Dear Fair Housing Lady,
I am well aware that our leasing office must be accessible (that’s because of the Americans with Disabilities Act) and that, based on when they were built, apartment communities may have to have certain accessibility design features in place (that’s because of the Fair Housing Act). But, now I am hearing that our website might need to be “accessible” as well. What does this mean? What should we be doing?
Dear Really Wondering,
What you have heard is true! And what this means is that if you have a “brick and mortar” presence (as most communities with a leasing office do), it may be necessary to have your website be ADA compliant. That includes ways for those who are visually impaired, deaf, or challenged with fine motor skill disability to navigate and have access to the housing information you provide.
At the moment, the case law is not definitive on this topic, and the U.S. Department of Justice has extended the time frame to issue definitive guidance until the year 2018. Nonetheless, in a few cases, the DOJ litigation arm has weighed in favorably on the side of the disabled. And there is speculation that a recent California case (2016) will likely embolden advocates for the disabled.
So, what should you do? First, you may wish to look into the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) which has issued “Web Content Accessibility Guidelines” that set forth technical standards for making Internet content accessible to the disabled. These standards do not have the force of law but are helpful. Some of the issues (there are many more) you may need to consider are alternative text for those who are blind (so they may “read” a description of logos, artwork, photos, images and graphics, via screen reader technology); videos with alternative text, audio descriptions and/or captions (making them accessible to people who are deaf or hard of hearing); and keyboard accessibility (for those who cannot use a mouse but who need to be able to access the website using a keyboard).
With legal demand letters being sent to companies by plaintiffs’ lawyers, the complexities and costs of litigation, and the public relations backlash of not having a website accessible to the disabled, you would do well to make your websites more accessible sooner rather than later. The trend is fast moving towards ADA compliance for websites, so kudos to you for being aware of that and asking Fair Housing Lady about it!