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Sep.September 02, 2020 10:34 AM

Everything you need to know about real estate web accessibility and ADA lawsuits

As ADA and FHA lawsuits increase in the real estate industry, understanding how to protect your business needs to be crystal clear.

Housing with accessibility in mind has become first nature for real estate businesses and housing services. That’s because the ADA and other accessibility legislation have clearly outlined the physical elements required to allow people with disabilities to access homes, stores, facilities, etc. 

But when it comes to accessibility of websites offering real estate and housing services, things start to get blurry. This is evident by the surge of web accessibility lawsuits targeting the real estate industry in the past few months, including industry leaders, such as Zillow and Compass, who have been sued for being inaccessible to blind people.

What is the overlap between real estate accessibility and web accessibility, and how can businesses maintain their ADA compliance throughout their physical and digital business entities? This article will break down web accessibility for websites offering housing and realty services, and the process of becoming compliant with accessiBe, the AI-driven web accessibility solution that makes your website accessible from day 1. 

Web accessibility for real estate websites
Web accessibility legislation for the real estate industry
A Case Study: Zillow faces web-based ADA & FHA lawsuit
The process of becoming compliant with accessiBe

Web accessibility for real estate websites

Web accessibility is the practice of remediating a website in order to make it accessible to people with disabilities. This means specific code adjustments that will allow people with disabilities to browse and interact with your content without any obstacles. Adjustments range from design elements like enlarged text for the visually impaired and paused animations for epileptic users, to screen reader compatibility for blind users and keyboard navigation for the motor impaired.  

Providing real estate and housing services to people with disabilities online is just as sensitive and in demand as it is with physical structures. This is one of the main reasons that the real estate industry finds itself in the web accessibility hotspot, because it is an essential service. This exposure to a wider range of users increases the chances of being spotted for having an inaccessible website. 

Web accessibility solutions, such as accessiBe, are available to help with the process of becoming compliant. accessiBe uses AI and automation to scan for and fix all accessibility errors on your site, without any manual interference other than the initial 5-minute implementation of a single line of code. The alternative, manual remediation, is not as available or effective for real estate websites because outsourcing an accessibility expert can cost you thousands of dollars and can take up to three months. accessiBe is an ideal solution for businesses that prefer a reliable solution for peace of mind, and the ability to allocate valuable resources towards other business ventures. 

Web accessibility legislation for the real estate industry

Enabling easy access to real estate and housing services has always been a high concern for lawmakers. Naturally, this remains a top priority on the web. Websites operating in this ecosystem have several pieces of legislation that they must comply with. accessiBe’s solution enables compliance with all of them.

American’s with Disabilities Act. The ADA, established in 1990, prohibits the discrimination of people with disabilities. In 2010, the act was updated with ADA Title III to extend this prohibition to places of public accommodations, which includes all businesses. In 2018, the DOJ affirmed that websites are considered places of public accommodation and should comply with the ADA. While the ADA does outline requirements for accessibility of physical structures, it does not do so for websites. 

Web Content Accessibility Guidelines. The WCAG are the standard for web accessibility around the world and have been adopted by most accessibility legislation, including the ADA. The meticulous set of instructions guides developers through the process of remediating a website for accessibility. Once implemented, the WCAG enable a wide array of people with disabilities to access, browse, and interact with a website. 

Fair Housing Act. The FHA takes prohibition of discrimination against people with disabilities one step further. Unlike the ADA, which covers all aspects of society, the FHA is specific to the housing and real estate industry. The legislation refers to the discrimination of anyone who wants to rent or buy a home, get a mortgage, seek assistance, or any other housing-related activities. This of course includes people with disabilities. 

Associations and organizations. While these are not official legislation, it is important to note that official bodies such as the NAR and realtor organizations have called for their communities to make their websites accessible and compliant in order to avoid lawsuits and open their websites to people with disabilities. The ADA and FHA are referred to constantly with these warnings, and are the laws that should be adhered to by all real estate websites.

A Case Study: Zillow faces web-based ADA lawsuits

Zillow made headlines earlier this year when the real estate listing service was sued for being inaccessible to blind people. The visually impaired individual who filed the suit claimed that Zillow’s website denies people with disabilities full and equal access to listings and housing services offered on the platform. 

According to the case, Zillow has failed to design a website that will comply with screen reader software, used by blind people to browse the web. As a result, the website created an “incredible access barrier to blind and visually impaired persons to the extent that such persons are unable to fully access websites and thus the information and services contained thereon.” 

What Zillow failed to realize, along with thousands of websites, is that screen reading software cannot read text that has not been ‘interpreted’ into the text that the screen reader can access. This responsibility is on the website owner to ensure that all content has been adjusted to comply with the screen reader software.

The lawsuit mentions failure to comply with both the ADA and the FHA, clearly stating that under both of them, the individual with disabilities is unable to access housing services that are offered to the public. The defendant made it very clear to the court that the “defendant’s unlawful discriminatory practices will continue indefinitely without the Court’s intervention.”

 

The process of becoming compliant with accessiBe

accessiBe is a fully automated, effortless, and affordable solution that makes your website ADA and WCAG 2.1 AA compliant. If accessibility comes at the expense of performance, businesses will begrudgingly remediate their websites – but that conflicts with accessiBe’s mission, which is to make the Internet accessible for everyone. The only way to do this is to make the process of web accessibility simple, convenient, and reliable, so that website owners won’t even have to think twice about making this important decision.

With accessiBe, all you need is to implement one single line of code, accessiBe’s AI will take care of the rest. Within minutes of adding accessiBe, an interface will appear on your website. This comprehensive tool covers approximately 30% of the WCAG requirements, mostly design-related adjustments such as fonts, spacing, color contrasts, and more. 

Within 48 hours, accessiBe’s AI will have scanned and remediated your entire website, adjusting accessibility errors to address the remaining 70% of the WCAG. Once this is done, you can rest assured that your website enables screen reader compatibility and full keyboard navigation as well. accessiBe is fully scalable, which allows for making multiple websites accessible and compliant simultaneously.

Along with peace of mind, you’ll receive an accessibility statement for your website which can be used as proof of performance, should you be approached for having an inaccessible website. accessiBe’s AI engine will proceed to scan your website every 24 hours to maintain your website’s compliance in the case that you’ve added new content or made changes.


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