Having an accessible website is not just a matter of being inclusive — real estate licensees have a legal obligation. You must ensure your website complies with the Americans with Disabilities Act’s (ADA) accessibility requirements. The Act applies to all businesses that are ‘open to the public’.
When considering accessibility and inclusivity, don’t forget your website accessibility. i Inaccessible web content means that people with disabilities will not have equal access to information.
In this blog, we’ll delve into ADA requirements and how you can create an inclusive online presence.
Understanding ADA Compliance Requirements for Real Estate Websites
The ADA was established in 1990 to protect individuals with disabilities against discrimination. The ADA does not specifically mention websites. However, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) has said that digital properties, including websites, are included in the law to provide equal access to information and services.
Steps Towards an Accessible Website
Website Accessibility Audit
First of all, conduct an accessibility audit on your website. You can’t fix what you don’t know is broken. You might choose to do this using an automated tool. There are many options available. Check out the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) website, which has a list of useful accessibility-checking tools. Alternatively, you may choose to employ a professional to check the accessibility of your website for you. Testing and gathering feedback from the end-users of your website can also provide valuable insights and identify any barriers.
Use Alternative Text for Images
Adding alternative text (alt text) for images on your website helps to describe an image. Alt text helps people with screen readers and assistive technologies to understand what the image is about. This should be done for EVERY image file on your website.
Transcripts are an essential tool for people with hearing impairment. Transcribe any videos and audio podcasts you put on your website or link to on social media sites so everyone can access the information.
Consider Usability and Navigation
Making your website easy to navigate will help people with disabilities find the information they need without barriers. Consider the user experience when planning your site and menus. An easy-to-use, intuitive website not only makes sense from an accessibility perspective, it also makes good business sense because your audience will find the information they need faster.
Set Up Pages Logically
In most website development software (WordPress, etc.), you can code each subhead as to whether it’s a “2nd level subhead” (or “Headline 2” in WordPress or H2) or “3rd level,” etc. Your main headline will be your first level headline. Be sure you have a second level subhead on the page before using a “headline 3” or H3. All of your subheads can be the same “headline 2” which is perfectly fine. But a third level subhead or “headline 3” is usually a further division under a “headline 2” which is what an impaired visitor will expect.
Consider that some people are unable to use a mouse. So, if your website is set up in such a way that a user must use a mouse to navigate, it is not accessible to everyone. Ensure your website can also be accessible with a keyboard alone to improve usability and accessibility.
The color combinations on websites can make a big impact on readability. Ensure there is a contrast between the fonts and backgrounds to improve the experience for visually impaired people. Consider also that people who are color-blind may not be able to distinguish between colors.
Avoid Flickering, Flashing, and Blinking Actions
It’s best to avoid any page elements that have flickering, flashing or blinking images and text. These actions can trigger seizures in susceptible people.
Many real estate websites contain links and buttons to downloadable attachments and forms. Whether it’s a property flyer or a tenancy form, ensure all of your website attachments are accessible too.
For more tips on making your website accessible, the most common standards for compliance are listed in the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) international standard. The Department of Justice has also published some guidance on website accessibility and the ADA.
Real Life Legal Cases
In Diaz c. Kroger Co., a visually-impaired plaintiff sued a supermarket chain because of accessibility barriers when his screen reading software was unable to interact with the defendant’s website, Kroger.com. The case was eventually dismissed as Kroger Co. made the required changes to its website to improve accessibility.
A similar case occurred in Napa, California, where a disabled litigant sued a Napa County real estate brokerage under the Americans with Disabilities Act. That lawsuit was also dismissed.
Gil v. Winn-Dixie Stores Inc. was an ADA website accessibility case that resulted in a very different outcome. The plaintiff, who was blind, sued Winn-Dixie because their website was incompatible with screen reader software. The court held that Winn-Dixie’s website violated the ADA because it was not sufficiently accessible to visually impaired customers. The judge ordered the company to comply with WCAG 2.0, a long list of guidelines to improve website content accessibility.
In 2020, the National Association of REALTORS® reported that real estate professionals in Florida and Massachusetts received cease and desist letters alleging that their websites violated the Fair Housing Act (FHA) because certain features were not accessible to visitors with disabilities. NAR described these actions as ‘trolling’ and responded with a letter refuting the claims. The response also detailed NAR’s and its members’ commitment to the FHA and ADA.
In 2022, there were 2387 website accessibility lawsuits. Even though many lawsuits do not end in favour of the plaintiffs, real estate licensees should still be proactive in making their websites accessible. Also, consider if your real estate website is not taking proactive steps to accommodate users with disabilities, then you are likely missing out on potential clients too.
Protect Your Real Estate Business
Having the right Real Estate Errors & Omissions insurance will give you peace of mind and help to defend a lawsuit if a claim is made against you. CRES Insurance has specialized in insurance for real estate professionals and companies for more than 25 years.
As part of one of the largest insurance brokers in the world, we have access to more E&O options than just about anyone. Let us find you the best protection at the best price. With CRES E&O + ClaimPrevent®, you’ll have access to a team of qualified real estate attorneys so you can avoid claims. Contact the CRES team at 800-880-2747 to find out more today. We can customize a policy specifically to suit your real estate business.