What Multifamily Operators Need to Know About ADA Compliance for Apartment Websites
Though ADA pre-dates the Internet as we know it today, we now live in an interconnected world – one that is reliant on the web to deliver information, services, and resources through multiple online channels. As physical buildings become more digitally dependent on their websites to transact business with both prospective and existing customers, a strong case can be made for these services to be accessible to everyone, including individuals with disabilities.
Where Do Websites Fit Into ADA Compliance?
First, let’s take a look back. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was passed on July 26, 1990, prohibiting discrimination against individuals with disabilities in all areas of public life. The purpose was to grant millions of individuals with disabilities equal access to all public and private places. In 2008, the Americans With Disabilities Act Amendments Act (ADAAA) was signed into law, further clarifying and broadening that definition of “disability.”
The core elements of ADA ensure equal employment opportunities for individuals with disabilities, prohibit discrimination against individuals with disabilities, host and promote activities and services of public entities to individuals with disabilities, and prohibit any form of discrimination on the basis of disability in places of public accommodation. The act further requires businesses to make “reasonable modifications” to serve people with disabilities.
While the ADA guidelines do not explicitly mention website compliance, many legal experts interpret them to extend to online services, since the comprehensive civil rights law mandates that places of public accommodation remove any access barriers that would inhibit a person with disabilities from accessing goods or services. As websites exist within the public domain, many judicial authorities have agreed with this interpretation of the law, opening the doors to an array of litigation concerning website accessibility.
What Is The Legal Basis Behind Surf-By Lawsuits?
Many people with disabilities use assistive technology, which enables them to utilize technological devices to access information from websites. For example, individuals, who have vision impairment, may use screen readers, or devices that speak text aloud. However, these users cannot browse websites unless they are built to work with their screen-reading software, which would create a barrier to access.
This has sparked an array of litigation known as surf-by lawsuits. Much like drive-by lawsuits, where physical spaces are sued for not complying with ADA regulations, surf-by lawsuits are website-oriented accessibility complaints that are interpreted under ADA guidelines by private law-firms. These lawsuits pose a serious threat to many apartment communities and businesses in general, as digital services are now highly integrated into daily workflows, making websites prime targets for this type of litigation.
To date, thousands of accessibility lawsuits have been filed, and several successful court decisions have paved the way for a strong legal standing on ADA-oriented cases, typically favoring those with disabilities whom rightfully deserve equal access. Courts have found that online services have enough approximation to the physical business to be held accountable. In layman’s terms, this means that legal precedence has been established for websites to also be covered by Title III of the ADA and are required to be accessible to those with disabilities.
Why Is There a Growing Necessity For Digital Inclusion?
Over a billion people, or approximately 15 percent of the world’s population, has a disability that makes accessing the web difficult. In fact, there are nearly 56 million people with disabilities in the United States alone, meaning about 19 percent of the country has a disability. Digital inclusion means that all people have access to technology, information, and digital assets.
Because the Internet is a growing necessity in our day-to-day lives, access to the web is regarded by many as a human right. With e-commerce, education, entertainment, and so much more happening online, ensuring that people with disabilities have access to certain websites is important. Much like physical ADA accommodations, failing to offer a fully accessible website will hinder leasing efforts. Plus, it spells disaster for your community’s reputation, especially during a time when online reviews hold as much weight as personal recommendations.
If your website is not ADA compliant, you are missing out on millions of potential customers, who cannot access your site due to their disabilities. Many of them might be interested in your community and its related services, but they won't be able to navigate your website easily enough to express interest or take a step further. Engaging with such a large audience is not only the right thing to do, but it’s also the smart thing to do.
With so much at stake, it is critical that multifamily housing operators make their websites accessible to everyone. 365 Connect has delivered the industry’s first digitally compliant platform, which was certified by an independent, third-party accessibility compliance audit firm. The platform was certified in accordance with the federally recognized Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) at Level AA, covering our websites, lead forms, rental applications, portals, and payments. Get in touch with us to learn more about our ADA compliant apartment websites.