How to Make Your Hotel Website ADA Compliant
By Hotel Tech Report
Last updated October 28, 2022
6 min read
Your physical hotel lodging facilities are ADA compliant with accessible guest rooms, but has your website kept up with ADA regulations like Title III (the Americans with Disabilities Act)? There's nothing worse than a scare from an inspector or worst yet a letter from the Department of Justice itself.
If you’re looking for easy ways to improve your website conversion, get incremental revenue, and boost your guest review scores, then you should take a close look at your website to make sure it’s accessible. But we’re not just talking about making sure your website is online - you’ll want to check that the shopping and booking experience is positive for guests of all abilities and impairments.
In this article, we’ll explain what ADA compliance and accessibility means for your website reservation system and suggest actionable steps you can take to make your website more accessible. With these measures in place, you can position your hotel as a welcoming and accommodating place for all potential guests.
What is ADA Compliance for Websites?
You’re likely already familiar with ADA compliance in the context of accessible hotel rooms, but there’s a bit more to it. The Americans with Disabilities Act was established in 1990, and it aimed to eliminate discrimination against people with disabilities and to make public spaces accessible to people with disabilities. The ADA requires businesses to make reasonable accommodations, so the act’s passing kicked off a widespread effort to install wheelchair-friendly ramps, accessible bathrooms, and automatic doors. The ADA has clear guidelines for physical spaces, like your guestrooms and your entrance, but how does the ADA affect your website?
Back in 1990 government officials didn’t know just how integral the internet would become to our economy, entertainment, and social lives. So, the ADA had no mention of websites or online accessibility. Even today, after some recent revisions, the ADA still holds websites in a grey area with no concrete guidelines, which makes both compliance and enforcement tricky. Some courts in the US have ruled that commercial websites fall into the “places of public accommodation” category, which means ADA standards apply, while other courts have ruled that the ADA doesn’t apply to websites.
Does My Hotel Website Need to be ADA Compliant?
Although there’s no clearly defined law that says your website must be ADA compliant, it’s certainly in your best interest to make it so. Not only will an ADA compliant website protect you from potential lawsuits, it will make your hotel available and welcoming to guests of all abilities. Even though ADA compliance laws for websites are murky, several large companies have lost lawsuits focusing on the accessibility of their websites. Grocery chain Winn-Dixie, Burger King, and Domino’s Pizza have all been sued by people who tried to use their websites or apps but couldn’t, due to the lack of alt text or incompatibility with screen reading software. In addition to wanting to avoid legal ramifications, as a hotelier, you want to provide the best guest experience to all guests - regardless of their abilities. Maintaining an accessible website gives your hotel the best chance of securing bookings, especially bookings made by people who are looking for accessible rooms and might have a harder time finding them on your competitors’ websites.
Cornerstones of Accessible Websites
The text of the ADA act provides next to no guidance for making websites accessible, so the commonly accepted framework for web accessibility is the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, which is maintained by the World Wide Web Consortium. The WCAG 2.0 Level AA are the most relevant guidelines for hotel websites, so as long as your website meets the specifications it includes, then your website is sufficiently accessible.
Websites that meet WCAG 2.0 Level AA guidelines must be compliant in four main areas:
- Perceivable: Users must be able to perceive the website’s content, even if the user cannot see. The website must provide alternatives to visual content, such as audio subtitles on videos, or make the text readable in other ways, like in large print.
- Operable: Users must be able to navigate the website, even if the user cannot use a mouse. For example, your website could be completely navigable using keyboard commands like tabs and arrow keys.
- Understandable: Users must be able to comprehend the website’s content without confusion. This means that your website should provide adequate guidance for a first-time traveler to successfully book a room, contact you, or manage their reservation. If a guest encounters an error message, there should be sufficient directions given for them to resolve the error.
- Robust: The website should continually update to support the latest assistive technologies, like maintaining compatibility with screen readers.
How to Check Your Website for ADA Compliance
Now that you understand the guiding principles behind making websites ADA compliant, let’s look at what this means in practice. What specific steps do you, your digital marketing team, or your website designer need to take to stay compliant?
- All images, maps, and other media must have alt-tags explaining what the media show
- Any hyperlinks must have anchor text that clearly describes where the link will take you
- All pages must have a button to “skip navigation”
- All text must be structured using appropriate heading and text tags (like H1, H2, etc.)
- All call-to-action buttons (like “Book Now”) must have aria-label attributes which describe the button’s purpose
- All pages must have have sufficient contrast between colors
- All text must be in accessible fonts
- Any videos must have alternative ways to perceive the content, like transcripts or audio subtitles
- Any audio files must have alternate formats too, like captions or a transcript
- Any tables must have column headers, row titles, and content in the cells
- All forms must have descriptive html tags
- All PDF files or other downloadable files must follow the same principles of accessibility
- Every page and action must be navigable with keyboard commands
- Your accessibility options must be outlined on a dedicated Accessibility page
- Your contact information should be clearly visible so users can request additional accessibility details
After you’ve implemented all of these steps, you’ll want to test your website (or have a third-party tester do it for you) to ensure it checks all the boxes. Remember to test it on a regular cadence, like once per quarter, to confirm that everything continues to function properly.
Tips for Making your Hotel Website More Accessible
The checklist above applies to websites of all types, from ecommerce shops to blogs, and all the points mentioned are a good starting point for making your hotel website accessible. But hotels should take a few extra steps to create a great user experience for all potential guests.
- Show a “book now” button on every page. One of the main reasons your website exists is to allow guests to book reservations online. Make it as easy as possible to book by including a link to your book engine in your header or menu bar so that potential guests don’t get confused by too many navigation steps.
- Also show your contact information on every page - ideally, in the footer. If a guest has a question about your accessibility options (or any question, really), you’ll want them to be able to contact your front desk quickly without having to dig around for a phone number or email address.
- Include detailed alt text for all of your photos. Photos are worth a thousand words, and your website probably has plenty of photos, so it’s well worth the time to craft helpful alt text that helps potential guests get a sense of your style, amenities, and service if they cannot see your photos in the traditional way.
- Describe your accessible rooms and amenities in detail. Far too many hotels make the mistake of simply listing an “accessible” room type without specifying what exactly is accessible about it. Or perhaps you have several different types of accessible rooms, like a wheelchair-accessible room and a hearing-accessible room. You’ll want to explain exactly what accommodations guests can expect in each, from a roll-in shower to a visual alarm clock.
- Similarly, add some details to your amenities page that include accessible features in your restaurant, pool area, parking garage, and lobby. For example, show a photo (with alt text) of your pool lift or the wheelchair-accessible front entrance.
- Avoid overly stylized text or colors on your website. Even if your hotel’s decor has a very specific look and feel, it shouldn’t compromise the usability of your website. Ensure your font is easy to read, text is large enough, and contrast is at the proper level to be readable by any potential guest.
- Work with a top rated digital marketing agency to build your hotel website
Ready to make your hotel website more accessible? It’s a low lift, low cost way to not only protect your hotel from potential lawsuits, but also greatly improve the online experience for guests of all abilities, leading to not only a potential boost in revenue, but also guest review scores.