Digital accessibility is essential for individuals with disabilities to have the most significant degree of personal independence. This concept especially holds when it comes to healthcare. People manage so much of the modern healthcare experience through the Internet.
Everything from booking an appointment to viewing medical test results is now through a website or mobile application. Suppose members of the disability community cannot effectively manage their health and wellness first. In that case, they cannot enjoy the rest of the digital world. As a blind internet user and full-time screen reader dependent, I have considerable experience with healthcare system websites. Keep reading for best practices and accessible design examples that I've found on healthcare websites.
Improved Appointment Scheduling
One of the most essential features of almost any online healthcare system is the ability to schedule an office visit. In the past, this was always a frustrating task for screen reader users. The main issue was differentiating between booked and available appointment slots. Common design practice uses visual markers to designate unavailable appointment times, such as graying out the text. Screen Readers have always needed help detecting these visual indicators, which has traditionally made it difficult to distinguish available appointment slots from ones already taken.
Lately, I have noticed a significant change in this area. Appointment slots that are already booked disappear from the site, leaving only the available and selectable dates and times. This accessible design change eliminates the guesswork previously associated with using a screen reader to book a doctor's appointment online, making the experience far more efficient and intuitive. Even minor design updates like these can go a long way in bettering a user interface for assistive technology dependents.
Improved Insurance Validation Accessibility
Many healthcare and doctor's office websites allow users to check their medical insurance acceptance in advance to verify that the healthcare provider will work with the particular insurance plan. Instead of entering the insurance details manually, many sites prompt the user to take a picture or upload an image file of the physical insurance card. Once you upload the image to the site, the system will attempt to verify the details to determine if the medical provider works with the insurance plan in question.
Previously, the insurance check results pages were not screen reader accessible. The top of the page will display the user-provided insurance card image, and your validation results are shown directly below the image. The problem is that I could never get my screen reader to speak the results because the text would somehow become part of the image. Therefore, a screen reader would ignore it.
Luckily, most healthcare system websites have adjusted this design in recent months. Developers have figured out a way to ensure that the results of the insurance check are displayed in plain text only, and the screen reader's cursor can easily find it. This change represents definite accessibility improvement and has made it much easier for me to choose one provider over another based on whether or not my insurance is accepted.
Better Accessibility When Searching For A Provider By Location
One of the most valuable features of most modern healthcare system websites is the ability to filter search results by proximity to the user's location. In the past, most sites would display each provider using an inaccessible map graphic that showed the distance in miles from the user's current location.
Luckily, healthcare system site designers have started to include a setting that eliminates this accessibility shortcoming. When enabling the location filter, there is also an option to show results using either a map or a list. Choosing the list option will display results in order of proximity, with the closest office location at the top of the list. These lists are straightforward to navigate.
My screen reader clearly announces the office's name, the provider's specialty, the location's address, and the distance in miles from my current location or a specified zip code or address. This design choice demonstrates a conscious effort to improve the digital accessibility of the healthcare industry.
Why Digital Accessibility on Healthcare Websites Matters
There are many definite steps in the right direction regarding the accessibility and usability of healthcare system websites. As an assistive technology user, I am glad to experience these improvements firsthand.
Managing my health and wellness effectively, efficiently, and independently is essential for my success as a young professional. Suppose positive changes like the ones I described above continue. In that case, the healthcare industry will be well on its way toward offering a universally accessible digital experience to everyone.