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Top five ADA compliance recommendations for hotels with an online presence

by Ana Lopez
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Nathan Mayfield, Vice President of ResNexus: Taking industries to the next level, one company at a time, through service, innovation and education.

Most hotels are well aware of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Thanks to this law, hotel owners understand the need for amenities such as disabled toilets and ramp access. However, not everyone has considered a guest’s first port of call: the hotel’s website.

But what does online accessibility look like and what does it take for a hotel website to be considered ADA compliant?

See the guest experience in a different way

When the ADA was signed in 1990, hotels were referred to as public accommodations. This meant that by law they had to make easily feasible changes to their facilities to better serve people with disabilities.

But the onset of the digital age has changed the way customers interact with businesses. It starts online.

And while managing an online hotel booking is designed to be a quick and easy process, it’s a very different experience for someone living with a disability.

Let’s look at the fact that 10 million people worldwide have Parkinson’s disease, one of the most common neurological disorders. While many people can book a hotel room with just a few clicks, imagine having to do it with the shake of your hand.

A condition like Parkinson’s disease is just one example of a common disability that creates barriers for people online every day. There are countless others around the world who have auditory, visual and motor disabilities.

And since the DOJ Guidelines refer to the Website Content Accessibility Guidelines (version 2.1) for web accessibility, this is what I base these tips on.

Five essential ADA compliance tips for hotel website owners

1. Design with screen readers in mind.

To navigate websites, visually impaired users rely on screen readers. A screen reader displays text and visual content as speech or braille, making it easier for a disabled user to interact with a website and its content.

There are a few ways you can make a website screen reader compatible, starting with alt tags. An alt tag is text that appears over an image or image that describes the image to visually impaired browsers.

Assigning the correct roles to different web components is also essential. For example, a component identified in HTML code as a “link” is expected to take the user to a new page, while a “button” role is expected to perform some other action, such as sending a a form. Mixing these up is likely to confuse people who use screen readers.

I see many hoteliers also link their CRM software to a screen reader program to aid accessibility.

2. Voice search capabilities are more than just a useful feature.

Today’s online users living with motor disabilities have speech recognition software available to browse and perform tasks online. Adding speech recognition to the search functionality could prevent you from isolating this part of the disabled market. The result is a more accessible experience for potential guests and more bookings for your establishment.

If you don’t have your own programming resources, you can use a service to add speech recognition capabilities to your website experience.

3. Add captions to all your video content.

If video content is an integral part of your website or marketing strategy, it is essential to consider users with hearing disabilities.

To make sure everyone can clearly understand the context of a video and what is being said, add captions to all your video content.

For example, YouTube can automatically generate closed captions for video content, but only for videos of a certain length, audio complexity, and in a short list of supported languages. Even then, the captions can be illegible and lack punctuation. However, YouTube does provide tools to add your own captions, which are then automatically synced to time out properly.

4. Consider color contrast.

For guests with a visual impairment, it really helps to use the right color contrast on your premises. For example, if you choose to put white text on a yellow background, someone with color blindness or a general visual impairment will not be able to read the text at all.

The contrast ratio must be at least 4.5-to-1 for regular text or 3-to-1 for larger text and graphics to conform to WCAG. Navigation elements, menus, and other areas that people might interact with should also have the right color contrast for your hotel site to be considered accessible.

There are many color contrast checking tools available online that allow you to easily test the contrast ratio of your text and background colors.

5. Take it easy with flashy promotions.

While you want your guests to be aware of promotions and other offers, flashing ads and pop-ups can be a problem for anyone who suffers from epilepsy.

In 2017, epilepsy affected approximately 3.4 million Americans 1.2% of the general population, and the numbers are only growing. And round 5% of that with epilepsy can have seizures due to photosensitivity.

If you do want to use this functionality for marketing purposes, make sure screen reader users can recognize when this happens, and make it possible for a user to disable it immediately if necessary.

The first step: use tools to check the accessibility of your website

Regardless of the size of your hotel, the first step is to see where your site ranks. Getting started with accessibility can be made easier with the number of free tools available online.

First, you can refer to online accessibility guidelines, such as the ADA guidelines in the United States page. Use an online service that specializes in website accessibility for a professional audit of your website and additional accessibility tools.

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