Almost one in five Americans has a disability. These individuals are protected from discrimination by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a law that ensures they are given the same opportunity to participate in society as everyone else. Under Title III of the ADA, all businesses and non-profit organizations – including those in financial services – must ensure that when they’re serving the public, it’s done in a way that is accessible to people with disabilities.
This law has different implications for different types of businesses. For those that operate a place of public accommodation – a store, a theatre, a doctor’s office or a bank branch – compliance with the ADA means ensuring that their building or office is accessible to people with disabilities. But for those businesses that also use technology to serve their customers, it means that the technology must be accessible.
Of course, there are very few businesses that don’t rely on websites and mobile applications to communicate with, sell to or provide services to the public. In the financial services industry, technology has become invaluable, and a key component of staying competitive. A 2016 report by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC)1 notes the way that digital services – online banking, insurance, wealth management – have become mainstream offerings for financial institutions. And just as the front door of a credit union may be required to have a wheelchair ramp, or a bank statement must be available in Braille, these online financial services are required, under the ADA, to be fully accessible to people with disabilities.
The PwC report predicts that, going forward, digital-based financial services will see constant change as new technology develops. Thus, it’s critical that these services aren’t just ADA-compliant now, but continue to be fully accessible as they evolve.
Why Accessibility Matters to Customers with Disabilities
A National Disability Institute survey on Banking Status and Financial Behaviors of Adults with Disabilities2notes that Americans are more likely to be excluded from the banking system if they have a disability. Digital technology has the potential to be a great equalizer. Customers with disabilities might have difficulty using a bricks-and-mortar bank or credit union because of travel barriers or time restrictions. On the other hand, mobile financial services are a convenient “anytime, anyplace” option.
But if that technology is not accessible, then it only further excludes people with disabilities.
Let’s take a closer look at some typical digital barriers encountered by customers with disabilities when their needs are not accommodated by a financial institution:
- If there are features and functions on the website that can’t be used with keyboard controls – by pressing the arrow and enter keys, for instance – then it doesn’t take into consideration people who cannot operate a mouse because of limited hand dexterity.
- If step-by-step instructions are posted as images – without any text descriptions – then it doesn’t take into account people who cannot see the screen, and who rely on a screen reader to read the text on the website out loud.
- If certain text and images don’t display properly when they’re resized, then it shuts out people with vision disabilities who must enlarge what’s on their computer screen to see it properly.
- If the website has a video that explains different products and services, but the video is not captioned, then it doesn’t include people who cannot hear sound.
- If the text on the screen is pale yellow against a paler yellow, then it doesn’t consider people who can only read what’s on the screen if there’s enough contrast between the colors.
Get the idea?
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Web Accessibility Standards
The U.S. Department of Justice’s (DOJ) view is that Title III of the ADA, requires all private businesses to make their Internet websites accessible to consumers with disabilities. DOJ initiated rulemaking concerning website accessibility in 2010 via an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking. Meanwhile, it has made it increasingly clear over the last few years that it considers a website to be accessible if it conforms with the Level AA technical requirements of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0,. These are the most widely accepted standards for digital accessibility. They have been developed collaboratively by experts and stakeholders all over the world to ensure there are no undue barriers to people with disabilities online.
It is expected DOJ may eventually add its own web accessibility standards to the ADA by 2018, just as it has already created standards for accessible design in the built environment3. Last year, it wrote, that “rulemaking addressing web accessibility requirements is a high priority for the department,” citing the widespread lack of equal access to public services because of barrier-filled websites.
For now, though, financial institutions should make sure their websites comply with WCAG 2.0 Level AA. These are the web accessibility standards that are consistently being used as a reference when corporation are compelled to remove website barriers after being found in violation of the ADA.
Duane Morris LLP, a law firm with hundreds of attorneys nationwide, reported last year4 on an upsurge of demand letters and lawsuits that specifically target the inaccessible websites of financial institutions. The firm refers to the U.S. Department of Justice as being “aggressive in enforcing website accessibility.” It recommends that financial institutions ensure their websites are accessible before they’re accused of violating the rights of people with disabilities.
It’s Dollars and Sense
Removing digital barriers pre-emptively can help a financial institution save costly penalties and time-consuming legal responses. But it also creates savings and profits in other ways. Customers with disabilities who can easily serve themselves online are less likely to reach out to your call centers. Forrester Research5 found that web self-service can cost an institution less than 10 cents per transaction compared to $6 to $12 (USD) for call center support.
More importantly, when people with disabilities enjoy a seamless digital experience with a financial institution, they’re more likely to approach that same institution for other products and services – such as mortgages, insurance and retirement savings plans.
People with disabilities have over $200 billion in discretionary spending. They also influence the spending of their families and friends. When an institution invests in accessibility, this investment is certain to pay dividends.
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.
- Pricewaterhouse Coopers (PWC). Pricewaterhouse Cooper, 2017.
- Banking Status and Financial Behaviors of Adults with Disabilities. National Disability Institute, 2015.
- accessible design in a built environment. Department of Justice, 2010.
- accessible design in a built environment. Department of Justice, 2010.
- reported last year Duane Morris, 2016.
- Forrester Research Carmelon Digital Marketing, 2014.