The Floodgates Have Opened Resulting in Hundreds of Lawsuits and Thousands of Demand Letters.
Serial litigants have exhausted Drive-By lawsuit targeting physical compliance of The Americans with Disabilities Act Title III, and are now increasingly focused on “Click-By Lawsuit” aiming at your hotel and restaurant websites and the covenants of Section 36.302(e), which consist of ‘The Five Points’ of online accessibility for public places of accommodation. The number of ADA Title III lawsuits filed in federal court in 2018 hit a record high of 10,163—up 34 percent from 2017. Some 20 percent of these suits revolve around hotel website accessibility, which exploded nearly 200 percent from 2017. ADA Title III not only applies to your website, but also your Online Travel Agent (OTA) channels and your franchise website, which you, as the hotel owner, are responsible for.
A hidden and misunderstood aspect of ADA Compliance is Web Accessibility. Online accessibility revolves around adhering to WCAG (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines), a set of recommendations and guidelines to make your website more accessible to individuals with audio, visual, or mobility impairment. WCAG 2.1 Guidelines are set forth to ensure that content on your website is perceivable, easily operable, more understandable, and robust, so they make your hotel’s website technology accessible for all.
ADA Title III (The Law)
The Americans with Disabilities Act is one of the United States’ more important civil rights laws, which prohibits discrimination based on a disability and guarantees equal opportunity for people with disabilities. The current ADA laws require hotels and places of public accommodation to provide “complete and equal enjoyment of goods, services, privileges, advantages, or accommodations” to people with disabilities. This clause does not just apply to your bricks-and-mortar hotel, but also applies to your cyber presence, including your hotel’s website and representations on OTA and franchise websites, where applicable.
ADA Title III regulations, also dubbed ‘The 2010 Regulations,’ went into effect March 15, 2012, imposing new obligations on owners and operators of hotels, motels, and other places of lodging.
Requirements Under 2010 ADA Title III entail the following:
An owner, lessor, lessee, or operator (hereinafter referred to as “owner and operator”) of a place of lodging must, with respect to reservations “made by telephone, in-person, website, or through a third party”:
(i) Modify its policies, practices, or procedures to ensure that individuals with disabilities can make reservations for accessible guest rooms during the same hours and in the same manner as individuals who do not need accessible rooms;
(ii) Identify and describe accessible features of the place of lodging and guest rooms offered through its reservations system in enough detail to reasonably permit individuals with disabilities to assess independently whether a given place of lodging or guest room meets his/her accessibility needs;
(iii) Ensure that accessible guest rooms are held for use by individuals with disabilities until all other guest rooms of that type have been rented and the accessible room requested is the only remaining room of that type;
(iv) Reserve, upon request, accessible guest rooms or specific types of guest rooms and ensure that the guest rooms requested are blocked and removed from all reservations systems; and
(v) Guarantee that the specific accessible guest room reserved through its reservations system is held for the reserving guest, regardless of whether a specific room is held in response to reservations made by others.
To protect your hotel from any liability, you need to audit all of your hotel’s online content, not limited to your hotel’s website, but also content displayed on OTAs and franchise websites, to ensure that you clearly and comprehensively identify and explain all of your accessible and non-accessible features at the property and guest room level.
WCAG 2.1 (Not Law, But Currently Being Litigated in Courts)
Developing an ADA-compliant website requires sound knowledge of ADA Title III, understanding recent case law examples that define online web accessibility requirements, and technical knowledge, and coding ability. In addition to adhering to ‘The Five Points’ of ADA Title III, you will have to follow the guidelines defined in WCAG 2.1 and code your entire website to satisfy these criteria. There is NO certification process for WCAG.
The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1 are set forth to make content on your website easy to read, operate, and understand, making your hotel’s website technology accessible. At the most basic level, your hotel website should have these (and other accessible elements):
- Provides text alternatives for any non-text content;
- Provides alternatives for time-based media;
- Includes content that can be presented in different ways without losing information or structure;
- Is easy to see and hear, including separating foreground from the background;
- Permits all functionality from a keyboard, if needed (as opposed to a cursor);
- Permits sufficient time to read and use content;
- Is not designed in a way that is known to cause seizures;
- Includes ways to help users navigate, find content, and determine where they are;
- Includes text content that is readable and understandable;
- Operates and appears in predictable ways;
- Helps users avoid and correct mistakes; and
- Is compatible with current and future user agents, including assistive web technologies.
Coding or recoding your hotel’s website and booking engine to conform with WCAG 2.1 at a Level AA standard to be consumed by assistive technologies that can parse and read the website could be cumbersome and requires technical aptitude that can be costly. So, gone are the days of doing it yourself using out-of-the-box website template solutions. It also behooves you to avoid web designers who have no clue about the regulations and requirements necessary for hospitality businesses.
It is recommended you rely on a proven digital marketing platform tuned for hotels to power your website that is forward-looking and can quickly adapt to any changes in the law, thereby reducing your exposure to click-by lawsuits. Also, note that your booking engine must also be coded to WCAG standards. This adherence to web accessibility standards is your responsibility as the hotel owner and not of your CRS/PMS provider.
INNsight is the industry leader in innovative hotel website design, booking engine, and usability that drives more direct bookings. With over a decade of experience and years of perfecting techniques and software to meet regulations, A Hospitality Website Powered by INNsight is The Gold Standard to protect you from liability while empowering individuals with disabilities to engage and utilize your hotel website with ease. Email: email@example.com, Phone: 415.748.0333