What is real estate web accessibility and why is it important?

Real Estate | 6 Aug |

Despite the many technological advances over the past few years, people with disabilities still encounter many challenges in their day-to-day lives. The internet, for instance, has become an essential part of human activity. Yet, research still finds that the disabled are three times less likely to go online compared to those without disabilities.

Support for the disabled remains sorely lacking. Web accessibility platform accessiBe surveyed 10 million pages and found that only a small fraction actually meet accessibility standards. These standards help ensure that web content can be properly processed by assistive devices such as screen readers and special input devices that people with disabilities need to navigate the web.

Real estate companies should be among those in the forefront of web accessibility. People with disabilities often have specific needs when it comes to housing and shelter. They rely on these companies’ services to help them find the right neighborhoods and accommodations in which to live. As such, the industry should be able to provide essential services that would help them address their needs. One in four individuals over 18 years of age live with some form of disability in Arizona. Overlooking accessibility may mean excluding a significant portion of the local market.

Supporting web accessibility in real estate

Inclusion should be a key reason for real estate companies to work on web accessibility. It is every enterprise’s responsibility to uphold human rights and ensure that it provides equal access to consumers. But aside from this moral imperative, there are other practical reasons for companies to commit to the effort.

Firstly, the law requires it. Enforcement of the the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) as it relates to web accessibility has been the subject of debate for some time. But recent court rulings appear to support the position that websites may be considered as places for public accommodation and must be made accessible. The US Department of Justice (DOJ) maintains a similar stand, claiming that the ADA applies to publicly accessible websites. As a result, people with disabilities and their advocates are now using the law to compel companies to commit to web accessibility. If a website is found to be noncompliant, the business can be fined $55,000 for the first violation.

Secondly, compliance can help companies avoid lawsuits. Unfortunately, some parties are trying to capitalize on these developments by targeting companies for financial gain. Real estate companies are among those being actively targeted. The National Association of Realtors already cautioned its members of such occurrences after several brokers have received demand letters from law firms alleging that their websites are found to be noncompliant. In Arizona, select businesses have already been slapped with ADA lawsuits relating to their websites as early as 2017.

Lastly, providing accessibility can be profitable for businesses. The total disposable income of working age adults with disabilities amounts to $490 billion. Ensuring that they can access services online can open up new opportunities for the business to engage the market.

Making real estate websites achieve ADA compliance

To achieve ADA compliance, companies need to ensure that their websites conform to accessibility standards. To see if a website is accessible, they can use accessibility checkers. These tools scan websites if the essential accessibility standards are met and can provide a simple pass or fail result to indicate compliance.

Once a cursory check is completed and found to be noncompliant, a full audit can be performed to find out the extent of work needed for remediation. When done manually, this can be a tedious and complicated task as each element in each page must be reviewed if they apply the necessary standards. It is not uncommon for some audits to take weeks or even months to accomplish especially for dynamic and content-rich sites. Similarly, remediation, or the application of the necessary changes for compliance, can be quite the effort. It is even possible for the effort to require a complete overhaul of the website.

Real estate websites, for example, often contain dozens if not hundreds of pages of content such as listings and property pages. Ensuring that the entire website is accessible can take significant effort and resources to perform if done conventionally.

How tech helps real estate websites become ADA compliant

On the upside, new methods are now available to make compliance quicker and painless for businesses. For instance, accessiBe uses artificial intelligence (AI) to automate the auditing and remediation processes. Site owners only need to integrate the solution to a website and the platform’s AI will automatically scan all elements and perform the necessary remediation. A site can be made fully ADA compliant within just 48 hours.

ABOVE: accessiBe’s interface in action on HouseMaster’s website: https://housemaster.com/

The platform also enables various features that improve the user experience for different types of disabilities. Its accessibility panel allows site visitors to change visual elements such as font sizes, color, and contrast. This is particularly helpful for the visually impaired make the content more readable. The platform can also automatically insert alt texts to graphics which makes it possible for screen readers to “describe” the content of images to blind people. It also fixes navigation to guarantee that the site can be browsed and used by those using special input devices.

The solution also continuously scans the website on a daily basis, making it helpful for sites that get frequently updated. Aside from the quicker turnaround for remediation, accessiBe can also provide businesses with certification and documentation to show compliance in case legal issues come up.

The company also recently made its ADA compliance checker, dubbed aCe, available for free to all users. Users only need to submit the URL of their website, and the tool will automatically scan site elements if they conform to web accessibility standards. Not only does the tool indicate a pass or fail status, it also provides numeric scores of how well the elements test against the standards. It also provides detailed explanations of the results.

ADA Compliance made possible for real estate websites

Real estate companies are faced with various challenges as of late. The economic downturn poses key challenges for the industry, at least for the short term. Threats of ADA lawsuits would surely be an unnecessary distraction for many companies. But rather than skirting the issue, companies would do well to accept web accessibility as the reality of doing business online. Working toward compliance would only benefit them: not only will they avoid exposing themselves to legal action, but they can simply enforce what is right and provide inclusion for people with disabilities. Besides, effective modern solutions are already available to help companies comply.

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