The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
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 Online Travel Agent 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. This key piece of legislation states that your hotel’s online content on your website, OTAs, and franchise sites must comprehensively describe in-room and property level accessible features. Additionally, your reservations system, specifically accessible guest room inventory must be accessible to all travelers irrespective of any special needs and cannot discriminate any guests with a disability.
Stringent standards for a hotel website’s accessibility compliance itself have not been adopted to date; However, the buzz is that the Department of Justice (DOJ) will launch comprehensive website regulations in the first quarter of 2018.
The key is not to wait. Get ahead of the curve and take measures to ensure that your website is both ADA compliant and accessible now. Let’s dive right in:
Ignorance of the Law is No Defense
A wise corporate attorney once said that ignorance of the law is not a defense. This is true, and now more than ever, it is critical for hoteliers to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Obedience to the “spirit of ADA” does not excuse noncompliance. It is imperative that hoteliers implement policies and practices, and utilize tools to sustain the constantly changing landscape of ADA compliance. As a place of public accommodation, it is the hotel’s responsibility to ensure that it follows ADA compliance laws at their property and that all content online accurately reflects their service and product offering to those seeking disability access without any hindrance or discrimination.
Hotel owners are responsible, first and foremost, to understand ADA compliance and how it impacts their hotel facilities from a physical infrastructure standpoint and then apply these regulations at their property. From providing special assist parking lot accommodations, swimming pool lifts, an accessible check-in counter to wheelchair-accessible public entrances, pathways, ramps and/or lifts and restrooms, as a hotelier it is your obligation and responsibility to perform a comprehensive site audit and ensure that your facilities are compliant with both local and state laws plus federal mandates such as the Americans with Disability Act. An often-overlooked aspect of compliance is the satisfaction of requirements for the vision and hearing impaired, which includes the requirements of braille signage, pathway accessibility, and A/V equipment. The ADA publishes an ADA Checklist for New Lodging Facilities, which we recommend all of our clients to view and fully understand. (Click here: https://www.ada.gov/hsurvey.htm or copy and paste this URL into your browser to access.)
Guest Room Accessibility
An important element of the ADA is the availability of the proper number of accessible guest rooms and their corresponding accessibility features. Is your property a new build? What requirements must your older building satisfy, if any? These are all very serious questions, which you should be aware of. And then there is the outfitting of these special assistance room types with the correct equipment, placement of fixtures, and dimensions that provide accessibility. Did you know that a public accommodation should modify policies, practices, and procedures to permit the use of a service animal by an individual with a disability? So while your property may not be pet-friendly, you ought to clearly explain that your guest rooms do allow service animals.
It is your responsibility as a hotel owner to ensure that your facilities and guest rooms meet these stringent federal guidelines and you follow your local and state safety and building codes to ensure for ADA compliance.
Website ADA & Accessibility Compliance
The third area of importance when it comes to your hotel’s compliance with ADA is not only physical in nature, but revolves around your hotel’s compliance online, in the digital world. Hoteliers must comply with most current ADA regulations, called the 2010 ADA Title III Regulations, which have been in effect since March 15, 2012.
In a nutshell, your online content must clearly display what ADA features you offer at your hotel. Additionally, your reservation system and electronic media and mobile applications need to be compliant.
Although in 2010 the DOJ withdrew its Notice Of Proposed Rulemaking (NOPR) and to date, has not issued final rules regarding web access standards for state and local agencies or private businesses, hoteliers are increasingly falling prey to serial plaintiff lawsuits. Progressively, website compliance with ADA is a huge target for ADA plaintiffs’ lawyers. Particularly in states like California, where state laws allow plaintiffs to recover litigation costs, attorney fees; California laws also award cash for “damages.” This payout is all stacked on top of any expenses incurred in correcting any ADA violations.
Little Known Fact
In California, people with disabilities can “challenge” ALL barriers in a hotel – even if they have never personally encountered the obstacles. This creates a perfect storm for “serial plaintiffs” and their lawyers to survive off of the settlements from ADA lawsuits.
So to sum it up, there are two major points to get a handle on when it comes to your hotel’s ADA compliance online:
1. ADA Title III Compliance: Online Hotel Content and Inventory Availability for Disabled Accessibility
2. Website Accessibility: Future-Proofing Your Hotel’s Website
1. ADA Title III Compliance
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 sites, if applicable, to ensure that you clearly and comprehensively identify and explain all of your disability accessible and non-accessible features at the property and guest room level. The content should be wordsmithed to ensure that it is not discriminatory and provides a clear explanation of all property specific ADA compliant or accessible features, room details including accessible bathroom features, and on-site equipment for the disabled so an individual with a disability can independently assess whether your place of lodging or guest rooms meet his or her accessibility needs.
