Website Accessibility: Not Just About the Law

May 12, 2016

Is your website accessible? That’s an important question, since the U.S. Department of Justice has made it clear “public accommodation” under the Americans with Disabilities Act applies to websites. That means content on your website should accommodate people with vision, hearing, or other impairments.

It's not just a matter of avoiding litigation, said Mary Brougher, executive vice president of Bender Consulting Services, Inc., a company that helps persons with disabilities find employment. It’s also a matter of expanding the reach of your services to people who otherwise can’t access them online.

“The goal is to engage a broader customer base,” Brougher told REALTORS® and association executives at a risk management forum yesterday at the 2016 REALTORS® Legislative Meetings & Trade Expo.

What accessibility means in practice isn’t officially defined. The DOJ has yet to publish rules on the matter, but a consortium of companies has been working on guidelines for getting started. Under the consortium's Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, or WCAG 2.0, videos should come with closed captioning for people with hearing impairments, graphical information should be explained in texts so visually impaired people can access the information through a reader, and so on. You can access the guidelines online.

There’s also software you can run to identify areas where your website needs to beef up accessibility. One company that offers the software is AudioEye at

Brokers can be liable for the accessibility of their agents’ websites as well as their company's, said Alisa Carr, partner with Leech Tishman Fuscaldo & Lampl, LLC. Along these same lines, owners of shopping centers can be liable for the accessibility of the websites of their tenants, she said.

Whether the “pubic accommodation” requirement applies to closed websites is less clear, said Carr. That means member-only MLS or association sites are probably not subject to accessibility requirements, Carr said.

—Robert Freedman, REALTOR® Magazine