REALTORS® throughout Arizona are working to make their websites more accessible to those with disabilities.
In some instances, this step is taken in response to threats of litigation alleging that the real estate professional’s website violates the civil rights of individuals with disabilities. But more commonly, REALTORS® are taking this step because they deem it morally proper.
Additionally, web accessibility increases the available audience and, in turn, a REALTOR’s® potential customer base.
The lack of federal regulations governing website accessibility has made it difficult for REALTORS® to ascertain precisely what an accessible website should look like. But that should not stop REALTORS® from helping those with disabilities perceive, understand, navigate, and interact with the web. With that in mind, there are a number of steps REALTORS® can take to increase website accessibility.
Many people with disabilities use assistive technology to help them navigate the web. This includes the use of screen readers, text enlargement software, and refreshable Braille displays that translate the text on the web page into Braille symbols (small plastic or metal pins that move up and down to display the Braille character). To optimize your site for these adaptive tools, below are some key principals of accessible design that can be implemented relatively easily and without impacting the overall “look and feel” of your website.
Because assistive technologies cannot interpret photographs, charts or other graphic information, adding a line of H.T.M.L. code to provide text for each image will enable a sight disabled user to understand the content being displayed. Such descriptions, called “ALT” text, should provide a text equivalent of the visual, thereby enabling screen readers to interpret the images for those with disabilities.
Subtitles and Audio Descriptions
If your web content includes videos, consider the use of video transcription to get subtitles or captions to assist those users with hearing disabilities. Popular video hosting sites such as YouTube offer tools that allow users to add subtitles to their clips. Similarly, audio descriptions of images can help make videos accessible to individuals who are blind or have low vision.
P.D.F. documents and related image-based formats are often inaccessible to disabled users as they typically integrate poorly with screen readers and text enlargement programs. In addition to PDFs, documents should, therefore, be provided in alternative H.T.M.L. web pages. If this is not possible, provide a series of tags to accompany the P.D.F., which provide a hidden structured, textual representation of the P.D.F. content that is presented to screen readers.
Color and Font Control
Often times, disabled users need to manipulate color and font settings in order to make pages readable. As far as possible, do not “hard code” colors and ensure that the site can be viewed with the color and font sizes set in a user’s web browsers and operating systems. If the site is designed to prohibit changing the color and font settings, users with low vision may struggle to absorb the content. It is also advisable to use highly contrasting colors for text and background. Certain color combinations are extremely difficult to distinguish for people with poor eyesight. Generally speaking, black or dark-colored text on a white background is the best practice because it is readable for most audiences.
Skip to Main Content Link
A typical website includes a variety of navigational links on each page. In fact, the main content is not usually the first thing on a web page. Unfortunately, this means that keyboard and screen reader users must navigate a long list of navigation links, sub-lists of links, icons, site searches and other elements before they are able to access the main content. Without a mechanism for bypassing these links, disabled users are unable to navigate the site in an efficient manner. By placing a “skip to main content link” at the top of each page, this problem can be avoided.
Periods in Abbreviations
Screen readers attempt to phonetically pronounce acronyms if the letters are not separated by periods. For example, the acronym “URL” will be read by a screen reader as “earl” if not written as “U.R.L.” Sites should, therefore, distinguish acronyms by the use of periods.
Some screen readers allow users to read only the links on a webpage. Therefore, every link should make sense in the abstract, meaning even if the link text is read by itself, the user will understand the content. Link phrases like “click here,” when read independent of context, will prove meaningless to a user relying on a screen reader. When embedding a link in a post, it is therefore far more useful to describe the link.
This list is certainly not exhaustive and REALTORS® should consult with web developers to better understand Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0, which is a series of guidelines created by the World Wide Web Consortium for improving web accessibility. However, by addressing these basic principles, REALTORS® can increase accessibility to their website and avoid excluding a segment of the population that may want to retain their services.
Scott M. Drucker, Esq., a licensed Arizona attorney, is Assistant CEO and General Counsel for Arizona REALTORS® serving as the primary legal advisor to the association. This article is of a general nature and reflects only the opinion of the author at the time it was drafted. It is not intended as definitive legal advice, and you should not act upon it without seeking independent legal counsel.