Digital accessibility in healthcare: A review

Patients with physical or cognitive disabilities are less likely to receive preventative services, are less satisfied with their care, and incur higher costs than abled patients. Healthcare providers have an opportunity to make their services more accessible, beginning with the information on their websites.

According to the United States Census Bureau, 56.7 million Americans have a disability. Although persons with disabilities make up 19 percent of the U.S. population, they don’t receive the same healthcare quality.

Healthcare providers have an opportunity to make their services more accessible, beginning with the information on their websites. Providers have a long way to go to comply with standards, such as the Affordable Care Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Disabilities cost $400 billion per year in healthcare expenditures
The most common disability involves mobility limitation, which impacts 13 percent of adults. The following graph from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention shows how many U.S. adults have specific disabilities:

  • MOBILITY Serious difficulty walking or climbing stairs 13.0% COGNITION Serious difficulty concentrating, remembering 10.6%

  • INDEPENDENT LIVING difficulties doing errands 6.5%

  • VISION Blind or severe difficulty seeing 4.6%

  • SELF-CARE Difficulty dressing or bathing 3.6%

Accessibility isn’t just for users with a disability
Updating your website to be more accessible can also have a positive impact on usability. Necessary improvements like larger font sizes, bigger buttons, and sharper color contrast can improve the overall experience for all users.
Many of the improvements that are explicitly required for screen readers — such as alternative text attributes for images and descriptive links — are considered best practices for SEO.

Why healthcare providers should make digital accessibility a top priority?
Hospitals, clinics, and other healthcare centers should make it as easy as possible for patients with disabilities to engage with them digitally. However, many healthcare providers may not know where to start with digital accessibility and ACA compliance. Since the ACA is a reasonably new regulation and its future is uncertain, providers are often not clear on how to do it. But failure to prioritize accessibility can lead to the following:

• Damage to your reputation when word spreads that you do not adequately accommodate patients with disabilities.

• Lawsuits from legal firms and advocacy groups.

• The inability to comply with the ADA. The ADA can obtain civil penalties of up to $55,000 for the first violation and $110,000 for each subsequent breach.

• Loss of funding from the U.S. government for failing to comply with the ACA or Section 508 of the U.S. Rehabilitation Act.

• Losing patients to other healthcare providers that can better meet their needs.

What is the future for healthcare providers?
Regardless of future laws or potential lawsuits, making your website accessible now for those with disabilities is a recommended best practice for healthcare organizations – and it prepares you to meet any future legal requirements better.
Not to mention, there’s also an inherent SEO benefit for implementing many accessibility best practices. That’s because accessible content and optimized content are both machine-readable.
So now that we’ve convinced you, what are your next steps?

  • Review section 508 and WCAG, section A and A.A:  Some of the rules have to do with how you provide alternative text, video captions, and audio files transcripts. There are also rules around how you use color and contrast ratios, as well as moving banners and video backgrounds. Some of it you can likely tackle, some of it will need a developer.

  • Understand how your CMS, design, and content all play a role in accessibility: Some changes you’ll be able to go out and make right away – like changing all those “click here” links. But some could require design changes – or even a new CMS.

  • Talk with your in-house legal counsel: Get their interpretation of your organization’s current and future liability. They will be a vital source to help you prioritize the next steps.

  • Talk with your technology partner:  Reach out to them for help and guidance. If you’re about to undertake website up-gradation, it’s the perfect time to talk about accessibility. 

ONE BCG accessibility service has developed a comprehensive solution to help healthcare providers give persons with disabilities a barrier-free online experience. Our solution includes assistive technology, website, and mobile evaluations, PDF remediation, user testing, multi-media accessibility. We can help you achieve and maintain compliance.

United States Census Bureau, Nearly 1 in 5 People Have a Disability in the U.S., Census Bureau Reports (2010)
Disability and Health Care Costs in the Medicare Population, Chan, et al. (2002)

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