Is Your Website ADA Compliant?

Online Information Barriers Risk Litigation  

The 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in every area of public life, including employment, education, transportation, telecommunications and all public and private places that are open to the general public.

As professional communicators, we work closely with our clients to help them craft messages to reach their target audiences. With the continuing evolution of web-based communications, the need to adapt the message for each target audience is a growing challenge.  For healthcare communicators, making sure important information can be accessed and understood by as many people as possible is critical.

Many of us are familiar with some of the most common changes fostered by the ADA – door ramps, public restroom accommodations, and special wheelchair lifts on public buses, to name a few. But the ADA has also played a key role in the evolution of online commerce, by trying to ensure that the disabled have equal access to goods, services and digital content on websites operated by businesses and other organizations.

 

Technology Brings Change

As part of a recent webinar sponsored by the New England Society for Healthcare Communicators (@NESHCo), presenters from @SilverTech, a digital marketing firm, noted that the federal government often serves as a catalyst for changes that are adopted throughout industries.

Several prominent legal cases have helped further the cause of greater website accessibility for the disabled.

National Federation of the Blind v. Target Corp. was a class action suit brought against the retailer because blind consumers could not navigate the Target website and make purchases as readily as a non-disabled consumer could. The result: The court found the ADA’s prohibition against discrimination in the “enjoyment of goods, services, facilities or privileges” applied to public accommodations in cyberspace as well as a physical retail store.

In National Association of the Deaf v. Netflix, Netflix was found to have violated ADA protections because it failed to provide closed captioning for its “Watch Instantly” digital content. The case confirmed that businesses that sell services exclusively through the internet were also subject to ADA provisions that protect disabled citizens against discrimination.

In 2014, an agreement negotiated between the Justice Department and Peapod, an internet grocer, further solidified the scope of the ADA’s reach, by emphasizing the importance of ensuring websites are equally accessible via mobile devices.

 

The Future: Greater Accessibility

These recent cases may be the beginning of many more website accessibility cases. That means pressure on organizations to ensure that digital content on their websites and affiliated technology are independently accessible, regardless of whether the user is working from a laptop, smartphone or other mobile device.

Healthcare organizations and financial institutions – because they tend to be highly transactional – may be particularly vulnerable to potential ADA accessibility litigation. For example, for consumers who use a hospital website to find a physician, look up services, identify locations – any such type of direct engagement – the information should be as accessible as if the consumer were entering the facility itself.

 

Enhancing Accessibility Enhances SEO

Making sure one’s website is accessible to people with disabilities not only protects against ADA-related litigation, it also enhances the search optimization of your site.

The basic idea of the internet has always been to provide information in as accessible a fashion as possible. By limiting accessibility, you run the risk of cutting off customers and potential markets. Thus, it’s important for organizations to follow best practices to ensure their websites’ accessibility is constantly maintained.

The Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) of the World Wide Web Consortium (WC3), the primary international standards organization for the internet, has published a series of web accessibility principles to help organizations keep their websites current.

 

P.O.U.R.

The thrust of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 (WCAG) can be remembered by using the acronym P.O.U.R.

P is for Perceivable. All digital content and user interface components should be presented to users in different ways to account for different means of perception.  For example, digital content should provide text alternatives to non-text content. Multimedia should have captions or other alternatives to explain the action that is taking place. Assistive technologies should be integrated where possible, so that meaning isn’t lost. Also, enabling users to see and hear – rather than just read – content is a plus. Consider offering transcripts of podcasts. If your website includes video, provide visual access to audio information through in-sync captioning. Also, don’t rely on color as a navigational tool or as the only way of distinguishing items.

O is for Operable. Websites should be designed so interface components and navigation is easily operable (e.g., via keyboard or mouse), and tagged to work with voice control systems. The interface should assist users in navigating and finding digital content, and also give users enough time to read and use it. Including a skip navigation feature can make it easier for automatic screenreaders to make sense of on-screen content.

U is for Understandable. Information about the user interface and its operation should be clear and understandable. For example, error messages should provide a clear explanation of the problem (Not just say “Error” or “Invalid field”). Digital content should also appear and operate in predictable ways. (In other words, try to make it as easy as possible for the user to find what s/he’s looking for.)

R is for Robust. Content should be robust enough that it can be interpreted by a wide range of user applications, including assistive technologies. Compatibility with current and future user tools should be an ongoing goal.

 

Conclusion

The internet’s continuing evolution as a primary source of commerce, entertainment, information and services has changed the way business, government and society operate. Those with disabilities may find that some websites don’t provide the level of access they need to partake of information, products or services that are presented on their websites.

Organizations, particularly those in healthcare, need to maximize their efforts to ensure that anyone, regardless of a disability, can easily navigate their websites and access the digital content they need. Doing so will help forestall ADA-related litigation. But it will also enhance the basic navigability and SEO compatibility of the website.

When Media Worlds Collide

Specialization is Great, But Integration is Better

By Lonny Strum, Strum Consulting Group

I grew up in the industry in the late 70s and 80s at BBDO/New York. Just post-Mad Men era, though not too far removed. For its many flaws, BBDO/New York was a truly great agency. BBDO and its clients knew what it was—a TV shop for big brands which were looking to build their image through TV advertising. Not print, not radio—TV. In that era, BBDO was second to none.

