Making Destination Websites ADA Compliant

September 09, 2021

Diversity is an underpinning of everything we do – or at least increasingly so – but as tourism professionals we need to take a holistic approach to diversity, and being ADA compliant is part of that. It’s more than skin deep. Having accessible features to everything we offer is key to including everyone as much as possible.

The American with Disabilities Act, or ADA, helps ensure that the world is accessible to those with challenges not faced by the majority of society. We like what they do – a lot. Disabilities can be physical or invisible, so complying across the board is always advisable.

While hotels and restaurants strive to be more accessible, we have to remember, as destination marketers, that we have a role in it, too. One place that we sometimes forget about is our tourism websites. DMOs sites, booking sites and campaign websites are just as important as doorways and ramps, and the ADA helps share guidance on how to accommodate those who are interested in the information we share online.

It’s hard to tell from the comfort of your office who is viewing your website. Some people need screen readers to help them navigate websites. Others who are visually impaired rely on sounds and verbalized descriptions, while those who are hearing impaired rely more on text and captioning. Being ADA compliant is new territory for many places that still struggle with the basics of technology, but help is here.

These potential travelers aren’t just a small segment of society, either. Some 35 million Americans report having some hearing difficulty, with a smaller percentage fully deaf. Around 12 million American adults have vision impairment, with 1 million actually blind. Making your website accessible alienates no one and only opens up your destination to more people. A bit of investment up front goes a long way.

There’s a lot that goes into it, but we wanted to share a few brief notes to get you thinking about revising your website and ensuring you are ADA compliant.

Text presentation

Those of us without visual impairments can’t even begin to realize how difficult reading a website can be for those who do. Many web users with visual impairments use a Braille reader to interact with websites, relying on their touch to identify text. While there are many great innovations out there related to Braille, creating a friendly website requires some planning. Too much text, moving text or inaccessible text can make translating to Braille extremely challenging.

From font size and position to scrolling text and color, there are many choices that we make for aesthetic reasons that may hinder engagement with our website. The consequence? We alienate would-be visitors. It’s time to address these most basic communication shortcomings.

Even something as simple as a more descriptive call to action could make all the difference. “More” or “Continue” are not as clear as “Read more news” or “Learn more about our venue.” Best practices are evolving constantly, and a full assessment of your website’s text will ensure you’re ADA compliant.

Image presentation

Text is one challenge, but images are another. Some individuals with visual impairments rely on image descriptions read aloud to describe a photo or logo. Be sure that on the backend your photos are prepared appropriately for that. It’s not something most of us would ever think of doing.

Also, if you use images with copy overlaid, there are ways to make sure it is accessible to everyone. It’s not as simple as just giving a photo a clear caption. Remember that websites are read on phones, computers and laptops, and with screen readers, “smiling woman” is not a description that will always cut it, shortchanging the viewer who is trying to know more about your destination. Instead, paint the full picture by writing, “Young woman sipping coffee and smiling at the mountain view.”

Graphics presentation

Did you know that videos shouldn’t play automatically to be ADA compliant? And if there is something blinking or flashing, reconsider it if you want to maintain a truly accessible website. Graphics and video can be useful assets for a website, but for the visually and hearing impaired, they can be obstacles.

And with so much content to scroll through and video auto playing, some impaired web users may be turned off quickly by a site that you may think looks great. It’s much more time-consuming for those using a Braille reader to scan the content of your website. Something as trivial-sounding as a “Sip-to” button can make all the difference for these readers.

That’s just the tip of the iceberg. Other considerations for video content are to make it accessible to both the blind and the deaf. Your video editor should add captions for those who cannot hear, and appropriate audio descriptions for those who cannot see. It all might sound like a bit of extra work, but fortunately most social media sites like Facebook and YouTube have fairly accurate software to help with it – if you are using it in the first place.

There are many other considerations about defaults, PDFs and HTML coding that goes into making a website accessible. The APA provides its own toolkit to guide you through it, but it can be daunting, and working with someone experienced in the field is never a bad idea. An assessment and upgrade from your current site to an ADA compliant one will take some time, but once completed, those with no impairments won’t notice the changes, and those with impairments will appreciate every added feature to help make their navigation easier.

Everyone is a potential visitor, so creating a website accessible to the greatest number of people possible is an absolute must for any destination. Traveling around your destination’s website should be a reflection of traveling around the destination itself – open and accessible to all!

Concerned that your website may not be ADA compliant? It’s overwhelming, we know. Get in touch with Susan Brake at [email protected] to learn about options for evaluating and updating your destination’s website. Inclusivity isn’t just a buzzword these days, so putting words into action to make your website accessible is the right thing to do.