Combatting Digital Inaccessibility: Lodging Facilities Can Increase Equity

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The hospitality sector has been quick to digitize the customer experience. Hotels, motels, and bed and breakfasts routinely provide digital offerings, starting with online booking, continuing through mobile or check-in kiosks, and running through check-out. These digital offerings are subject to the same access requirements as the physical offerings of the hotel and must ensure access for people with disabilities.

A quarter of adults in the United States live with a disability. Over the last 30 years, the hospitality sector has improved the physical accessibility of buildings for this population. That same attention is now turning to digital systems with the same business logic applied to physical systems. Accessible technology—web sites, mobile apps, kiosks, and the like—ensure a positive guest experience for people with disabilities while mitigating legal risk.

Digital accessiblity considerations cover a wide gamut. Some considerations include:

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  • People with low vision might find hotel kiosks and mobile check-in apps inaccessible when they lack zoom and screen reading features.
  • Information and images on hotel websites pertinent to the guest’s stay may not be compatible with assistive technology for somebody with mobility impairments.

As consumers become more inclined to use websites over an in-person visit or a phone call, making these sites more accessible must be a priority for hospitality and tourism business leaders.

Overlays are a commonly deployed, cursory solution to meet accessibility requirements. They promise a cheap, easy fix for accessibility in a single line of code. Sadly, a single line of code can only cover up issues—it can’t substantively fix them. The level of support overlays provide for key technologies used by people with disabilities—such as third-party equipment like JAWS screen readers or built-in accessibility tools like Apple’s VoiceOver—is minimal and sometimes wholly incompatible with the use of that technology. These factors result in overlay solutions failing to meet the legal standards of the ADA. Meanwhile, their presence on a site is a beacon for compliance lawsuits, projecting a lack of due diligence and access on the part of an organization. These lawsuits result in millions of dollars lost for companies seeking a quick fix.

On a more general level, a critical goal of the ADA is to ensure the integration of people with disabilities into society. To the fullest extent possible, the support for the equal access needs of people with disabilities is meant to be provided as part of any experience covered by the ADA. Equal access is not meant to be provided in a separate program. In fact, providing it as a separate program is defined as discrimination under the ADA.
Overlay solutions are, fundamentally, separate from, and not integrated with, the experience of the site. They provide a separate and unequal experience for people with disabilities. Accordingly, they violate a key and fundamental requirement of the ADA.
Instead of settling on a fast, too good to be true fix, these requirements can be an opportunity to improve the experience of every guest.

Humanizing Digital Accessibility

To begin creating or updating a website, app, or digital offering to be accessible to all, hospitality providers must gauge the current state of accessibility. A performance audit of systems can determine what parts of the digital experience need an overhaul and what steps lodging facilities must take to meet compliance.

In addition to introducing fully compatible websites and apps, hospitality business leaders will also need to provide consulting and training to their web developers and IT staff to ensure they are up to speed with expectations. Training does not need to transform employees into accessibility experts but will give them the baseline knowledge to address day-to-day conflicts and incorporate the needs of people with disabilities into their working framework. Training must fit the accessibility needs of each lodging facility and reflect the operations and context of that specific facility.

To be genuinely inclusive, lodging facilities will also need to incorporate expert support. Experts will efficiently invest their time in expanding digital equity, enabling the business to focus on providing the best experience possible. Better yet, many experts in the field have disabilities themselves, therefore can apply their lived experiences in gauging how accessible the digital offering is, providing business leaders with valuable insight otherwise unavailable.

Accessibility for All

It is clear that overlay, quick-fix solutions cannot do more than mask the issue. Incorporating a holistic approach that ensures digital accessibility from the ground up is the most effective and encompassing solution. Each process will be singular to the organization, but the overarching end goal should be to create accessible digital experiences for all people.

About the Author

Tim Springer is founder and CEO of Level Access.

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Tim Springer is the founder and CEO of Level Access a leading digital accessibility firm. Tim founded Level Access with the vision of creating a world where all digital systems are accessible to people with disabilities. As CEO of Level Access, he is dedicated to ensuring technology not only meets regulatory standards but supports real-world use by individuals with disabilities.