Any financial institution that serves the public should make learning about obligations under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) a priority.
The ADA bans any organization that does business with the public from discriminating against people with disabilities. Under the ADA’s Title III, banks and credit unions must give equal treatment to all customers, with and without disabilities. Section 508 extends the ADA from physical locations to also include digital platforms.
It’s already been well established that these digital technologies are not exempt from the law. The law requires the use of accessibility enhancement features on all information and communications technology (ICT) that is accessible to people with disabilities.¹
Some accessibility features include:
- Text captioning for videos.
- The ability to fill out an online form with just a keyboard (someone must be able to fill out the form without a mouse or touchscreen).
- Extend time limits for filling out information for all people so they have enough time to complete a given task before a time-out.
- Remove effects that cause the screen to flicker at a high rate from all pages.
- Support for assistive technologies like screen readers for people who have visual impairments.
In the financial industry, the number of interactive websites and mobile apps for customers is on the increase. At the same time, the number of bank branches in communities is decreasing. The vast majority of households connected to the Internet are making use of online financial services.²
A large share of this audience is using financial services through a mobile device. The Federal Reserve System’s report Consumers and Mobile Financial Services 2016 shows that more people than ever are checking bank balances, transferring funds and conducting other financial activities on mobile devices.³ The number of people using mobile devices instead of desktop computers is likely to increase.
Today, it’s commonplace for the financial sector to offer digital services. However, it’s also common for these digital services to be inaccessible to people with disabilities.
Here are four more basic facts you may not know:
1. People with disabilities are in urgent need of accessible online financial services.
The National Disability Institute discussed the banking challenges faced by people with disabilities in its report Banking Status and Financial Behaviors of Adults with Disabilities: Findings from the 2013 FDIC National Survey of Unbanked and Underbanked Households. The report noted that the banking system is more likely to exclude Americans if they have disabilities.4
Offering financial services online is an important way to include, rather than exclude, consumers with disabilities. However, when there are barriers to access, these consumers are further marginalized.
A study from the Shippensburg University of Pennsylvania gives an idea of the scope of the problem. Researchers surveyed 162 people with vision disabilities who use online banking and other financial services. They found that more than three out of five people had been unable to use a financial website or app because of an accessibility barrier.
Even more concerning, three-quarters of the people surveyed had turned to a sighted person for help conducting their financial activities online.
The paper noted that alternatives to online financial activity, such as handling paper statements and visiting physical bank branches, are not necessarily possible for many people with disabilities. Websites and applications provide immense opportunities to reach and assist customers with disabilities when there are no barriers.
To learn more about accessibility for financial services, download our whitepaper “Why Banks Should Invest in Web Accessibility.”
2. Numerous financial-sector companies have already been called out.
Many companies in the financial sector already know that failing to make your online services fully accessible can lead to people filing official, legal complaints against you. People filed more than 10,000 ADA Title III lawsuits against businesses and organizations in 2018.5
The number of accessibility lawsuits will likely continue to rise. The Department of Justice (DOJ) has determined it is as discriminatory to prevent certain customers from conducting online financial transactions as if you prevented certain customers from entering your building.
Financial companies on the receiving end of litigation or complaints about their websites and apps include:
- Bank of America
- H&R Block
- Charles Schwab
In 2014, 12 banks were found guilty of violating New York State’s human rights law with their inaccessible websites. That same year, the Bureau of Internet Accessibility listed dozens of North American community banks that are “vulnerable to litigation risk” because of their websites.6
The most commonly cited technical requirements for accessibility in the DOJ’s settlement agreements and enforcement actions are the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0, Level AA. Thus, complying with WCAG is a way to ensure you’re not violating the ADA with your digital financial services and apps.
3. It’s not a hardship to make your digital properties accessible.
It’s a wise investment to hire experts who can evaluate your digital apps and online interfaces for accessibility. Those experts can help bring them into compliance and conduct ongoing monitoring to ensure they continue to meet the technical requirements of WCAG 2.0.
The cost-savings and other bottom-line benefits are indisputable, according to the Shippensburg University researchers and other experts.
Consider these financial benefits of making your digital properties accessible:
- You avoid litigation for failing to reach ADA compliance.
- You make your online services more attractive and easier to use by a wider range of people, including seniors and people with less experience using digital technologies.
- You increase the search engine optimization of your website, thereby enhancing your online presence.
- You increase the self-serve activities of your consumers, decreasing the burden on your call centers.
4. Promoting your financial services as inclusive is a good marketing move.
There are over 60 million people with disabilities living in the United States, roughly one-fifth of the entire population. As a group, they have more than $872 billion in total income.8 They are seeking accessible, inclusive goods and services.
Keep in mind people with disabilities share positive and negative experiences with their families, friends, and colleagues. There’s an even wider circle of people touched by disability. Many of these consumers will deliberately turn their backs on a business that demonstrates a lack of concern for its customers with disabilities.
Consumers receive encouragement to shun these companies: The American Federation of the Blind has prompted its members to “give serious consideration to switching banks” if their current financial institution won’t or can’t resolve online accessibility barriers.7
However, if you comply with the ADA and the technical requirements of WCAG, you should be letting your customers and potential customers know all about it. Be proud that you are providing financial services to diverse communities. With accessibility comes opportunity. Promoting your inclusive services is a strong, positive marketing move.
An Innovative Solution
eSSENTIAL ACCESSIBILITY has developed a comprehensive accessibility solution to help organizations follow the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) and achieve and maintain compliance with standards and regulations. This includes integrating web compliance evaluation services with assistive technology to deliver a transformative experience for people with disabilities. Learn more about eSSENTIAL ACCESSIBILITY’s innovative solution.
- What is Section 508? EPA, 2019.
- Exploring the accessibility of banking and finance systems for blind users First Monday, 2017.
- Consumers and Mobile Financial Services Board of Governors Of The Federal Reserve System, 2016.
- Banking Status and Financial Behaviors of Adults with Disabilities National Disability Institute, 2015.
- Number of ADA Title III Lawsuits Filed in 2018 Tops 10,000. Seyfarth ADA Title III, January 2019
- Banking on Website Accessibility Lawsuits Bureau of Internet Accessibility, 2014.
- Accessible Banking for People with Visual Impairments American Foundation for the Blind, 2017.
- 2016 Annual Report: The Global Economics of Disability Return on Disability, 2016.