Travel websites failing basic accessibility tests

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Travel websites are among the worst offenders when it comes to accessibility, a new report finds.

Audioeye’s first ever Digital Accessibility Index revealed recurring issues across travel websites, including seemingly simple fixes such as hotel photos missing alternative description.

The study’s expert testers, a group made up of people with varying disabilities, uncovered several consistent barriers that hampered the hotel and airline booking experience.

Pop-up windows with no information for visually impaired users and a lack of detailed descriptions for hotel rooms and other areas of a property were also common failings.

In addition, website signage and navigation issues, such as links without labels, meant testers had to try to find out from the surrounding text where a link might take them.

Overall, the study found that 73% of travel pages had at least one image with missing or inadequate alternative text, while 40% of pages with a form had at least one field that was not labeled.

“AudioEye’s Digital Accessibility Index underscores the unacceptable reality that digital experiences are broken for people with disabilities, preventing them from accomplishing key tasks that many of us regularly depend on, such as online shopping, banking, news access, job-related activities and more,” said David Moradi, CEO of AudioEye.

AudioEye’s findings are not dissimilar to an annual report run by WebAIM, which analyzed the home pages of the top million websites in February.

It found an average of 50 errors per page across all industries with more than 96% of website home pages failing Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2 (WCAG).

Travel industry home pages studied as part of the WebAIM report scored even worse than the average with 55 errors detected.

Lawrence Shaw, chief executive of AAAtraq, which helps businesses protect themselves against litigation arising from website accessibility failures, believes no sector has even 10% compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

And, he warned, regulations are tightening. In California, for example, Assembly Bill 1757 widens the criteria for whom can be held accountable for website accessibility to include developers and service providers.

Shaw said the changes could come into effect early next year and “open the floodgates for litigation” but added that the current situation is avoidable.

Lawsuits related to website accessibility are on the rise, according to UsableNet’s 2023 Mid-Year report. It revealed, for example, that from January to June, the number of federal lawsuits filed in Florida increased 30% to 228 versus the same period in 2022.

Overall, according to UsableNet, these lawsuits have increased from 2,314 in 2018 to an estimated 4,220 in 2023, more than an 80% leap.

While Shaw said millions of dollars, and man hours, are wasted on a monthly basis on accessibility related cases – amounting to approximately $600 million a month – a couple of “common sense” changes could make a huge difference.

Independent audits are the first step, Shaw advised, because currently many companies carrying out the work to ensure accessibility are the same companies that sign off on the work.

A further important element, he stressed, is to make any reports on accessibility failures and fixes non-technical.

“Compliance breaks down into two areas: the software and systems you build your website on, and the content such the images, video, text and links,” said Shaw.

He added that basic training exists for those loading content while contracts with developers and vendors to solve many of the other issues can be put in place with an accountability structure built in.

With more than 1 in 4 adults in the United States having some sort of disability, it makes good business sense for travel companies to provide this segment of the population with the same online service others receive. In the U.S. the income of disability households is believed to total $490 billion with discretionary spend of about $20 billion. That’s a significant amount of money to miss out on for the sake of a little care when it comes to website design.

The alternative, he said, is at best a potential customer going to another site — at worst a costly lawsuit.

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