ADA compliance for web accessibility needs to be on the radar for healthcare marketers for 2018. It is a large and complicated issue and the stakes can be high as lawsuits are becoming more common. Making it worse, the solutions are nebulous and timelines are tight.
In the past, ADA compliance was something that primarily applied to accessibility for physical structures. Solutions like wheelchair ramps, elevators, etc addressed this type of accessibility. In 2010, this theoretically expanded to include websites, as well. Enforcement was supposedly postponed until a set of guidelines could be adopted. These would strictly define this extension of ADA compliance and how to meet it. Their release was finally scheduled for 2018.
However, lawyers and plaintiffs (and judges for that matter) are not waiting for the final guidelines to come out. After having high profile wins against retailers, attorneys are targeting healthcare on behalf of disabled patients. Consequently, they are bringing suits against hospital systems like Tenet, HCA and others. They want to force them into ADA compliance right now. And judges are siding with them.
The absence of formal guidelines is a major hurdle. Many institutions are trying to “read between the lines” on recent legal rulings and regulations on other industries (like airlines). Most believe that by going beyond 508 compliance and aiming at WCAG 2.0 AA (as established by the W3C) as a minimum standard, they can achieve ADA compliance. This is probably correct, but no one is sure what the final standards will look like. We don’t even know if they will come out in 2018 as planned. Regulatory uncertainty is always a problem, right? Although again, legal action is happening today, forcing rapid action upon hospitals with judgments against them or threats facing them. Several of our clients are facing this issue, and we have made it a priority to upgrade all of our health risk assessments to ADA compliance.
As a side note, in my opinion as a developer, many of these “standards” detract from a high-quality user experience that today’s consumers expect. I should point out that the standards discourage (but do not forbid) having separate, different experiences. As a company, our strategy is to let our clients toggle ADA compliance on or off per HRA instance. But I really hope the standards continue to evolve so that all web development is not hobbled by stringent requirements that languish behind fast-changing user expectations.
The next hurdle is that many hospitals have hundreds of existing web pages, online tools, and other digital assets that took thousands of hours over a period of years to develop. Undoubtedly, it will be a significant and expensive distraction from traditional marketing projects to convert them. And it is unlikely to bring much in the way of expanded revenue, so it is essentially unfunded.
To sum it up, this is a massive issue, as yet somewhat undefined, with significant legal repercussions. Obviously, it is ripe for consultants to develop an expertise and step in to help hospitals. Some will be very good and others will be full of hot air. Remember Y2k?
In closing, I believe this issue must be square in the headlights of every healthcare marketer. Clearly, it is important to at least start understanding the complexities of the issue today, as it will be upon us all before we know it.
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