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If you run a medical practice, web accessibility may not be one of the things that spring to mind when you think about your list of priorities, but maybe it’s time it should be. Web accessibility has grown in popularity in recent years, as seen by the rising number of new plaintiff law firms filing lawsuits and litigations against businesses, including medical practices.
The California Medical Association released a statement saying “The California Medical Association (CMA) has received reports that small and solo medical practices, especially in Southern California, have been sued for alleged violations of the ADA and the Unruh Civil Rights Act.”
According to data derived from midyear trends, more than 4,000 lawsuits will be filed in 2021, up 20% from 2020, according to UsableNet. This includes cases filed in federal courts as well as those filed in California under the Unruh Act, all of which have a direct reference to ADA (Americans With Disabilities Act) violations. To put that in perspective, that’s nearly 11 new lawsuits each day, making this a record-breaking year for new claims.
More importantly, patients who have disabilities and are unable to access your site are therefore unable to schedule online appointments with your practice and therefore may not receive the care that they need. The ADA requires that health care entities provide full and equal access for people with disabilities.
What is web accessibility?
In short, web accessibility standards ensure that individuals with disabilities may utilize the internet. In other words, the website should not discriminate against disabled users by neglecting the responsibility to make reasonable accommodations for all users. Unfortunately, according to an accessibility report evaluating the top million homepages on the internet, just 1% of them satisfy the most frequently used accessibility standards, demonstrating how far we still have to go before the web is considered fully inclusive.
The ADA and Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1. are the two sets of standards that are commonly referred to in lawsuits and are used as a rubric to determine whether or not a website is perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust. The ADA itself doesn’t lay out exact requirements for web accessibility, so the WCAG is where you will find the actual guidelines. These guidelines, however, can be quite daunting.
How can medical practice websites avoid web accessibility lawsuits?
To avoid lawsuits and remain compliant, businesses must put provisions in place for all website visitors, including those with disabilities. This means considering accessibility throughout the entire site design, continually updating, checking and revising new and existing content, as well as ensuring both desktop and mobile versions of your site are fully reachable for all users. Of course, this is a complex procedure, which is why companies, a large percentage of them being health care practices, are turning to web accessibility experts accessiBe’s automated solution to simplify the process.
Thanks to the development of AI technology, accessiBe has been able to successfully eliminate the need for painstaking manual, line-by-line website remediation, which would typically cost organisations a significant amount of time and resources to complete. Just to put things into perspective, a standard website audit costs anywhere from $500 to $10,000, and making your website accessible through the traditional means will set you back between $3,000 to $50,000. This presents an accessibility dilemma to small businesses who had to toss up between a $20,000 web accessibility bill, or risk facing a potential $45,000 settlement.
Fortunately, accessiBe has brought compliance within reach of any organization, regardless of its size or scope as their AI is able to make thousands of websites accessible in the amount of time developers need to manually make just one – and at a fraction of the cost. Furthermore, their AI tech scans websites every 24 hours looking for new content that still needs to be made accessible, ensuring that there aren’t gaps in time where practices are vulnerable to lawsuits.
The risks of non-compliance
A website that complies with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) should deliver an online experience that is accessible to all users, including those with disabilities. Most of the time, this means creating web pages and content compatible with screen-readers, using sufficiently contrasting colors, ensuring font is legible, adding images with alt text, and ensuring the entire site can be accessed using only a keyboard.
If you aren’t compliant, you risk losing contracts, funding, and assistance from municipal, local, and federal government agencies. Of course, you also leave yourself open to costly lawsuits and litigations procedures which could harm your bottom line. Fines begin at $4,000, but total costs can get up to $100,000. Settlements are around the $45,000 mark.
It’s also important to consider the wider social impact on your brand, as being named and shamed in public for neglecting disabled users is far from a good look for a professional healthcare institution that is supposed to provide care for all patients.
With this in mind, medical practice owners should consider more than merely complying with the ADA and WCAG. Yes, non-compliance with the ADA can have far-reaching social and economic consequences, but more importantly, it’s simply the right thing to do for your patients.