The hospitality industry has made great strides in making physical hotel properties accessible for people with disabilities. However, online bookings are another story. And according to the CDC, 26 percent of adults in the United States live with a disability. That’s one-fourth of the population that hospitality businesses are potentially barring from digital customer experiences.
Inaccessible travel sites can negatively impact the experience of people with disabilities including those with visual or auditory disabilities. They also can hinder people with less-visible conditions such as colorblindness, arthritis, autism, or dyslexia. When customers access websites, whether it’s a hotel reservation system or the home page for a hotel resort, all populations deserve equal access to these resources.
Digital tools at hotel kiosks and mobile check-in apps may lack the zoom and screen reading features for people with low vision. Some hotel reservation sites are incompatible with voice recognition software that help people with hearing difficulties or severe arthritis. In addition, people with dyslexia struggle with the color schemes and fonts on the websites of travel guides.
Websites may lack accessibility for users with disabilities to learn about a hotel’s features. These online resources also lack information on whether hotels have pathways for people with disabilities around the hotel, to guest rooms, to the front desk or out to the parking lot.
At the start of the pandemic, many people were forced to turn online to shop for basic life needs. Inaccessible technology put people with visual or hearing impairments at a distinct disadvantage. As restrictions have loosened, many businesses retained their digital-first mindset, forcing consumers with disabilities to navigate inaccessible websites for services—especially when booking hotels that often include drop-down calendars, many forms, and other digital requirements. Websites often are not designed for people with disabilities, and cheap patches or add-ons have too long been the default solution to accommodating them.
Overlay solutions are positioned as quick, easy fixes to digital accessibility and compliance standards yet fail to address problems that run far deeper than any one line of code can remedy. Sadly, these surface-level patch jobs do more harm than good. Overlays act as “separate but equal” solutions that are not only unconscionable but, in many cases, illegal. The hospitality industry should do better by their customers who require extra accommodations and ensure their experiences aren’t hindered by deceptive inclusive tools. Hotels that invest in smaller changes over time and build a more equitable experience for all guests will make more meaningful strides toward holistic accessibility.
How to Achieve a Successful Solution
Helping people with disabilities in the hotel industry involves adopting a comprehensive solution that builds and supports accessibility across digital experiences. To be truly inclusive, hotel properties should maintain a fully accessible website and mobile apps as well as consulting services and training solutions. A hotel industry app that caters to people with disabilities should also offer customer support and provide members access to a complaints section so the concerns of guests with disabilities can be addressed.
Online booking tools for hotels and hotel guides should include the following technologies needed to support all consumers:
- Screen readers, Braille keypads and screen magnification software aid users who are blind or have low vision.
- Voice recognition software let people with mobility disabilities to search the web and type with their voice.
- Head pointers and switch devices enable customers with limited movement navigate without using their hands or a traditional mouse.
Not only should hotels invest in technology, but they should also ensure compliance with common requirements for supporting the tools and features:
- Hotel sites should include ALT text for images describing hotel rooms for the visually impaired.
- Hospitality sites should insert accurate captions into videos embedded on the site to aid the hearing impaired. Use artificial intelligence to transcribe captions. Be sure to still check it with human help to avoid inappropriate, insensitive words or inaccurate content from confusing or offending listeners.
- Hotel staff with disabilities should pair a hotel’s customer-relationship management software with a computer screen reader program like JAWS.
- A document remediation service helps organizations quickly and easily bring online documents into compliance with current standards so that visitors can access reservations and tickets.
Strengthening Customer Relationships
Consulting with customers with disabilities and incorporating their feedback in the design process from the start can help software designers for hotel booking apps achieve more accessibility. Software developers and user experience professionals should continue gathering this feedback through the early stages of rolling out new hotel apps and sites. Incorporating customer feedback will make the hotel’s digital experience truly accessible and strengthen relationships with customers.
Being proactive to keep your website accessible will help you avoid fines and litigation. An inaccessible website could threaten a hotel’s bottom line through hefty compliance lawsuits and reputational damage. Hotel properties must offer accessible digital tools that comply with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 from the World Wide Web Consortium to avoid litigation. The Americans With Disabilities Act, Title 3, also outlines accessibility provisions to make web content more accessible. In addition, comprehensive auditing and testing can ensure that your hotel’s booking apps and websites comply with regulations.
Expanding Accessibility into Digital
Hotels have made significant progress toward ensuring their physical spaces are accessible to people with disabilities, but now their digital presence should be accessible as well. Booking apps and sites should offer a complete solution for people with disabilities and not rely on fraudulent overlays that act more as a pretty bandage versus true compliance. Ensuring greater accessibility for all customers is good business practice and shows that your organization's diversity and inclusion are a priority.
Tim Springer is CEO of Level Access.