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The Basics of Digital Accessibility for Real Estate Agents
November 2, 2021

The Basics of Digital Accessibility for Real Estate Agents

by The CE Shop Team

Why You Should Make Your Website Accessible and ADA-Compliant

Most real estate agents know that creating a website is an important way to connect with clients and generate new business. But is your online presence accessible to clients with disabilities?

When you work to make your website and social media accounts more accessible, it benefits all of your clients because you’re creating a more user-friendly experience, says Kevin McDaniel, editor-in-chief of Accessibility.com.

“It just improves your relationship with your customers if you build with the user in mind,” McDaniel said in an interview with The CE Shop. The most successful websites are ones that are straightforward, easy to navigate, and accessible to all, he said.

As an example, take Julia Child, whose cooking show, “The French Chef,” was among the first to offer captioning in the early ‘70s.

“She was just trying to communicate with more people, and what ended up happening now is that 30% of the population uses captions because it’s just more user-friendly,” McDaniel said. 

“And I would argue that with the population aging, that you’re at a competitive advantage if you build with the user in mind. [Consider the following questions:] How is my user going to experience this website? Are they going to enjoy this experience? Is it accessible? Does it make sense? Are the colors easy on the eyes? Is my text straightforward? Or am I trying to show how complex all this is and just confusing them?

Making your website accessible is the ethical choice, and in many cases, it’s a legal obligation — but it’s also a way to serve your clients and stand out in the competitive real estate market.

“I think it’s more about just designing a user experience that actually makes the user feel like you built it for them,” McDaniel said.

As an agent who works with the public, you’re sure to encounter clients who have disabilities and would benefit from accommodations. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that one in four Americans live with a disability of some kind.

“It’s estimated that the disability market is worth $7 trillion, which is worth more than the entire GDP of China,” McDaniel said. 

As business increasingly moves online, digital accessibility is a huge part of that market.

A Business’ Responsibility to Be Accessible

Many real estate agents maintain websites and social media accounts. In the National Association of REALTORS® annual survey of its members, 69% reported having a website for business use.

Agents’ websites typically include their own property listings (81%), information about the home buying and selling process (69%), and a link to their firm’s website (66%), NAR’s survey found.

In general, businesses' websites, like their buildings, are “places of public accommodation,” which must be made accessible, McDaniel said. 

“Your website is really no different than you opening up a real estate agent office inside of a building and refusing to put a ramp in,” he said.

When we talk about making digital content accessible, the goal “is to make content fully available to and usable by as many people as possible, including those with disabilities,” according to Accessibility.com

“Websites, apps, kiosks, electronic documents, and anything people read or do in digital form should be created in a way that allows independent use by people with disabilities,” the website states. “If digital content has already been built without considering accessibility, it can be tested and updated to be made more accessible.”

When browsing the internet, some people with disabilities use assistive technologies, such as blind people who use text-to-speech dictation to read and navigate a webpage.

“What it’s going to do is it’s going to read that page to them, and it’s going to tell them all the things that are on the page and what they can do,” McDaniel said. “But if the content is not accessible, meaning it’s not coded properly… the system technology can’t read that.”

For example, when a business uses an image of a flyer that features a long paragraph of text on it, someone who uses speech-to-text assistive technology can’t read any of it. 

“They can't read it because it's an image of text,” McDaniel said. “It's not text that assistive technology can read — it has to be raw text. So, you want to avoid images of text, [or] anything using images to convey information.”

Of course, not everyone can be a web accessibility expert — but there are a few simple steps you can take to make your website and social media posts more accessible.

First Steps Toward Digital Accessibility

One of the first things you can do to update your website is to provide an accessibility statement, McDaniel said. 

“That’s a statement that you can either place on the footer or place in one of your buckets —  one of the navigation areas,” he said. “It should talk about your policy and your process for providing accommodation. So, if someone has difficulty accessing the information on your site, they need to be directed to a place where they can get it.”

Ideally, your website would be accessible enough that the client could get all of the information they need from it, but in the case that it’s not, the accessibility statement should provide information on how to contact you.

“A great example of that is [when] you go to a gas station to go get gas,” McDaniel said. “If someone can’t lift the gas pump up because they use hand controls, we haven’t solved that problem yet, so there’s a number there to call the assistant. So, the accessibility statement gives someone who visits a website the ability to call and request information if they can’t find it on your website or they can’t access part of it.”

McDaniel also suggested:

  • Avoiding using low-contrast colors. “That’s not a huge barrier to assistive technology necessarily, but it's one of those common-sense things, like if you have a hard time determining the difference between a red background and an orange font, then people who have low vision or who are colorblind are probably going to do the same.”
  • Using large fonts.
  • Creating simple layouts and easy-to-use navigation. “If you have difficulty finding something on your site, someone with a cognitive disability probably will, too.”
  • Using simple language when possible. “Don’t use jargon and acronyms and abbreviations unnecessarily… [for] people with cognitive disabilities, the best practice is to write to an eighth-grade reading level.”
  • Adding captions to video content, such as by enabling the YouTube automatic captioning function for videos posted there.

It’s also useful to use alternative text to describe images on your website and social media accounts, he said. 

If you’re posting a picture of a house on social media, for example, you should add text that describes the image. Many social media sites have upgraded their accessibility functionality to include specific ways for you to add alt text to an image, but when in doubt, you can always add it to the end of a post.

It might look like this: [Image description: One-story house on Main Street, 2 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms with blue paint, and a two-car garage. Image taken from a street view.]

“That way, anyone who’s using assistive technology and even machines can understand what that image is,” McDaniel said. “Ensuring you have alternative text properly in your social media and on your website also helps your SEO because it helps catalog your content.”

This list of tips is a good place to start, but there are so many ways to make your website and social media pages more accessible. In some cases, it may be best to hire an expert to test your website for you to determine whether or not it’s accessible. It’s a small step you can take to better serve all of your clients.

For resources and more information on how to be ADA-compliant, visit Accessibility.com/Digital-Accessibility.

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