Healthcare Companies Risk Lawsuits by Not Making ADA Compliance a Priority

By  //  February 11, 2020

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Today, healthcare companies offer more online services than ever before, making it of paramount importance that these conveniences are equally accessible to consumers with disabilities.

Today, healthcare companies offer more online services than ever before, making it of paramount importance that these conveniences are equally accessible to consumers with disabilities.

Not only is it incumbent upon care providers to make online services accessible to all for ethical reasons, but website accessibility is more frequently becoming a legal issue for more and more companies. 

In spite of the risk of lawsuits, and the humanity involved in making accessibility a priority, many healthcare providers are still not meeting most website guidelines. In recent years four major healthcare companies have been sued because customers with visual impairment could not access all the features on their websites. 

Title III of the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) mandates that people with disabilities must be allowed “full and equal enjoyment” of places of public accommodation. 

The U.S. courts are still working out whether websites are places of public accommodation but this uncertainty has done nothing to stem the recent proliferation of web accessibility lawsuits. In the first half of 2019 alone, the number of accessibility cases increased by 51.7% compared to the same period in 2018.

In the healthcare arena, the most prominent recent ADA Title III lawsuits have been brought against the following companies, all by visually impaired persons who could not fully access their websites using screen readers or keyboard navigation:

• Anthem (formerly WellPoint Health Networks, Inc.), an insurance company.

• HCA Holdings, an organization that owns over 100 hospitals.

• Tenet Healthcare, an operator of several large hospitals.

• CAC Florida Medical Centers, a group that offers “senior-focused primary care.”

Why it’s Especially Important for Healthcare Providers to Get Website Compliance Right

Legal considerations aside, there is a reasonable expectation from the courts—and from the public—that care providers will be extra vigilant about making services accessible to everyone. And since companies that fail to follow accessibility guidelines are being assertively pursued by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) of late, it’s become more urgent than ever for businesses to get their websites in line with regulatory standards—or else risk facing legal action.

There are many additional reasons for prioritizing compliance, but the top considerations for healthcare businesses to consider are as follows:

• It’s the right thing to do—especially for healthcare companies. Caring for people is the crux of the healthcare business, making it more egregious to leave any part of the customer base unable to access available online services. 

• Inaccessible websites put a healthcare company’s reputation at risk. The public has a particular expectation that healthcare providers will consider the needs of all their customers.

• Customers with disabilities number 61 million in the US alone, so healthcare companies risk losing a lot of business if they don’t prioritize website accessibility.

• Healthcare providers with inaccessible websites risk missing out on contracts and funding from government agencies. To name just one example of what’s at stake: $6 billion in Medicaid contracts was received by five managed-care companies from North Carolina’s state health agency early last year. 

The bottom line is that healthcare companies are subject to special scrutiny when it comes to accessibility. They are perceived as having a greater responsibility than other businesses to serve people with disabilities because those people may especially depend on their services. Businesses that neglect this responsibility do so at their own risk.

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Compliance Lapses That Get Companies into Hot Water 

There are many key accessibility issues that businesses should be aware of when upgrading their sites to be ADA and WCAG compliant, but here are some of the most common areas websites fail during compliance checks:

accessibe.com, an AI-powered web accessibility tool, analyzed 10 million web pages and found several critical and alarming findings:

• Menus: 98% could not pass ADA compliance checks for menu accessibility. This means that people with fine motor impairment who cannot use a mouse would have difficulty navigating through the menus using the tab key and the keyboard arrows, which they must be able to do according to WCAG guidelines.

• Images: The same analysis found that only about half of web pages had images with the correct Alt attributes. Alt attributes describe the image for visually impaired people who use screen readers.

• Popups: Most sites fail this compliance check. Popup non-compliance is particularly devastating to website access. If popups are not working correctly they block access to the site and make it impossible for keyboard users to navigate away from them. Even worse, visually impaired persons using screen readers will not have any way of knowing that a popup is blocking the site. 

• Buttons: Most sites—83%—fail the button test, meaning that for many users buttons are not readable by screen readers or clickable using the keyboard.

• Links: These need to contain text or an aria-label (which enables the text to be read by screen readers). They should also be logically ordered so that they are easily navigable by keyboard.

Since today’s healthcare providers are offering more technology-enabled care services (TECS)—including video consultations and online services that are becoming increasingly interactive—it’s important that these wonderful, time-saving conveniences be made equally accessible to patients with disabilities.

Empathy is Essential to Designing an Accessible Website 

The fines imposed on companies for non-compliance can be staggering. In 2006 Target agreed to pay $6 million in a class action settlement with the National Federation of the Blind over website compliance issues. But avoiding fines should never be the main motivation for upgrading a website. All websites, especially those that provide essential services like healthcare, should go beyond meeting the minimum guidelines for web accessibility.

Healthcare providers like VIP America Home Healthcare and functional medicine physician, Amy Myers, M.D. have made empathy for the user a priority in designing their sites, going far beyond correcting common compliance issues like button functionality and menu navigability problems. Melbourne Functional Medicine experts at MFM have shared the same sentiments.

To successfully upgrade a website to full accessibility it must be made easy and intuitive to use for those who are visually impaired, epileptic or have Parkinson’s, to name just a few examples.

This makes it essential for programmers to spend time imagining what it’s like to actually be that Parkinson’s patient who needs keyboard navigation capabilities to manage appointments with his occupational therapist.

Or that blind patient with the flu who needs to use his screen reader for an emergency online consultation. 

Empathizing with those so often denied the simple conveniences—taken for granted by so many—drives the best redesigns for accessibility.

Healthcare companies owe a seamless, user-friendly, easily-accessible experience to all they serve, especially those with disabilities who may need their services most.

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