The National Association of REALTORS® has long advocated full compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). ADA compliance is no longer limited to physical settings, however. Associations must now ensure accessibility to their websites to mitigate the risk of a legal challenge and create a more inclusive experience for visitors.
The ADA clearly requires physical public spaces to be accessible and provides standards by which the government measures compliance. Its application to virtual and electronic spaces, such as websites, mobile apps, or other online spaces, however, is less clear. That might seem like an oversight, but the legislation was enacted in 1990, when society wasn’t as “connected” as it is now.
The Department of Justice (DOJ) oversees enforcement of the ADA. The agency says that electronic spaces must be accessible, but it hasn’t issued any standards to guide compliance. In the absence of official guidance, litigation related to web accessibility has skyrocketed.
What's Website Accessibility?
An accessible website or mobile app will interact with adaptive and assistive technologies that make content easier to consume by persons with disabilities. Examples of assistive technologies include software that converts speech to text, screen readers that voice text displayed on a webpage, and alternative keyboards such as Braille terminals.
Also, people with disabilities should be able to fully interact with a website. For example, users should be able to navigate a website using just a keyboard, text alternatives should be provided for nontext content such as photographs, and content should be able to be displayed in different ways without compromising information or structure.
Without guidance, courts, businesses, and the DOJ itself have relied on the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 AA to measure compliance. WCAG 2.0 AA is a set of technical standards and specifications that should be integrated into a website. They ensure compatibility with specific technologies and strategies that disabled individuals use to interact with websites.
Accessibility and Fair Housing
Recently, real estate professionals in Florida and Massachusetts have received cease-and-desist letters from Portell Law Group alleging that the brokers’ websites violate the Fair Housing Act (FHA) because certain features are not accessible to visitors with disabilities. The complaints involve mostly company logos, social media icons, and navigation unrelated to property listings.
While NAR remains deeply committed to fair housing and to the ADA, we do not believe there is a legitimate basis for these claims, and we believe that this is essentially a “trolling” effort. NAR sent a letter on behalf of members refuting the viability of the alleged claims, while also articulating NAR’s and its members’ continued commitment to the FHA and ADA.
If any of your members receive a letter from Portell Law Group alleging that their website violates the FHA, advise them to report the claim to their insurance carrier, share a copy of NAR’s letter with their attorney, and check out NAR’s Window to the Law videos on website accessibility and the ADA.
Best Practices for Your Website
Don’t wait to address this issue! Website accessibility lawsuits continue to arise, and real estate professionals need to take steps to create and maintain accessible websites. Conduct an audit to assess your website’s accessibility and create a plan to update your site, if necessary, based on the results. Keep in mind that you can implement the plan gradually, but try to implement the changes that will have the greatest impact first.
Next, discuss indemnification with your website provider. And finally, include an accessibility statement and contact information on your site. This will allow individuals with disabilities to report any difficulty they encounter accessing the website and seek additional assistance. Check out NAR’s accessibility statement.