Bite-sized accessibility: open wide for accessible dental websites

Bite-sized accessibility: open wide for accessible dental websites

Despite the playful title, let’s first acknowledge that accessibility is a comprehensive commitment, not a bite-sized task! However, that won’t stop us from getting our teeth into the essentials of making dental websites accessible in an engaging and understandable way. Let’s explore how to ensure that everyone, regardless of ability, can navigate and benefit from your online dental resources.

In this blog, we’ll chew over the ins and outs of dentist websites, we’ll walk through what you need to know about web accessibility. We’ll also take a look at existing laws and guidelines and we’ll highlight how to create inclusive dental websites and different ways to inject more accessibility into dentistry. But first, a common question is…

Why do dentists need a website?

Well-designed dental clinic websites allow potential patients to learn about you and your practice from the comfort of their own homes. They can read about your services, get to know your team, check out patient testimonials, and benefit from accessible dental appointment booking services online. Strong dental website design brings a level of convenience to customers that can significantly increase the number of patients who choose your practice. 

It’s the 24/7 marketing tool, making your dentist practice more visible to a broader audience. It’s also a sign of credibility and professionalism. If your competitors have websites and you don’t, you’re already a step behind. A website helps you stay competitive and relevant in your field.

It makes your dental resources and dental information accessible to potential customers while enhancing your practice’s online presence and improving overall patient engagement.

Creating a positive patient experience is key to building loyalty and trust. When patients feel valued and heard, they’re more likely to return for all their healthcare needs, from check-ups to treatments. Plus, a happy patient can become a superfan, spreading the word and bringing in new patients through glowing recommendations to friends and family. Conversely, a negative experience – online or in person –  can drive patients away and lead to unfavorable reviews.

Why must dental sites be accessible?

As of 2022, only 3% of the internet is accessible to people with disabilities, and the majority of business owners still don’t know how to make their websites accessible—some don’t even know they have to—for the 26% of American adults who live with a disability.

How does this affect dentists? Well, consider that a significant portion of your potential patients – 26% of American adults – live with a disability. If your website isn’t accessible, you’re missing out on connecting with a large group of people who need dental care. 

An inaccessible website can lead to missed appointments, lost revenue, and a tarnished reputation. Moreover, it can limit your ability to provide essential information about your services, office hours, and patient care options to those who may need it most.

Making dental websites inclusive not only broadens your reach but also shows your commitment to inclusivity and patient care. It ensures all your patients, regardless of their abilities, can access important information and services easily. In a competitive field like dentistry, being inclusive can set you apart and help build a more loyal and diverse patient base.

Beyond that, having an accessible website shows you genuinely care about all your patients. It enhances your reputation and helps you reach a broader audience. In short, accessibility is good for people and great for your business! After all, your dental practice would never deny someone care or create physical barriers to treatment because of a disability – why would your website be any different?

Do ADA regulations apply to dentist websites?

Yes, there are ADA standards for dental websites and all dental websites must be ADA compliant. standards for dental websites The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is designed to be a broad, flexible deterrent to discrimination, leading to questions about its enforcement. Dental practices, like other businesses serving the public, are classified as “public accommodations” and fall under Title III of the ADA. This means dentists must provide people with disabilities full and equal access to all goods, services, facilities, and accommodations.

Importantly, Title III also covers digital spaces. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, “the ADA’s requirements apply to all the goods, services, privileges, or activities offered by public accommodations, including those offered on the web.”

What accessibility standards must dental healthcare websites comply with?

Unfortunately, website accessibility often goes overlooked in the digital world but in 2021, over 11,400 lawsuits were filed against businesses because their websites or mobile apps didn’t comply with the accessibility law. It’s clear that many businesses are either unaware or lack knowledge on the fact that web accessibility is a legal matter too, not least in the field of dentistry. But there are web accessibility guidelines for dentists to conform to.

Here’s a lesson for all dentists: One case of non-compliance with accessibility laws had serious consequences. A dentist was sued for discrimination by a man who was completely deaf. He claimed he couldn’t fully access video content on the dental office’s website. The plaintiff wasn’t a patient of the dental clinic but the website was found to be noncompliant. This demonstrates the importance of making sure your website meets ADA compliance to avoid legal trouble and ensure everyone can access your services. 

There are many accessibility standards that websites need to follow, however, for the purpose of this blog, we’ll highlight four key ones: ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act), WCAG (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines), and the EAA (The European Accessibility Act) accessibility laws. Understanding these standards is vital for ensuring your dental practice’s website is accessible to all users and compliant with legal requirements.

Lets run through some of the key accessibility laws and guidelines that should be on every dentist organization’s radar:

1. The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 

The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) are a set of international standards for web accessibility, including web accessibility guidelines for various professions such as dentists. These guidelines offer recommendations to make web content more accessible to people with disabilities, helping to ensure that websites are usable by people with various disabilities, including visual, auditory, and cognitive impairments. Compliance with WCAG, particularly at the Level AA standard, is widely recognized as a best practice for creating accessible web content.

2. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 is a pivotal law designed to prevent discrimination against individuals with disabilities and promote equal opportunities in public and private sectors. It was established in reaction to inadequate adherence to accessibility standards by many businesses, which often saw such accommodations as unnecessary expenses. Among its key components is Title III, which mandates accessibility in customer service operations and applies to a variety of public venues including schools, restaurants, hotels, medical offices, retail shops, museums, and workplaces.

Title III of the ADA requires businesses that fall under “public accommodations,” like dental practices, to make their websites accessible. This means everyone should have equal access to digital goods, services, and information. The goal of ADA accessibility is to remove barriers so people with disabilities can access services and information just like anyone else.

Recently, the Justice Department issued a ‘Final Rule’ to boost web accessibility under Title II of the ADA. This rule makes state and local governments ensure their websites and mobile apps are accessible to people with disabilities. The DOJ highlighted that these new requirements are crucial because inaccessible technologies can prevent people with disabilities from accessing essential services, leading to their exclusion from public services that others use every day. 

3. The European Accessibility Act (EAA) 

The European Accessibility Act (EAA) is set to come into effect in 2025, aiming to improve accessibility across various products and services within the European Union. This legislation will cover a wide range of areas, including websites, mobile apps, ATMs, e-books, and more, ensuring that they are accessible to people with disabilities. The EAA builds on existing standards, such as the Web Accessibility Directive, and aligns with the principles of the EN 301 549 standard. For dental practices, this means that their digital presence must be inclusive and accessible, helping to eliminate barriers and promote equal access for all users.

There are many global regulations and laws regarding web accessibility, so understanding them is vital to your dental business to mitigate any legal issues, demand letters, or lawsuits. Read more info on accessibility law here.

How can dentists make their websites accessible?

How can dental clinic websites be made accessible? Here are some tips to get your teeth into:

1. Use clear and simple language: Make sure your content is easy to read and understand. Avoid jargon and keep sentences short and to the point. You want your site to be as clear as a freshly polished smile!

2. Add alt text to Images: Every image on your site should have a descriptive text alternative. This helps visually impaired users understand what the image is about through screen readers. Think of it as giving your pictures a voice, just like a dentist explaining a treatment plan.

3. Ensure keyboard navigation: Your website should be fully navigable using a keyboard. Some users can’t use a mouse, so make sure all interactive elements (like forms and menus) can be accessed via keyboard. It’s like ensuring everyone can find their way around the dental office, no matter their needs.

4. Choose contrasting colors: Use high-contrast color schemes to ensure text is readable against the background. This helps users with visual impairments. Think of it as making your website as bright and welcoming as a shiny set of pearly whites.

5. Provide transcripts and captions: For any accessible dental videos or audio content, include transcripts and captions. This makes your multimedia accessible to users who are deaf or hard of hearing. It’s like offering a second opinion – always helpful!

6. Use descriptive links: Link text should clearly describe where the link will take the user. Avoid vague terms like “click here.” Make sure your links are as clear as a dentist’s instructions for post-treatment care.

7. Responsive design: Make sure your site works well on all devices, including smartphones and tablets. Responsive design helps everyone, especially those who rely on mobile devices. It’s like having flexible appointment hours – convenient for everyone.

8. Make forms accessible: Embedding accessible dental patient forms is vital because they ensure everyone, including those with visual, auditory, or cognitive impairments, can interact with and submit essential information, promoting inclusivity and equal access to online services.

9. Test with accessibility tools: Use tools like WAVE or Lighthouse to test your website’s accessibility. These tools can highlight areas that need improvement. Consider it your regular dental website design check-up, ensuring everything is in tip-top shape.

Follow these steps, make your dental website more accessible and ensure all patients can easily access the information they need. 

UserWay: filling the gaps in accessibility for dental websites

Whether it’s adapting color contrast, activating dyslexia-friendly fonts, incorporating captions for video, or enabling keyboard navigation, UserWay’s Accessibility Widget provides dental health care websites with all the essential elements of accessibility within a single solution. With UserWay, dental clinics can also benefit from manual audits of website content to ensure fuller ADA compliance, giving dental websites a clean bill of accessibility health.

Take the first step to better accessibility

Answers to common FAQs

My dental clinic website isn’t accessible – can I be sued?

Yes. According to Titles I and III of ADA guidelines, all public-facing websites must be accessible to all individuals attempting to browse or engage with the online venue. The upside is that by creating an accessible and inclusive website, dental clinics can expand their reach, target more audiences, and extend earning potential. Using an accessibility solution that drives inclusion can help simplify any quick adjustments diverse user needs may require.

How can I ensure my dental treatment information is accessible to all patients?

To make dental treatment information accessible to all patients, including those with disabilities, consider presenting the information in multiple formats such as text, audio, and video. Ensure that your website complies with Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) by using strategies such as implementing readable fonts, sufficient contrast, and alternative text for images. 

What is a dental website accessibility audit and why is it important?

A dental website accessibility audit is a thorough review of your dental practice’s website to ensure it meets accessibility laws and guidelines. This audit helps identify and rectify any barriers that might prevent people with disabilities from fully accessing your site. Conducting an accessibility audit is vital for legal compliance and also for extending your services to a broader audience.

Check Your Site for Accessibility Issues

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