Chances are your website isn’t as accessible as you think. Most sites aren’t. For travel advisors and agency owners, that simple fact means you could be missing out on potential clients that currently can’t use your website.
It could also mean you’re open to legal action should someone decide your site left them out in the cold, particularly if you also have a brick-and-mortar location. Though the Ninth Circuit (federal) continually finds that online-only businesses do not fall under ADA website accessibility guidelines, states are free to apply the regulations more broadly. And any business that does have a storefront is wide open for a lawsuit if their website isn’t fully accessible.
Whether or not you’re worried about your website’s legal status accessibility-wise, there are other reasons to add accessible features to your website.
“We should all be moving towards a more equitable world and that very much includes travel,” said Denise Páne, CEO and founder of Access Design Studio, a website design company focused on building accessible websites. “The reason I got into this is I want to make sure everybody of every ability can have those experiences that make life rich and robust. And for many people, that is travel.”
What Does Accessible Actually Mean?
“When people think about ADA, they think about the physical,” Páne said. “Digital accessibility is a completely different beast. About 25% of the population has a disability that is helped by visual accessibility… we’re talking about people with ADHD, people that are color blind, people that are dyslexic, people that are autistic.”
Even older adults with trembling hands can be helped by certain digital accessibility features, she added.
Surprised by how broad the list is? Even something as seemingly simple as a contact form can be a problem for a number of people.
For instance, the text inside many forms disappears the minute you click inside a text box. Not everyone is going to remember what was supposed to go there.
“Somebody with ADHD is like, what’s supposed to inside this field. I’ve forgotten. I’m distracted,” Páne explained. “And that also helps people with cognitive issues. It helps people that are dyslexic.”
Websites with lots of moving parts, unprompted sounds, and blinking text can also be a problem for people with ADHD, autism or epilepsy. The list, when you start thinking about it, is endless.
Common Accessibility Gaps
Two of the most commonly overlooked accessibility-related website design elements are color contrast and alt text, Páne.
A massive study of one million home pages backs up Páne’s assertion. The number one error – on 83.9% -- of home pages in 2022 was low contrast text. Missing alt text came in second, with 55.4% of homepages missing alt text on images.
Color contrast errors can be a problem for anyone who is visually impaired, color blind, as well as for older adults who don’t see color contrast as sharply as they used to. With color contrast, there needs to be clear definition between text that’s on the page and the background. This is true of any graphics that have text as well.
Color contrast can be technical, but at the very least, you should avoid putting light-colored text on light backgrounds, dark-colored text on dark backgrounds, or combining colors that are known to be invisible to people with color blindness.
Alt text is what’s needed to allow people with screen readers or text-to-speech software – used primarily by visually-impaired and blind users – to “see” images on a page. Without alt text, the screen reader or software will simply say “image” or, even worse, read the name of the file (6853_lowresolution.jpg, for example).
Alt text is also much easier for individuals to manage without any technical knowledge.
To serve the purposes of accessibility, alt text should specifically describe what’s on the screen.
For instance, a photo of a family watching fireworks at Disney should not have alt text that says “family at Disneyworld.” Instead, the alt text should be something more like, “Family of four watching fireworks and laughing at Disneyworld’s Magic Kingdom.”
This allows people who can’t clearly see the image – or see it at all – to be included in the entire web experience. You chose the photo for a reason, don’t you want everyone to get the message you’re trying to send with it?
Another aspect of accessibility you can tackle yourself is the content. Text should be kept short. Use headings and subheads to organize the text so screen readers can read the content in an organized manner that makes sense to the listening.
If you’re not sure whether your site is accessible or not, there are a number of free scan programs out there you can try. Just google “scan website for accessibility” for a list. (You’ll probably be subject to a sales call afterwards, but just ignore them if you’re not interested in investing in a full overhaul of your site.) Many website design companies also offer a free consultation where they’ll take a look at your site for free and let you know what it needs.
What’s the ROI in Accessibility
According to the Web Accessibility Initiative, people with disabilities spend more than $200 billion annually. Some of that is on travel.
“As you know, nobody will tolerate friction on a website anymore,” Páne said. “They will just leave. So, if you have somebody who has ADHD or epilepsy or a zillion other cognitive issues and your website is not usable for them in a comfortable way, they’re just going to leave.”
By making your website more accessible, even by just a little bit, you open up your business to up to 25% more of the population.
Having a more accessible site also becomes a part of your or your agency’s brand, Páne added.
“It becomes a part of your marketing, part of who you are. You truly are letting people know you care about their experience. And that’s what people want… They [people with disabilities] are extremely brand loyal. If they find somebody that cares about them and their experience, they stay with them and they tell others.”