Real Estate

The way we view properties and land has significantly changed in the last 10 years. Instead of calling a real estate agent and viewing residences for weeks, a potential renter or buyer can go online and view all pertinent information about a property or house in minutes. If your website and its content aren’t accessible to those with disabilities, you could be losing out on 20% of your potential clients. However, web accessibility isn’t only important to further your business’ profits. It’s also about giving everyone the chance to feel like they are wanted by your business. For those in real estate, the Fair Housing Act and its laws are nothing new. Many class action lawsuits are being brought against real estate brokers, lenders, and building companies for violating these laws because their websites are inaccessible to disabled individuals. Courtrooms are finding that if someone can't access information on a home or development online because of web accessibility issues, then they do not have access to fair housing. Many real estate agents and developers will at one stage receive a demand letter from a plaintiff’s attorney who feels this way. While it might be hard to envisage how to solve this issue, you do need to act upon it. If you receive a demand letter, it might be to claim that your organization is in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). That’s a serious allegation.

The ADA

For one, you do need to take this seriously. It’s not just something that you can push aside or ignore: it’s a genuine legal violation. Working with a professional who can help you to meet ADA requirements is very important to your functionality and reputation as a business. This isn’t a new piece of legislation, after all. The ADA was first passed in 1990, meaning that the terminology does not explicitly mention websites. However, there have been numerous websites and stores found in violation of the ADA. Presently, the ADA applies to your website, apps, and any kind of online platform that you use. For stores that operate exclusively online, the only way a disabled individual can access your inventory is online. The more accessible your website is, the less likely you will be to receive a demand letter. The Department of Justice has regularly been on the side of those looking for changes. They see the issues that you face as important violations that need to be overcome, and a failure to do so could become a significant issue for your business.

What can I do to meet ADA compliance?

Since the ADA is a federal civil right law, you need to be able to act in accordance with its needs. However, currently, the ADA does not have specific guidelines for web accessibility so, in most courtrooms, the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines is the presiding standard for accessibility. If your business does not, then this could become a noose around the neck of your business.

In most cases, to meet basic WCAG requirements, your web content must maintain AA compliance levels, though AAA compliance is always recommended. Indeed, there is a higher number of litigation cases being opened in this case. In 2008, Target settled a class action lawsuit for $6 million because their website was deemed inaccessible to disabled individuals. Now almost 10 years later, the expectation for accessibility on online stores has only grown. The precedent has been set in many other industries, and e-commerce is no different.

Since a website can be considered a place of public accommodation, you need to achieve the levels and standards expected. If you would like to know more of the kind of changes that you may need to make, then the DOJ often refers to the World Wide Web Consortium’ Web Content Accessibility Guidelines.

This precedent was set in the August 2016 case against the University of California Berkeley. As such, it would be advised that you try to adjust your website and apps to fit with the WCAG 2.0 AA guidelines, at least. Typically, an AAA level website would include:

  •    Use of sign language with pre-recorded audio content provided.
  •    Extensive and clear audio descriptions, with alternatives for all media provided.
  •    Audio-only alternatives to help those with audio limitations to navigate.
  •    Color and text control for easier contrast and management.
  •    Written content staying within 80 characters per block.
  •    The website should be fully controllable via keyboard control.
  •    Minimization of the use of timing or interruptions during usage.
  •    Simple authentication without loss of data afterward.
  •    Easy management and explanation of abbreviations and pronunciations.
  •    A high reading level of at least 9th-grade level.

You should look to work with professionals to improve your accessibility and overall compliance to the ADA. This can help to increase revenue streams and help remove the risk of litigation for failure to comply with the modern best practice.