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Considerations for Dental Web Site Accessibility

September 7, 2017
Accessibility graphic man with cane

Having a website that is accessible has become a hot topic in the dental community and in other industries. An important recommendation is that you not allow yourself to be an easy target by having an outdated website. Having a current website that uses modern technology is important not only for accessibility to patients and potential patients with specials needs but also for people who are now accessing sites more frequently with mobile devices compared to traditional desktop and laptop computers.

Please note that ADA is an acronym used for both American Dental Association and Americans with Disabilities Act but for the purposes of this article, we will use ADA to refer to the Americans with Disabilities Act.

A website developer alone cannot make your practice compliant. You can think of ADA compliance in a similar manner to how you manage OSHA or HIPAA compliance. You are only compliant as long as you are managing the day-to-day policies that keep your practice compliant. There are responsibilities for the practice that extend beyond the physical website. You and your office staff should seek guidance on how to interact with special needs patients in a variety of areas, such as handling questions over the phone or in person for patients who may have difficulty understanding or interpreting information that is presented online. Guidelines for working with patients with service animals, and a number of other areas, should all be factored into the office policies and training for accommodating patients with special needs.

It is important to also consider that there may be elements such as links or embedded information from outside sites, such as review or social media sites, or additional online services, such as online forms or rewards systems, that may be used by a practice and included in a website that falls outside the purview of the web development company. You should speak to each company to determine whether their design is a fit for your office.

Before selecting a new web developer, take a test drive. There is more at stake in terms of your marketing dollars than simply being compliant or having a site that is accessible at a certain level of standards. You want an informed design that takes into account the user experience for all types of users, especially with the growth in mobile web browsing. If you are reviewing photographers for an upcoming wedding, you are likely to view a number of photographers’ portfolios prior to making a decision on which one to select for your special event. When selecting a new web company, we recommend that you review some of the web designs on a mobile device and a laptop/desktop computer to see how they work on each device.

Further, for a more in-depth understanding, try turning on some of the accessibility features on your mobile device for assessing the usability of the site for different visitors. For iOS version 10 devices, go to SETTINGS -> GENERAL -> ACCESSIBILITY, then scroll to the bottom and set the ACCESSIBILITY SHORTCUT option to VoiceOver. Once this option is turned on you, can triple click the home button on your iOS device to turn the VoiceOver feature on and off. If you use a different type of mobile device, a web search should allow you to find instructions for enabling these features. Instructions for enabling accessibility options can vary depending on the device as well as on the operating software version installed on the device. This article will not attempt to cover all possible scenarios.

Now try navigating the sample sites using the audio features only. You can try it blindfolded or by closing your eyes. While this can be challenging, you will quickly find that some sites are much easier to navigate than others when using the accessibility features, even though these sites may all be considered as designed to be accessible. It is a worthwhile exercise that will help you make a more informed decision when selecting a web company to build your new site.

The WCAG 2.0 Level AA Guidelines are the closest thing to an accepted standard for determining website accessibility. We recommend that you seek guidance from your local attorney or one specializing in accessibility to get specific guidance for your particular practice as there can be disagreement between jurisdictions as to whether websites fall under the purview of the AWDA. These guidelines are just that, guidelines, but are not necessarily a formal legal standard. The WCAG 2.0 Level AA guidelines focus on the four following key areas.

The first principle is PERCEIVABLE. Is the information for visually-impaired users accessible to receive via sound or touch? For hearing impaired users, is information available via sight? Low vision users may need information presented with alternative formatting or zoomed to a larger text. Color deficient users may need information presented without the use of color. These areas can particularly come into play when using video and photography on a site. There are methods such as closed captioning and title tags for photography that can be incorporated into the site design to assist with information being perceivable to people with differing needs.

The second principle is OPERABLE. Functions that are triggered by a mouse or trackpad should also be accessible via the keyboard. The user should be given sufficient time to read and use the content. The content should not induce seizures. Users should be provided with mechanisms to skip repetitive content, and landmarks should be provided that help provide meaningful headings and link text. Multiple paths should be provided to navigate the site structure.

Third is UNDERSTANDABLE. The site should be free of unannounced pop-up windows. Separate submit buttons should be provided to initiate form submissions. Navigation and labels should be consistent throughout the site. Forms should clearly indicate for the visuallyimpaired user what information belongs in each section. Instructions for how to deal with errors when entering information should be clear and easy to understand.

The fourth principle is ROBUST. This simply means that the site should be created with the use of assistive technologies in mind.

This is just a brief summary of the key points covered by the WCAG Level 2 Guidelines. The full set of guidelines is technical and best handled by a web development team with a focus on accessibility as part of their design process.

Technology is evolving at a rapid pace. By selecting a web provider that uses modern development platforms as opposed to systems that may be based on older and more antiquated technology, you are more likely to have a longterm solution that can be adapted and upgraded over time without having to start over with another company. Look for a company that does more than simply target a set of standards, but that instead provides a unique and value driven design that will have the maximum impact for your practice for all users, with a focus on mobile platforms as mobile is quickly overtaking the desktop as the primary method for online search.

Disclaimer: This article is presented for informational purposes only and should not be considered as legal advice. Always seek the counsel of an attorney.

Scott Hawley is the CEO of Dentalfone. Dentalfone specializes in dental and orthodontic website design, SEO, and marketing services for dentists and dental specialists. Visit for more information.

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