My career moved to Philadelphia in the 90s where I ran two large local agencies—Earle Palmer Brown and later the Star Group—though much of what I learned about the power of TV advertising remained in my soul. Nonethetheless, I gained a deeper appreciation for “other marketing disciplines”—PR, Yellow Pages Advertising, Direct Response and later some early Web Development. BBDO had none of these other disciplines. It didn’t have to. There were other shops in the BBDO network and later the Omnicom Diversified Agency Services (DAS) network that did that “other stuff.” And in the 70s and 80s, the other stuff was myopically viewed as secondary.

Changes happened along the way, some subtle others not so. Even before that information superhighway thing took off (and I thought it was a fad—oops), the growth of “below the line” functions—promotion, DR, PR – grew faster than general advertising. Then media shops were spun off into separate companies, leaving the big ad shops as largely strategic/creative firms. Then all hell broke loose as digital shops grew and continue to grow. While traditional ad spending still is the dominant form of spending, I foresee the day in the not too distant future when general advertising is “below the line.” Truth of the matter is the line has now been blurred, and today there is no line at all.

Today the three media worlds—paid, owned and earned– are experiencing a convergence.  To be clear the three media worlds are:

Paid media is media you buy—TV ads, radio, outdoor, print, display advertising, paid search, TV spots, outdoor advertising, etc.

Owned media is as it says-you own it. Your web site, blog, YouTube Channel, social media pages, etc. The company controls the horizontal. The company controls the vertical. (see The Outer Limits)

Earned media is typically what people thought of as PR but which now has a broader application. From traditional  articles/mentions and word-of-mouth to new social media chatter, likes, reviews, links,  etc. — basically what people are genuinely saying about you digitally or not, that you didn’t pay for or control.

This convergence is kind of like a Vulcan mind meld and you need to have the wisdom and knowledge of Spock to orchestrate it properly.  Here’s the real challenge:

In this complex marketing world, marketing discipline specialization is so important. It is a full time job mastering the detail and gaining a deep and full understanding of a marketing discipline/media type particularly when layered with the digital implications that never even existed in yesteryear. Despite the need for specialization, there has never been a time where integration of those disciplines is more important. Said simply,

Specialization without orchestration yields no integration

(overuse of the “ations” I know, but you get the point)

My point is this: Never has there been more marketing specialization in distinct areas—traditional advertising, PR, media planning/buying, social media, search, SEO, digital advertising. Each element overlaps the other. In yesteryear specialized disciplines were handled by separate “departments” of ad agencies. Today they are handled by separate agencies.

So where is the integration happening? Mainly at companies by smart digitally focused, analytic-centric, renaissance marketing people. This integrator needs to be incredibly smart, versatile and visionary.

For those who are entering the marketing field, you should aspire to ultimately be that person. The person with the vision of how the pieces really work together. My advice is always try to learn about disciplines outside of your specialty, figure out how they work together, and then go to the head of the convergence class.

The Power of Pooches

Don’t Overlook Animals, Kids in Drawing Media

Never work with animals or children, goes the old show business saw.

The point is, you will be upstaged, even ignored, in favor of your cute or furry costars. But what might be anathema to a vaudeville performer, movie star or TV host can be a camera magnet for your organization’s community event. And in an arena where story and brand matter more than the individual, most healthcare communicators will happily cede the spotlight to the kids and/or creatures.

If You Want Press, Ignore Old Adages

Indeed, it pays to pull out all the stops if you’ve got something going on that involves animals or kids. A physical fitness program for youngsters, with gold, silver and bronze medals, can be a winner to a local TV station. And you’ll never bark up the wrong tree alerting media to a therapy dog recruitment or training session at your hospital, rehab center, or ambulatory care facility.

And if there’s anything more appealing than children and animals, it is their interaction with patients or seniors in the assisted living environment. Consider the potential of having kindergarteners making holiday crafts for veterans with elderly residents of your facility. Or inviting grandchildren and their pets to come for a special visit, complete with animal treats.

The Dog Days of Summer

The latter was an event held at the Lafayette active retirement community of Holy Redeemer Health System, one of SPRYTE’s clients. During its Dog Days of Summer Pup Parade, family members trotted their best friends in front of the center’s gathered residents, as an emcee introduced each animal and read its “biography” (“Rex loves sleeping at the foot of the bed, and will let you pet him under his chin all day…”). The well-attended event included doggy bags as gifts for the participating pups, canine-themed (but human-edible) snacks, and lots of kisses, licks and hugs. Along with highlighting the important role animals can play in the lives of seniors, some of whom have to give up beloved pets when they move into a facility, this was a ready-made, tug-at-the-heartstrings human interest story.

Is it any wonder events like this draw cameras? In this case, two local TV stations and a news radio station covered the parade.

Sell the Story, not the Fur

Be sure to let the event drive the cameras, not the other way around. Resist the urge to manipulate circumstances to put children or animals in a room. Instead, look for organic opportunities, and those that make sense from a seasonal or patient-focused standpoint. A mentoring program that allows children and seniors to interact monthly or quarterly during the school year is far more compelling than a one-and-done meet-and-greet.

Events created from whole cloth with no logical reason for being will be sniffed out by the media like a bloodhound on the trail of small prey. The Summer Pup Parade, which it is hoped will become an annual event, works because of the joy it brings the residents.

So take a look at what’s coming down the pike within your organization, and if kids or animals are involved, or make sense, go after media coverage with the tenacity of a junkyard dog. But remember: unless your spokesperson has the wit of a late night talk show host, don’t let him or her anywhere near a furry creature.