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Why Many Providers Fail to Meet Digital Accessibility Standards, and How You Can Rise Above
We’ve written in past posts about the need for businesses across industries to make their websites and other digital content accessible to individuals with disabilities. One industry in particular, however, has a shockingly low rate of digital accessibility. A lack of healthcare website compliance with provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Affordable Care Act runs counter to the high quality of care Americans expect from their providers. When a poor experience begins right on your website’s homepage – well, that’s hard to come back from.
There are legal ramifications that can occur as a result of failing to provide digital accessibility, but the chief reason providers should want to make their websites compliant is to elevate the patient experience – for all patients.
Read More: The Importance of ADA Web Compliance
We’re going to discuss how to update your healthcare website to be compliant with digital accessibility standards, but first, let’s take a look at the state of healthcare website accessibility today.
Digital Barriers to Quality Healthcare
A study of healthcare systems conducted by eSSENTIAL Accessibility found that many of the highest-grossing providers (more than $1 billion net-patient revenue annually) would require a complete overhaul of their website to become compliant with ADA and ACA standards.
This low level of accessibility is a big deal because 26% of U.S. adults (about 61 million) are living with some type of disability.
- 10.8% are cognitive disabilities, meaning the individual may have difficulty remembering, concentrating, or making decisions
- 5.9% are hearing-related disabilities, such as deafness or serious difficulty hearing
- 4.6% are vision-related disabilities, such as blindness or serious vision impairment
Any disability can impact an individual’s ability to effectively navigate a website. Even if there were fewer people living with disabilities in the U.S., healthcare providers should deliver a highly-accessible digital experience.
What Compliance Regulations Impact Healthcare Providers?
There are two primary compliance regulations when it comes to digital accessibility in healthcare.
1. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
While the ADA, which was passed in 1990, doesn’t explicitly mention digital technology or the Internet in its language around providing equal opportunities for people with disabilities, it does state that communications with individuals with hearing, vision, or speech impairments are as effective as communications with others. Additionally, it requires auxiliary aids and services in places of public accommodation to ensure effective communication with individuals with hearing, vision, or speech impairments.
2. Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG)
The WCAG standards are formalized by law as the accessibility standard and are required for federal agencies and their contractors. The guidelines include 3 levels to categorize a website’s accessibility: Level A: Accessible to some users; Level AA: Accessible to almost all users, Level AAA: Accessible to all users.
3. Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act
Following an amendment in 1998, this section of the Rehabilitation Act requires federally-funded entities to make electronic and information technology accessible to individuals with disabilities, or provide an alternative. Another amendment in 2017 adopted the WCAG 2.0 standards, requiring that organizations meet Level A and Level AA regulations.
4. Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act
This section of the ACA prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, age, disability, or sex in health programs or activities that have received funding from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. This section also requires “appropriate auxiliary aids and services for individuals with disabilities”.
Of course, compliance requirements and regulations are compelling reasons to bring your website up to date. However, the patients themselves should be the primary reason.
Individuals with disabilities are likely to have higher healthcare needs than individuals without disabilities, including more frequent doctor visits or more complex visits. Plus, a Centers for Disease Control study found that individuals with disabilities are actually 2.5 times more likely to skip a doctor visit or avoid healthcare treatment altogether, meaning your website experience could mean the difference between scheduling an appointment or putting it off.
How to Make My Healthcare Website Compliant with Digital Accessibility Standards
When we talk about digital accessibility, it goes beyond alt text to describe images to the visually-impaired, or captions on videos for the hearing impaired. Digital accessibility includes much more.
- Integration with assistive technologies such as screen readers, text readers, screen magnification software, speech input software, and alternative input devices.
- Upgrades to ensure multimedia accessibility, so all individuals with disabilities can absorb the information, intent, and content of videos and audio media.
- Evaluation of your website’s current functionality to understand what upgrades need to be made to bring your site into compliance with accessibility standards.
- Implementation of a remediation plan to address the necessary upgrades and create a strategy for meeting the required standards.
- Ongoing monitoring to ensure your website’s functionality is continuing to provide an optimal experience for users with disabilities and providing any necessary updates or enhancements to adjust over time.
One of the best ways to ensure your website is providing an accessible experience is to ask individuals with disabilities to test it. When someone can use their assistive technology with your site, or access your multimedia content in the way they need to absorb it, you will get far more accurate feedback than from a developer alone.
Additionally, keep in mind that digital accessibility doesn’t mean just your healthcare website. Any digital content you produce such as healthcare brochures, patient documents, patient surveys, or correspondences also must be accessible for individuals with disabilities.
When you can show patients the moment they arrive on your website that you are a provider committed to the needs of people with disabilities, you project a more welcoming and friendly environment right away.
Especially in 2022 as technology is dominating every aspect of our lives, and as the COVID-19 pandemic has elevated the use of technology in healthcare, every provider should offer a seamless, digitally-accessible experience for patients.
Connect with us to schedule a complimentary website accessibility review and learn what you can do to elevate the patient experience for individuals with disabilities.
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