OpinionAgent

Agent/broker perspective: Real estate websites and ADA compliance

Are visually and hearing-impaired customers shut out of your web sites – and justified to sue?
  • Real estate companies with web sites that comply with ADA standards are being pursued by law firms.
  • Disabled individuals should be able to shop for homes and enjoy content like other customers.
  • The U.S. Justice Department has not issued rules on the matter, but real estate companies can protect themselves by following generally-accepted international guidelines.

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In this monthly column, Anthony Askowitz will explore a hypothetical Miami real estate situation from both sides of the broker/agent dynamic.

This month’s situation: A tech-savvy and successful Miami agent is concerned about his/her website, its ability to serve hearing and visually-impaired customers, and the legal ramifications that can follow.

Agent Perspective

I have put a significant amount of time, energy, attention, money, and resources into my website, and it has certainly paid off. I pay extra to make sure I am on the first pages in the top search engines. My listings are synched in “real time”, and I regularly freshen the site’s look, copy, and content. Many customers tell me the quality of my website was the deciding factor in their decision to hire me, so you can imagine how seriously I take it.

But recent news reports and advice from colleagues have me nervous about an important aspect of my website — one that I am not sure I considered. I keep hearing about real estate offices and homebuilding companies receiving threatening letters from law firms, warning them that their websites are not accessible to people with visual and hearing impairments and threatening with lawsuits under the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act).

I have family members and friends who face these challenges, and I certainly want them have access to my website as well — but I’m not sure what guidelines or rules I ought to be following, or what I should do if I receive one of these letters.

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Broker Perspective

This is indeed a serious concern — one that, in recent months, has caught the attention of the media, NAR, national real estate firms and top homebuilding companies. And while the practice of sending threatening “demand letters” is an unsavory way of getting noticed, we as an industry may have to concede some lapses in this respect. While some firms have made it a priority, all real estate websites need to do a better job of providing transcripts and closed captioning for audio-visual content, descriptive links, resizable text and images, and a variety of other features.

The challenge for us is knowing exactly which set of guidelines to follow in order to be fully compliant. The Department of Justice was expected to issue a memo this year, but that has been delayed for some time.

For now, it seems as though only large, national companies are the ones being challenged. Individual agents appear to have little need for concern over this matter, but should address their own websites accordingly.

How to meet halfway

The NAR has made commendable efforts to have the Justice Department expedite its guidelines. In the interim, real estate companies who want to ensure that their sites are accessible to hearing and visually-impaired customers should make a “common-sense” review. Are text and images resizable? Do videos have closed-captioning provided?

Beyond that, the World Wide Web Consortium (an international group that maintains global standards) issues a regular series of Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, which specify how to make web content accessible for people with disabilities.

Anthony is the broker-owner of Re/Max Advance Realty in South Miami and Kendall, and also a working Realtor who sells more than 150 homes a year.