Ninety-five percent of all recent buyers used the internet at some point in their home search—and buyers now may be visiting your website during theirs.
Courts have been split on the issue of equal access to websites. According to Alisa Carr, partner at Leech Tishman in Pittsburgh, Pa. who recently shared her expertise on a panel at the 2016 RELATORS® Conference & Expo, recent cases have mandated that a business’ accessibility obligations extend to its website and mobile applications. Carr recommended companies familiarize themselves with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 AA posted at www.w3.org, which are a technical standard created by the World Wide Web Consortium to help make sites more accessible.
“It’s a very user-friendly website and a great resource to educate you on how to start to make your sites compliant,” Carr said. “Make sure your vendors are using these standards and understand that your site needs to be accessible, and not just navigable and pretty. Also, hold your designer to these standards to ensure that the site continues to remain in compliance as content evolves.”
Mary Brougher, another panelist and executive vice president for Bender Consulting Services, also in Pittsburgh, added that 12.6 percent of the U.S. population—or 39 million people—lives with a disability. Accessible websites, according to Brougher, allow assistive technology software used by persons with visual, hearing, motor and other disabilities to augment content and make it easier to consume. For example, adding text descriptions with complex graphics, limiting pop-ups and flashing colors, voice-overs that read text aloud, and videos with transcripts.
“The goal is to engage a wider consumer base,” Brougher said. “It’s smart business to have the widest population of people to come to your website and learn what you do or what products you sell.”
The Department of Justice announced it would publish technical standards for website accessibility in 2010, but no standards have been published to date. Until these guidelines are published, real estate agents and companies are exposing themselves to ligation and shouldn’t make themselves a target by having a website that isn’t compliant, Carr added.
Brougher recommended the following to help real estate professionals reach compliance and potentially avoid future litigation:
- Assign an executive to be responsible for website accessibility
- Develop and execute a digital accessibility training plan
- Conduct an assessment of websites and applications
- Document the ongoing status of accessibility efforts
- Work with third-party vendors to acquire and implement software and features
- Prioritize any content accessibility violations
- Continue to assess online sites and tools for compliance
Legal experts at the National Association of REALTORS® (NAR) recommend getting out in front of accessibility issues. As a first step, site operators can contact their website provider to inquire about their site’s current accessibility features. A hired technical expert can also help site operators identify where their site might fail to comply. A simple feedback form also makes it easy for users to get in touch about any accessibility issues.
For more information, please visit www.realtor.org.