Having comprehensive content regarding your hotel property’s accessibility features is just one side of the coin. You must ensure that you are not discriminating against any persons in their ability to search for and book a room type with accessibility features online.
You must ensure that all individuals with disabilities must be able to reserve accessible guest rooms with the same efficiency, immediacy, and convenience as guests with no disabilities. Your system must allow for the research of accessible rooms, booking of accessible rooms and be agnostic to a person with disabilities in the bookability of accessible guest rooms. Also, if you use 3rd party reservations services, you need to make a reasonable effort to make accessible rooms available through these channels.
An important aspect of the 2010 Regulations require places of lodging to hold accessible rooms 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. It is also important to note that a booked accessibility room is removed from all online and off-line inventories and that particular advertised room is guaranteed to the reserving guest at check in.
Keep in mind that the Guidance to the 2010 Regulations states that third-party reservations services including your website provider and digital marketing agent are not liable for non-compliance with these rules. As the owner and operator of a place of lodging, you are responsible for ensuring that reservations made through third-party services comply.
Additionally, It is important that your front desk staff is also briefed on their responsibilities of how to explain your hotel’s compliance features and how to assist disabled persons with their stay if requested.
2. Website Accessibility
The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) is an international community that works together to develop Web Standards. (Click here to learn about the World Wide Web Consortium: https://www.w3.org)
The W3C’s mandate revolves around World Wide Web founder, Tim Berners-Lee’s, statement that ‘The power of the Web is in its universality. Access by everyone regardless of disability is an essential aspect.’ W3C has established what is called the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI). This initiative brings together organizations and governments from around the world ‘to develop guidelines and resources to help make the Web accessible to people with disabilities including auditory, cognitive, neurological, physical, speech, and visual disabilities.’ The WAI has developed what are called Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), which is a set of recommendations and guidelines to make Web content more accessible, and is currently on its second iteration, 2.0. You can learn about WCAG 2.1 by clicking here: https://www.w3.org/TR/2008/REC-WCAG20-20081211/. WCAG has three degrees of accessibility: A, AA, and AAA.
Increasingly, governments around the world are beginning to leverage WAI and WCAG standards in establishing policies regarding website accessibility and while the DOJ has not determined formal rules or policies in respect to website accessibility, the DOJ has been insisting (without any statutes or regulation) that websites and mobile application be brought in compliance with WCAG 2.1 AA.
The elements of website design and content that the WCAG 2.1 Guidelines are set forth to make content on your website perceivable, easily operable, more understandable, and robust so they make your hotel’s website technology accessible. At the most basic explanation, 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 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
We recommend that you run a Website Accessibility Evaluation software that is available at the W3C to better understand your hotel website’s accessibility compliance to the WCAG Standards, which you can find by clicking here: https://www.w3.org/WAI/ER/tools/
ADA Has Made Life Better For Millions of Americans
It is a fact that since the implementation of ADA millions of Americans have easy access to goods and services, and this is fantastic. As ADA regulations continue to develop, here are some tips on what you can do to bring your property into compliance, and protect yourself against frivolous ADA litigation.
“Hoteliers must realize that their property must be ADA compliant. There is no getting around this.”
Four Things You Can Do Now to Protect Yourself
1). Retain an attorney who is experienced in ADA compliance and defense if you ever face a claim for non-compliance.
2). Contact INNsight.com to review your website’s ADA Title III and Web Accessibility Compliance. INNsight provides you the content management tools to and educational support to ensure your hotel’s website content is ADA compliant. INNsight is also at the forefront of designing WCAG 2.1 Level AA accessible hotel websites. At INNsight, we understand that the satisfaction of all guests is paramount. This is why we have taken extra steps to charge in front of ADA and accessibility compliance web design and education. As Award-Winning Leaders in Hotel Technology, we have developed the tools hoteliers need to display the ADA features and services offered easily on their website and reflect any future changes in regulations. At INNsight we continually innovate and add new features at no additional cost to you. By subscribing to INNsight, you can rest assured knowing that your hotel’s website will meet or exceed WCAG 2.1 AA compliance and you will have the tools to easily manage your content and room inventory to satisfy ADA Title III regulations.
3). High on the “to-do” list is Training. Ensure that your staff is properly trained to shoulder ADA questions, and handle any situation with facts, tact, and compassion. We suggest contacting Petra Risk Solutions to perform training for staff, and on-site inspections to carry out an ADA compliance review. You will want to discuss A Certified Access Specialist Program (CASp), which can protect you from liability unless you are sued in federal court, while you are in the process of bringing your property into compliance. By having an inspection, and proper training, you can create a plan for compliance, and ensure that your staff will correctly shoulder ADA questions, and handle any situation with facts, tact, and compassion; and avoid a costly lawsuit.
