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Property Professionals Have A Duty to Make Their Website Accessible

When a website is inaccessible, it means that users with disabilities are not able to properly access the website and consume its content. In 2012, the U.S. Department of Justice passed new standards under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) for accessible website design. In short, it states that website content must be available to blind users, deaf users, and those who use assistive technologies to read, write, and speak. For property professionals especially, making sure your website is accessible is imperative.

Why an Accessible Website is Specifically Important for Property Professionals

Prior to visiting properties, the majority of those interested in real estate will head online to do their research. If the website is inaccessible, and those with disabilities cannot properly find out the information they need, property professionals are at risk for being sued (even if done unintentionally) due to lack of compliance and are also risking losing business by excluding those with disabilities.

In addition to violating the website accessibility guidelines, your business may also be at risk for violating the ADA’s ruling on property owning and renting in general. It states:

“In the real estate industry, the law protects people from disabilities and ensures that lending is available. In addition, there are a number of federal programs that are designed to assist first time homebuyers. These programs are guaranteed to everyone, and the ADA ensures that disabled people have the same rights to purchase property as people who do not have a disability. For example, the ADA makes it illegal for a lender to refuse financing to a borrower simply because the person is confined to a wheelchair or cannot walk. If the lender does discriminate on the grounds of a disability, its actions are illegal.” (ADA).

One example of this occurred in 2018 when a blind user was unable to find the hours of operation on a real estate company’s website. In addition, the website was not compatible with any text-readers so the user could not be read any of the information either. The class action lawsuit was filed in December of 2018 and accused the real estate company, Compass, of violating the ADA for “its failure to design, construct, maintain, and operate its website to be fully accessible to and independently usable by Plaintiff and other blind or visually-impaired people.”

Another example of this violation occurring could be a deaf user trying to navigate through a virtual tour of a property. If the website does not have text captions underneath the video and the user can not properly consume the information about the property, the neighborhood, or its price, it can lead them to believe that the property professional is refusing to provide them information. This could lead to a lawsuit.

How to Make Your Site Accessible

Below are three quick ways that you can update your website to make it accessible to those with disabilities (see a more exhaustive list here):

  1. Screen Reader Adjustments: A screen reader is a form of technology that takes the text/content from a site and reads it out loud to its user. Those who are blind, visually impaired, have a learning disability, or are illiterate utilize screen readers to consume a website’s information. The most common screen readers are Microsoft Narrator for Windows and Voiceover for Macs. To ensure a website is compatible with screen readers, the site should provide alt text descriptions, titles, subtitles, and headings.
  2. Keyboard Shortcuts: The use of a computer mouse is out of the question for those who cannot see properly or for those with physical disabilities. Programming a website to allow the use of keyboard shortcuts is one way for all users to have the ability to navigate around a site. Including dropdowns, menus, pop-ups, forms, skip links, and buttons are all easy ways to allow users access all around the site.
  3. Alt Text/Captioning: For those who are hearing impaired, video consumption is difficult. If your website has videos on it, be sure to include closed captioning, audio transcripts, and audio descriptions of the videos so that users can understand the content.

If you currently are unsure about whether or not you have made the changes correctly and fully created an accessible website, there are tools that can help streamline the process for you and ensure you are being compliant. One of the most popular and powerful interfaces that can be implemented onto a business’s website to ensure it meets the Website Content Accessibility Guidelines is accessiBe. There are profiles that can be adjusted to make the site safe for those with epilepsy, visually impaired, hearing impaired, those with cognitive disabilities, persons with ADHD, and more.

Don’t Forget: Consider the Operations Gap and Price Gap

Another very important factor to consider when making your website accessible is the ongoing upkeep. While the above three suggestions are a great start, as a property professional, your website is likely going through changes with new properties being posted, old ones being taken down, changing of hours, and more. In short, as the information on your website changes, you need to ensure that all of the new information going up is just as accessible as the previous content.

With that said, it’s no secret that making sure that your website is accessible can be a tedious task. There are very small updates that you may forget to change when updating the site, and making these little changes every time can add up in costs to your website. In short, checking out third-party tools to help you succeed is usually well worth the investment. In the end, website accessibility is a win-win for all.