New Healthcare Web Accessibility Standards Now in Effect

July 20, 2016 Kara McMahon

Did you know that many healthcare programs and services across the United States are now required to make their websites accessible to users with disabilities?

If your company is funded by the federal government via the Affordable Care Act (ACA), you now are at-risk of an Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) web accessibility-related lawsuit.

On 18 July, a new rule went into effect whereby all healthcare programs are bound by the Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) “meaningful access” rule of the Anti-Discrimination Section 1557 of the ACA, meaning that partner websites must provide effective communication for all web users, including accessible electronic information technology. Now, healthcare programs and services are just as at-risk of ADA Internet-related lawsuits as companies across retail, travel, and many other industries.

The growing litigation threat for web inaccessibility is not new. Many well-known companies have been penalized for their lack of accessibility by the Department of Justice (DOJ) and partnering advocacy groups. In 2006, Target settled the National Federation of the Blind, and the company paid $6 million to eligible class members, $4 million for attorney fees and costs, and then made significant changes to their websites. In 2013, H&R Block settled with the National Federation of the Blind as well and agreed to make its website and mobile applications accessible to the blind or vision-impaired individuals as well as to donate $100,000 to programs to help the blind.

While state and local governments, and most other federal agencies have been silent specifying web accessibility standards, the HHS strongly suggested that ACA-funded healthcare entities follow W3C’s Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 AA standards. Proper compliance would be “difficult,” the HHS wrote, without adhering to these particular guidelines.

The federal recommendation indicates that WCAG 2.0 AA will continue to be the preferred standard for web compliance in the coming years. It is already the legal standard for airline websites under the Air Carrier Access Act, and it is frequently cited as the expectation for all websites to follow in DOJ court decisions and settlements.

Now that this new ruling has gone into effect, it will be interesting to see how long it will take for the first private lawsuit to be filed against a major healthcare program.

If you are working with a healthcare company, the risk of legal action for lack of website accessibility is real and growing. For an in-depth look into the strategies and actions needed to prepare for a potential ADA demand letter, join our ADA Accessibility Demand Letters Webinar with ADA expert Richard Hunt.

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