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Website accessibility a legal issue for dental practices

June 26, 2020 3410

The Americans with Disabilities Act and state disability rights laws require dental practices, as places of public accommodations, to make their services and facilities accessible to disabled individuals. This includes making a dental practice website accessible to those who are visually impaired. 

The Americans with Disabilities Act and state disability rights laws require dental practices, as places of public accommodations, to make their services and facilities accessible to disabled individuals. This includes making a dental practice website accessible to those who are visually impaired. Not doing so may lead to a dental practice receiving a legal claim prior to the filing of a lawsuit.

CDA is aware of a handful of dental practices in southern California who have had legal claims filed against them for not having accessible websites. News media have reported in the last few years on website accessibility lawsuits against larger companies, and the American Dental Association reported on similar claims against dental practices in Texas in 2017. The U.S. Supreme Court last October declined to review a Ninth Circuit Court decision to allow a website accessibility claim to move forward against the restaurant chain Domino’s Pizza.

A challenge for a dental practice seeking to comply with the law is that there is no formal government standard for making a website accessible. The U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division at the end of 2017 withdrew proposed regulations for technical standards. There are industry standards generally referred to as Web Content Accessibility Guidelines or WCAG. However, compliance with WCAG may require a complete rewrite of a website because of significant technical issues.

“A dental practice should at least make an effort to have an accessible website,” said Cory Roletto, co-owner of WEO Media, a CDA Endorsed Program for dental marketing. Roletto suggested adding to a website the ability to enlarge font size and ensure the code for text and photo captions can be read by an assistive reader. An accessibility button visible on the homepage could lead a viewer to an accessibility information page and other options, such as contacting the dental office by phone to make an appointment instead of using an online appointment calendar.

Another challenge for dental practices is the cost of having a compliance consultant review a website. One dentist informed CDA Practice Support that they were quoted $10,000 to evaluate their website and a $500 monthly fee to monitor it. Roletto confirmed that pricing is in the range of what website accessibility compliance consultants charge.

CDA Practice Support advises dentists to consult with their website designers to determine what accessibility features are available on their site and to decide what features are reasonable to add. Should a dentist receive a legal claim regarding their website accessibility, they should consult with their attorney and professional liability carrier.

For more information on compliance with the federal and state disability rights laws, see Best Defense Against Disability Lawsuits in the CDA Practice Support resource library.