Your dental practice would never deny someone care or create physical barriers to accessing treatment because of a disability, but what about your website? If your site doesn't comply with ADA accessibility standards, you could be unintentionally turning patients away — and exposing your practice to possible legal action. Ensuring that your dental practice's website provides a great user experience and is accessible to individuals with disabilities is no longer a choice but an obligation in 2023. But what does the law say about the matter? With accessibility lawsuits and legal claims on the rise, we examine some of the implications and potential legal issues arising from dental websites that don't provide the tools and user experience needed for disabled individuals to access their sites properly.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a federal law that broadly prohibits discrimination against disabled persons. While the law contains a variety of titles and regulations, its essence is quite simple. Whenever possible, businesses have an obligation to provide disabled patrons and employees with assistance and reasonable accommodations to improve accessibility. For dental offices and other physical spaces, this often means implementing features like accessible parking, braille signs, wider doorways, and wheelchair ramps.
Unfortunately, the need for equal accessibility often goes overlooked in the digital world. For nearly one in four U.S. adults with a disability, surfing the web can present many challenges. The ADA doesn't lay out explicit standards for accessible websites. Still, it does require that businesses make good-faith efforts to address common usability barriers that visitors may face and provide assistive technology to patients with disabilities.
While the ADA itself is short on specifics regarding digital accessibility, the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) offers an abundance of detail. Often considered the gold technical standard in web accessibility, it provides a comprehensive framework for making compliant websites more inclusive and disability-friendly. The WCAG standard is not a strict legal requirement for businesses, but it is a convenient benchmark for ensuring ADA compliance.
Below we share just a few of the core features of WCAG compliance. These may make more sense to your web developer but will give you an idea of the types of elements and web accessibility improvements that WCAG 2.1 guidelines address:
Because the Americans with Disabilities Act was written as a broad, flexible deterrent to discrimination, there have been many questions about when and how the law is enforced. Dental practices, like most other businesses that serve the public, are classified as "public accommodations" and are subject to Title III of the ADA. As such, dentists must provide people with disabilities full and equal access to all goods, services, facilities, and accommodations.
Crucially, the Title III mandate also extends to digital spaces. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, "the ADA’s requirements apply to all the goods, services, privileges, or activities offered by public accommodations, including those offered on the web."
Not surprisingly, websites that aren't designed to aid accessibility are more likely to create negative experiences for current and prospective patients. This can cost you business, compromise your online advertising efforts and even tarnish your practice's reputation. Indeed, surveys have shown that 71% of disabled visitors will leave a site that causes usability issues.
Beyond these practicalities, ensuring everyone can use your website is also an important legal consideration. If your site fails to meet basic accessibility standards, you may risk running afoul of ADA regulations. This can result in discrimination complaints and civil lawsuits, potentially leaving your practice on the hook for huge fines and legal fees. In 2021 alone, more than 11,400 lawsuits were filed against businesses whose websites or mobile applications weren't ADA-compliant.
Since there are currently no specific legal standards for digital accessibility, ensuring ADA compliance is far from straightforward. Nonetheless, such a critical issue shouldn't be reduced to a guessing game. One way to assess compliance is to review your website and look for common usability problems manually, but this requires considerable time and no small degree of expertise.
In most cases, a more sensible solution is to request an accessibility audit. Professional audit services, such as the Web Accessibility Compliance Audit Report offered by UserWay, generate full and detailed assessments of your website's accessibility based on the latest international WCAG 2.1 standards. Certified accessibility experts can identify all types of violations and provide simple, actionable recommendations, eliminating uncertainty and helping you guard against lawsuits.
If your dental website has accessibility issues, it's essential to address them as swiftly as possible. Some common problems can be fixed with simple modifications, such as adding alt text to images or changing the color of specific design elements. Others, however, require far more extensive changes that may be too costly or impractical to implement. Circulation Dental can help make your website ADA and WCAG Compliant.
There are a variety of solutions on the market but we recommend the UserWay Accessibility Widget. This innovative widget features a full array of AI-powered accessibility aids, with hundreds of functions designed to assist those with vision impairments and hearing trouble, impaired motor function, cognitive disabilities, and more. The clean, unobtrusive interface can be customized to serve up specific types of tools based on a user's individual needs. As you can see in the bottom right corner of your screen, we even rely on the UserWay widget to improve the accessibility of our own website!
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