Web accessibility is critical to accessing health information

Chicago, Illinois, Sept. 27, 2022 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — The U.S. health care system is currently failing older adults and patients with disabilities on the digital front. Web accessibility – or digital accessibility more broadly – ​​involves designing web page content to include people who have visual, motor, hearing, speech or cognitive disabilities. More than 61 million people in the United States (almost 1 in 4) and over 1 billion people worldwide have one of these disabilities, including 46% of people age 60 and older.

In recognition of Digital Inclusion Week (October 3-7) and October’s Health Literacy Month, the American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA) Foundation, AHIMA’s philanthropic affiliate, has released a short issue titled “The critical role of web accessibility in accessing, understanding, and using health information,” with key insights from an audit of over 100 top US hospital website homepages and a survey of seniors and patients with disabilities.

“Network inaccessibility prevents those who often need life-changing, life-saving health care from accessing it online, wherever they live,” said Angela T. Bennett, Director of Digital Equity, National Telecommunications and Information Administration, Department of US trade. “The Digital Equity Act programs will empower Americans with disabilities to independently navigate digital health systems and use websites that are designed to meet their needs.”

Key findings of the AHIMA Foundation Brief include:

  • Hospitals and health care systems in the US need ongoing education about the role of web accessibility in ADA compliance given the importance of the newly issued federal guidelines.
  • The home pages of most leading US hospitals have many accessibility errors and do not meet WCAG 2.1 criteria.
  • Older adults and patients with disabilities face barriers to accessing their health information electronically; many had difficulty using a hospital website or patient portal.
  • Multisectoral collaboration, including user-based testing with patients with disabilities and the elderly, is needed to improve digital accessibility in the healthcare ecosystem.

The AHIMA Foundation’s research findings included in this briefing provide visibility into the newly issued Guidance on Web Accessibility and the ADA from the US Department of Justice’s Division of Civil Rights and the newly issued Guidance on Nondiscrimination in Telehealth from the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of US Civil Rights. As hospitals and health systems in the United States prioritize initiatives aimed at diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) and environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG), this research provides institutions with a starting point for improving their digital experience by way that is compatible, accessible and informed about the patient and the data.

“There is not a healthcare facility in the country that leaves its main entrance without an accessible physical entrance, but we found that more work needs to be done to ensure equal entry through the facility’s digital front door,” commented Amanda Krupa, MSc, Director of the AHIMA Foundation and lead author of the brief. “Everyone appreciates a good user experience, but it’s critical in terms of access to health care as the population in this country ages and increasingly relies on technology to get both health information and care.”

The number of Americans 65 and older is projected to double from 52 million in 2018 to 95 million by 2060, and one of HealthyPeople 2030’s goals is to “increase the share of people who can view, download and send their electronic health information.”

“Outside of public health emergencies, digital accessibility is something we need to care about or take responsibility for as health information professionals,” noted Aurae Beidler, MHA, RHIA, CHC, CHPS, director-elect on the board of directors of AHIMA, formerly the Compliance and Privacy Officer at the Linn County Department of Health in Albany, Oregon.

To educate and inform health information professionals about this issue:

AHIMA Foundation sponsored the session “WCAG… W3C… WAI… Wait, What? Web Accessibility Compliance Explained,” at the AHIMA Global Conference in Columbus, Ohio on October 11 and virtually on November 10, 2022.

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About the AHIMA Foundation:

The AHIMA Foundation is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit and philanthropic division of the American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA) dedicated to empowering people with health information literacy to achieve better health outcomes. Founded in 1962, AHIMA Foundation’s programs, research and projects help families make informed health decisions, guide evidence-based health system policies and practices, and educate and train aspiring and current health information professionals. Recognizing that health information is human information, the AHIMA Foundation works broadly to bring together interdisciplinary stakeholders to identify unmet public health and education needs. Learn more at AHIMAFoundation.org and follow on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube.

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  • Figure 1. WCAG 2.1 compliance status of leading hospital homepages by hospital type (accessScan, August 2022)

  • AHIMA Foundation Brief: The Critical Role of Web Accessibility in Accessing, Understanding, and Using Health Information (PDF)

        

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