Small Website Details Can Have Huge Importance

A few simple steps can make your online home easier to access for people with disabilities—and help you avoid legal trouble.

Your website may have all the bells and whistles to wow prospective clients, but if you don’t pay attention to the details on the backend, you may find yourself drawing attention for the wrong reasons, real estate attorney Trista Curzydlo said during a Friday session at the REALTORS® Conference & Expo in Boston.

As places of public accommodation, websites are subject to the rules of the Americans with Disabilities Act. So you can be hit with a lawsuit if someone tries to use your site and finds that it lacks accessibility features required by the law. Plaintiffs don’t need to show they intended to do business with you in order to win such a suit, said Curzydlo, principal member of C4 Consulting, LLC. “A website has to be accessible to people with disabilities unless you can provide the same service in an equivalent manner,” she said. “The courts have made this clear.”

Curzydlo said there are several ways you can make material on your website more accessible.

  • Photos and other images should be accompanied by descriptive text, which will aid screen-reader software in describing imagery to web users who may have trouble seeing them, she said. Adding this text is an extra step, but without it, the images cannot be “seen” by assistive technology.
  • Similarly, videos should have closed captions, which allow people who have trouble hearing to know what the narrator and onscreen characters are saying. Curzydlo noted that video-sharing sites like YouTube offer tools that can automatically add captions, but they may need human assistance because they are not always accurate.
  • Your site’s overall design—including the types and sizes of fonts you use, the level of contrast between text and the background it sits on, and other factors affecting its readability—also contributes to the ability of people to use it effectively, Curzydlo said.
  • Avoid using color combinations on your site that can be invisible to people who are color blind, Curzydlo said. In addition, your site should be designed so a user can navigate it using just a keyboard if necessary, she said.