I heard an analogy about accessibility years ago that stuck with me. It went something like this…
If there wasn’t an accessibility requirement “made known” in the beginning, a designer and builder may construct a beautiful entry with stairs and gorgeous landscaping to create the most welcoming entrance. But if someone responsible for accessibility compliance comes along and informs the builder and designer that a ramp must be built, they have to bring back the shovel and dig up the shrubbery and make room for the ramp, and potentially build a different doorway/entrance.
The problem is, they have no more budget and they’re opening next week. If they open as-is, they face risk of a fine for ADA violation which would really hit your budget and cause a disruption while the building is open due to ongoing construction.
And here is the kicker – this analogy is transferable to a healthcare system website launch as well. If a health system waits until the week (or two) before the site launch to do “an accessibility check”, they might be in trouble for not having thought about accessibility since the beginning.
But there is a better way.
Brick and Mortar Accessibility
The physical space of the hospital needs to be free of barriers to best serve its patients, and this comes through a meticulous architectural planning with universal design and ADA compliance requirements. These spaces typically do an exceptionally good job of meeting accessibility requirements and working them into the plans for physical spaces from the beginning. The hospital experience surrounds the person for whom they are serving and thanks to professionals who specialise in accessible design, there are ramps, wide doorways, well-lit corridors, braille on room numbers, directories, and iconic wayfinding signs.
Because of who they serve, hospitals must implement a process that has accessibility wrapped into architecting and construction. It assures that there is ADA compliance and that it is considered at every level of the project and ensures success. If a hospital is committed and focused on serving its patients, then it only makes sense that same considerations be made for the virtual space, for both patients and their family members.
It is important for a patient or person in need to be able to use the hospital website to access the information they need to treat their needs.
But what if the person visiting the website has a disability?
For example, in my case, when I go in for an annual checkup of my cochlear implant – if a phone number on the clinic’s website is the only way of reaching the clinic, that puts me in a tough position. I’d have to rely on someone else to make the phone call for me. Conversely, it’d be a lot better if there were an online inquiry form for me to submit, or an online appointment scheduling system, that eliminates my reliance on using the phone.
The same can be said for someone who is losing their vision, or already has vision loss. A website design has the adequate color contrast for them to see the text against the background can be the difference between useful or useless. Or if they cannot see at all, it is incredibly helpful for the site to be structured in such a way that they can use a screen-reader to navigate to the services that they seek.
Then there are the physical disabilities that may create special needs; a stroke or a spinal cord injury can make it difficult or impossible to use a mouse but a website can be adequately designed for a person with this type of disability to navigate the website without use of the mouse to find out and receive service inquiries.
Regardless of what the limitations and differences in ability are for the patients, it’s important that there be a mind shift to making sure that patients can exist in both the literal walls of the hospital and the virtual walls of the hospital – free of barriers and that healthcare systems consider accessibility in their digital strategy.
To tie this all together, having a “blueprint” of the hospital build to evaluate accessibility compliance is just as important in a website build. Teams and stakeholders are able to anticipate potential accessibility barriers and fix it before time and money is spent.