Imagine, during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, when home stay orders were essential, you could only access 2% of the internet.
“It’s a scary world,” said Josh Basile, AccessiBe community relations manager. “People with disabilities live in this world and we have to do something to change that.”
Josh Basile is AccessiBe’s Community Relations Manager. Image Credit: Courtesy Josh Basile
Basile, himself a quadriplegic, is a disability rights advocate and activist. AccessiBe is a company dedicated to promoting a more accessible Internet. It offers free website testing and products to help websites achieve compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG).
“When we have access and inclusion problems, it is too often because people with disabilities are only considered retrospectively,” said Basile. “It’s like we’re making it right for people without disabilities, and guess what, we’ll fix it for everyone else later. And the internet is a perfect example of that.”
According to Basile, only 2% of the internet is truly accessible to the entire disabled community. Websites can fail people with disabilities in many ways because disabilities vary greatly from person to person.
For example, if a person is visually impaired, correct image descriptions are required in order for them to be able to fully navigate a website. Or a person who cannot use their hands to operate a computer could instead use an assistive device that is manipulated with their lips or chin; for them, clickability becomes an important factor.
According to AccessiBe’s free aCe tool, which tests websites for ADA and WCAG compliance, Booking.com and Tripadvisor.com are “semi-compliant”. Expedia.com is “non-compliant”. It’s certainly an issue outside of the travel industry too, but Basile wants travel to grow stronger and have more inclusive online offerings.
“The whole reason we have all of these travel websites is to make it easier for people,” Basile said. “Why don’t we make it easier for people with disabilities too? We need your help. We want to use your services, and we have money.”
The number of adults with disabilities in the United States is significant. According to the CDC, 61 million adults, or 26% of the adult population, have some type of disability.
It’s also a particularly brand-loyal community, Basile said. A good online experience for a person with a disability will almost certainly lead to referrals, both within their community with disabilities and from other friends and family members.
“Your balance sheet will go up,” said Basile. “It will be good business for them, but it is also the right thing.”
Booking.com is leading the pack
While most websites have a way to go, some are more accessible than others. In the travel industry, Basile says he particularly likes Booking.com because it offers a range of filters that help people with disabilities find accommodation that suits their individual needs.
Basile, for example, is a wheelchair user. On Booking.com, results can be filtered on a range of “Accommodation Accessibility” and “Accessibility” features, along with a number of other filters, including Braille, audio guidance, wheelchair accessible showers, and more.
Filtered results are only as good as the end users who program them, Basile said, which usually means calling the hotel to double-check the online search results. But the use of filters is also a step in the right direction.
Accessibility is on the minds of major travel websites.
A Booking.com spokesperson specifically pointed out the filters on the website that Basile referred to.
“There is still a lot to be done and we will continue to innovate as we strive to create a truly inclusive travel platform and experience that is created for and by everyone,” said the spokesman.
An Expedia spokesperson said the company is evolving its online presence “with accessibility in mind” from appending text to images, providing subtitles for videos, and coding to help assistive technology users effectively on its websites to navigate. Expedia made optimizing its online presence a priority.
Similarly, a Tripadvisor spokesperson said the company has an in-house team to make its mobile and desktop experiences more accessible. It focused on the mobile channel first as more than half of the traffic comes through its app, but it will also work to further democratize its desktop experience.
“This is an area where the entire industry can get better and we aim to make these improvements continuously,” said the spokesman.
Basile believes that in the past, various disability groups with specific priorities have tried to achieve online accessibility, but the key today is to consider all disabilities.
“When we all come together to shed light on all the different areas that will create these experiences that will be transformative for these future customers,” he said.