Your Practice Website Must be ADA Compliant

February 14, 2017

Most think only their facility and job accommodations are required to be under compliance by ADA. Your practice's website must be too.

Are Small Practices Required to Make their Practice Web Sites Accessible to Disabled People?

The short answer is, yes.

Many practices are unaware that their website has anything to do with the Americans with Disability Act (ADA). Most think only of your facility and job accommodations are required to be under compliance by ADA.

Under Title II of the Act, "places of public accommodations" cannot exclude people who have disabilities from being able to participate in what is offered to everyone else. A website is public. If your practice has one, it is obligated to comply with ADA, no matter the number of employees or size of the practice.  In fact, the law views your website as a piece of real estate for purposes of the ADA.

Accessibility for All

Some accessibility advocates are calling the recent push toward accessibility "The new Civil Rights Movement." The ADA's intent is to make all websites accessible for those who are visually or hearing impaired, or who have other disabilities that result in them not being able to access information on the internet, without a device or other means. The greater purpose here is to enable people with disabilities to participate in American life, a lot of which today occurs on the internet.

If you are wondering how you missed this, you are not alone. The need for websites to be compliant with the ADA is not new, but because there has not been a focus on enforcement, many businesses, including medical practices have not taken the time to modify their websites to accommodate it.  Federal websites have been compliant with the Act for more than a decade. Over the last several years, there has been a new wave of litigation fueling the move toward website accessibility in the private sector. As long as making a website accessible is not an undue burden, a company must provide access to the same information, services, and opportunity to participate to everyone. For instance, if your website provides a series of educational videos for pre- and post-operative care, and these videos do not have closed captions, it is not accessible.

Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act

Although a detailed review of this Section is beyond the scope of this question, practices should check out Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). It has requirements related to patients or potential patients that have limited proficiency of English. Among other things, it requires web postings in different languages, and prohibits discrimination in its many forms. Review it to determine if the requirements apply to your practice.

Avoid Non-Compliance Fines Using Low Cost Solutions

Fines for not making your website accessible can be as high as $75,000 per incidence.

The good news is there are many ways to make your website more accessible, and most of them cost little or nothing. The key is to be aware of them, and direct your web developer to follow appropriate guidelines for implementing them on your site. Start by asking your web developer to follow the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.0), available from W3C at https://www.w3.org/TR/WCAG20/. W3C is a non-profit, international community where member organizations work together to develop web standards.

Examples of How a Practice Website Must Be Accessible

According to the ADA, a website that is not accessible denies a person the "opportunity to participate." Work with your web designer to make sure your site accommodates accessibility in ways such as these:
 

• Text is written and displayed on a page in such a way that a visually impaired person can use a reading device to convert it into audio.

• Has an option for making font size larger or smaller so it's easier for those with a vision impairment to read.

• All videos have closed-caption sub-titles to enable a hearing impaired person to read along while watching the images.

• If you post job positions and/or have an employment application on the website, the information must be readable, and the application must be able to be completed by someone who is disabled as well as someone who is not.

 

Michael J. Sacopulos, JD, the Founder and President of Medical Risk Institute, a firm that provides proactive counsel to the healthcare community. For more than 20 years, Michael has devoted his practice to advising physicians and healthcare organizations. Known for his sharp wit and un-lawyerlike pragmatism, Michael (a.k.a. The Compliance Guy) speaks nationally on compliance, privacy, and other issues facing physicians and is skilled at turning mundane topics into entertaining educational sessions. His full service firm offers remote Compliance Officer services, as well as complete compliance and HIPAA programs.