Digital Accessibility in the Hospitality and Tourism Industry: Legal and Ethical Considerations

Forthcoming 11 William & Mary Business Law Review __ (2020).

26 Pages Posted: 31 Aug 2019

See all articles by Debra D. Burke

Debra D. Burke

Western Carolina University

Kenneth J. Sanney

Western Carolina University

Dan Clapper

Western Carolina University

Date Written: April 2019

Abstract

Smartphone users topped three billion in 2018, and are projected to reach 3.8 billion by 2021. People use their computers and smartphones to access the Internet to shop, read news and sports stories, watch movies and television, send email, connect with friends and family on social media, and even earn degrees; in sum, the number of users worldwide is staggering. But what about accessibility to this virtual marketplace for people with disabilities that make comprehension of the information challenging? A 2016 Pew Research Center study reports that disabled Americans are about three times as likely as those without a disability to never go online, twenty percent are less likely to subscribe to home broadband and own a traditional computer, a smartphone or a tablet, seventeen percent are less likely to have high-speed internet at home, and twenty-nine percent are less likely to use the internet daily. Unfortunately, all too often accessibility for persons with disabilities is not a consideration when developers create websites and apps for private entities.

From 2009 to 2017 hotel gross bookings in the United States grew from $116 billion to  $185 billion, while digital innovation and technology re-shaped the travel and hospitality industry in that same relatively short period of time. American adults with disabilities spend more than $17 billion dollars each year on travel. Fifty-three percent of adults with disabilities report staying in a hotel or motel within the past two years. Often there is a correlation between aging and disabilities; therefore, because travel is a primary activity for older retirees, it is essential for them to be able to obtain reliable information from the Internet, which serves as the main source for consuming tourist information. What are the industry’s legal and ethical obligations for digital accessibility to its websites?

Federal law requires accessibility for public sector websites. The Rehabilitation Act requires federal agencies to make electronic and information technology accessible to people with disabilities. The Assistive Technology Act of 1998 requires all states to give written assurances of compliance with the Rehabilitation Act to receive grants for statewide programs of technology-related assistance for individuals with disabilities. But what about nongovernmental entities, such web pages associated with hotels, restaurants, and tourism providers? The Americans with Disabilities Act may cover private-sector websites if they are considered a place of public accommodation, but the law is unclear. This paper will provide an overview of the legal responsibilities of operators to provide accessibility to persons with disabilities, discuss the World Wide Web Consortium’s guidelines for web accessibility, and argue that the hospitality and tourism industry has a unique social responsibility opportunity to fill in the gap where the legal system has failed this population.

Keywords: Assistive Technology Act of 1998, Disability, Website, Americans with Disabilities Act, Hospitality and Tourism

JEL Classification: I14, I18, J14, K19, K20, K24, K32, K38, L83, M14, M38

Suggested Citation

Burke, Debra D. and Sanney, Kenneth J. and Clapper, Dan, Digital Accessibility in the Hospitality and Tourism Industry: Legal and Ethical Considerations (April 2019). Forthcoming 11 William & Mary Business Law Review __ (2020)., Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3443193

Debra D. Burke

Western Carolina University ( email )

School of Business Forsyth Hall
Cullowhee, NC 28723
United States
704-227-7401 (Phone)

Kenneth J. Sanney (Contact Author)

Western Carolina University ( email )

United States

HOME PAGE: http://www.wcu.edu

Dan Clapper

Western Carolina University ( email )

Cullowhee, NC 28723
United States

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