible and effectively communicate with all clients and consumers.
- Take a “listen” to your website. Use a screen reader to hear what your website sounds like to an individual who is visually impaired. Non-Visual Desktop Access (NVDA) uses the Windows operating system and has a free version of their screen reader available. Apple VoiceOver is built into all Apple tablets, phones desktops and laptops.
- Provide text alternatives to the pictures on your website. Real estate websites have a tendency to be very visual, providing text describing each picture is an important tool for effective communication. The screen reader will read the text you provide. This language should be clear and descriptive not vague or general.
- Scroll through your website using only the keyboard, don’t use a mouse or touch screen to navigate. Then scroll through using only a mouse or only a touch screen. Your website should be easy to navigate either way.
- Pay attention to color contrast. For an individual with a color contrast issue, your newsletter with a “Welcome Spring” banner in varying pastel colors or “It’s Fall Y’all” in autumnal shades can become a block of solid color.
- Caption your videos! With over 75% of web traffic devoted to videos and the number of property video tours increasing dramatically, make sure the videos you include are captioned. Captioning can be done using the voice recognition technology offered within platforms such as YouTube or Facebook or by downloading a program.
- To get a quick evaluation and some recommendations for your site, run the free Web Accessibility Evaluation Tool (wave.webaim.org).
This wouldn’t be an article written by an attorney without a pretty hefty warning about enforcement of the ADA. The ADA allows for private enforcement actions and between 2013 and 2018 the number of private enforcement actions more than quadrupled! The courts have made it clear that websites are considered places of public accommodation and fall within the purview of the ADA and its requirements. The Department of Justice has enforced the ADA by taking legal action against a variety of businesses ranging from a grocery delivery service to the Law School Admissions Council.
Following the ADA and making your website and communications accessible shouldn’t be viewed as burdens. These are opportunities to expand both your knowledge and your client base by effectively communicating with all.
Trista Curzydlo, JD, is a graduate of Washburn University, School of Law. Her extensive legal experience includes serving as Assistant Legal Counsel to a governor and as an Assistant District Attorney assigned to the Consumer Fraud division. Trista is the former Government Affairs Director and Legal Counsel for the REALTORS® of South Central Kansas and the South Central Kansas MLS. Trista now speaks nationally on topics related to real estate law and ethics. This article is reprinted by permission of Trista Curzydlo and C4 Consulting, LLC.