The National Association of REALTORS® (NAR) recently sent a letter to the Department of Justice (DOJ) expressing support for clear website accessibility standards for compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). In 2016, the Department began work on regulations for state and local government website accessibility, which would have helped inform website accessibility rulemaking for places of public accommodations, including real estate brokerages. However, with the change in executive leadership in 2017, the Department has stalled work on the issue. This poses ongoing problems for REALTOR® members facing lawsuits for alleged violations of the ADA. These lawsuits have left NAR members confused about how to mitigate legal risks in this area.
In the absence of federal regulations, courts around the country continue to wrestle with the question of whether the ADA’s accessibility obligations extend to a business’s online presence. There have been numerous split opinions among the various circuits. Some states and local governments have also enacted their own policies related to government agencies’ website accessibility. With a rise in state and local requirements regarding website accessibility, along with varying court opinions on the issue, businesses could be subject to inconsistent rules across jurisdictions. This is yet another reason why the DOJ’s swift guidance on this topic is needed now more than ever.
In the meantime, what can you do to get ahead of this issue? NAR continues to recommend that business owners review the “Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0,” which were developed by the World Wide Web Consortium to help developers and site managers make the web more accessible. Contact your website provider and ask what’s being done to create or improve accessibility and how to ensure ongoing compliance with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0. If you operate your own website and do not have the technical expertise in-house, consult an expert who specializes in creating and maintaining accessible websites. Once you understand what website accessibility improvements are needed, changes can be implemented incrementally. Educate and train relevant personnel to ensure they’re knowledgeable about and focused on your business’s online accessibility. Technical experts are also available to monitor your website and alert you when a change or remediation is necessary.
Consider proactive ways to help disabled users of your site to get in touch. Adding contact information for someone at your business who can respond to a particular user’s inability to access the site, or a portion of it, is a step your business can take to address site accessibility issues. A simple feedback form is another tool to help users inform you about what accessibility features may need to be improved or added. With more and more business being conducted over the internet, getting out in front of the online accessibility issue is a smart business decision. Not only can it help you avoid legal risks down the road, it also establishes your business as accessible to all, and may enhance your reputation and even your bottom line.
For more information on ADA website compliance, go to www.nar.realtor/videos/window-to-the-law/window-to-the-law-accessible-websites-and-the-ada.
Sarah Young is the director of Real Estate Services for the National Association of REALTORS®. This column is brought to you by the NAR Real Estate Services group.
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