4). Become a Member of the California Hotel & Lodging Association (CH&LA) , California Lodging Industry Association (CLIA), the Independent Lodging Industry Association (ILIA) or Your Local State Lodging Association. The California Hotel & Lodging Association (CH&LA) is a fantastic resource for California hoteliers. CH&LA protects the interests and rights of California hoteliers. They offer their members affordable programs, access to vendors, legal counsel, and special pricing for programs, education, and more.
Alternatively, you can find a list of your own state’s hospitality trade organization by CLICKING HERE
Compliance Check List
The Compliance Survey that your attorney performs should include an inspection of:
Your physical property
Written ADA policies, procedures, and practices
Your hotel website and reservation system
Your hotel’s online content and digital distribution
Determine if your website is accessible
Analyze Staff Training – Is your staff versed on how to use the audio visual aids for persons with impaired vision and hearing?
Review of your call center, operators, and Telecommunication Relay Services (TRS)
Understanding Ease of Access
Most computers offer “ease of access” tools that are located on the control panel of your computer. These access options offer users use of a Magnifier tool, Narration, High Contrast, and On-Screen Keyboard, and speech recognition. As well as the ability to use text or visual alternatives for sounds, making appliances like a mouse and keyboard easier to use, and using the computer without a display to optimize for blindness. However, these functions DO NOT make your hotel website ADA compliant.
Bookability – Make Certain That Your Reservations System is ADA Compliant
Hotels must ensure that people with disabilities can make reservations during the same hours and in the same manner as people without disabilities.
The site must describe accessible features as well as detail inaccessible features so guests can decide if your property is a good fit for their needs.
Make sure that accessible guest rooms are held by/for guests with disabilities until all other inventory is sold.
Make sure not to overbook your ADA inventory.
Make a reasonable effort to make ADA inventory available through third-party services and include content that provides information about the accessible features of the hotel and accessible rooms.
Understand the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and how it impacts the accessibility concerns of your hotel's physical property. Click here for ADA Checklist
W3C Web Accessibility Content Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1
Ensure that your hotel’s website satisfies the industry standards outlined in the World Wide Web Consortium’s Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1. Click here for WCAG 2.1 Guidelines
When You Subscribe to INNsight
We will audit your hotel website to check for ADA and Web Accessibility compliance. We actively work to help you ensure compliance to the accessibility checklist published by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (1194.22 Web-based intranet and internet information and applications).
We also adhere to the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) guidelines that are defined by The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) to more comprehensively enhance your hotel's website for ease of use and accessibility and will work to achieve Level 2.0 AA conformity.
We can assist in setting up your ADA accessible room type and inventory in our Content Management System (CMS) and help audit your site content and inventory setup.
We create a custom page on your website that describes the ADA-compliant amenities and services at your property.
At INNsight, we know hotels and website design. Our San Francisco-based company has been artfully crafting responsive hotel websites and has been driving hotel digital marketing over a decade. Our understanding of how travelers’ search, research, and book hotel rooms, leads our fine-tuned design standards. Our user-friendly framework lets a traveler look, and then drives them to book their stay with ease. We use this INNsight to develop the most advanced hotel websites leveraging the latest web technologies and usability best practices to drive higher user engagement and conversion.
If you would like a free audit of your current website or would like more information about how INNsight can help your property’s digital marketing through our Award-Winning Technology and awesome customer service, don't hesitate to call: 415.741.4113 or email: sales@INNsight.com or go to: www.isuite.INNsight.com
Disclaimer: While we have made every attempt to ensure that the information contained above is correct, INNsight.com is not responsible for any errors or omissions, or for the results obtained from the use of this information. All information on this Education blog is provided "as is", with no guarantee of completeness, accuracy, timeliness or of the results obtained from the use of this information, and without warranty of any kind, express or implied. In no event will INNsight.com be liable to you or anyone else for any decision made or action taken in reliance on the information on INNsight.com or for any consequential, special or similar damages, even if advised of the possibility of such damages. Information on the INNsight.com Education Blog is for general information purposes only and is not intended to provide legal, financial, medical, or any other type of professional advice. Please seek professional assistance should you require it regarding your hotel’s ADA compliance.
This article was originally published on INNsight - https://www.innsight.com/blog/what-hoteliers-can-do-to-ensure-ada-and-accessibility-compliance-of-their-hotel-website