When we increasingly rely on web technology to carry out our day-to-day tasks, it often reduces the demand for other ways that services are delivered. That’s certainly true in the financial industry, where more online services mean fewer physical locations for serving customers.
In the 10-year period between 2007 and 2017, the number of bank branches in the U.S. declined by almost 7,700, or around eight percent, according to a report by commercial real estate company JJL. This number will continue to decrease over the next few years. The company notes that a major reason for this the rise of online and mobile financial technology1.
People now go online to look up account balances, track their transactions, transfer money and pay bills. They can deposit checks and set up account status alerts. They can communicate with their financial service provider through the online message center.
But web accessibility is critical if people with disabilities are to use these services. There are over 60 million people with disabilities in the U.S., and growing. When financial websites and apps contain accessibility barriers, it can be impossible for this population to conduct financial activities online like everyone else.
Online services and apps should follow the technical requirements of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 or 2.1. This ensures that people with various kinds of disabilities can still use these platforms. Unfortunately, research shows there are still many barriers that are preventing people with disabilities from banking online.
What’s standing in the way of full web accessibility in financial services? To begin with, some financial institutions may be misled by myths related to people with disabilities, online accessibility and finances. Let’s explore a few of them.
Myth: People with disabilities already have their banking needs met.
People with disabilities are unbanked and underbanked at a higher rate than the general population. This is detailed in the FDIC National Survey of Unbanked and Underbanked Households, which also reports that households headed by working-age adults with disabilities are less likely to go online for their banking, and more likely to visit a bank branch and see a teller to access their account2.
Yet online financial services, when they’re designed to be accessible, can be highly convenient for this consumer group. Some people with disabilities have transportation challenges and mobility difficulties, and web-based banking – when it’s barrier-free – removes the need to visit a bank branch. Often, daily routines take longer when you have a disability, leaving you pressed for time. Online banking allows you to look after banking transactions quickly. If your disability means that you communicate by pointing to a letter board instead of speaking, you may find that banking online is a simpler process than getting help from a teller.
If, on the other hand, accessibility barriers are not removed from financial websites the ease with which people with disabilities conduct their financial activities will be even more compromised as time goes on. As mobile banking increases in popularity, accessibility in mobile environments is vital. When there are barriers, like a tiny image that’s too difficult to click on, then the technology becomes impossible to use, resulting in a frustrating experience for the customer.
Myth: Banks have no obligation to improve web accessibility.
Banks are “places of public accommodation” and, as such, are covered under Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act. This law prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities. Financial institutions are required to ensure that people with disabilities can use their services. Increasingly, this has been interpreted as applying to websites, since they have become such a fundamental part of doing business. In 2016, as part of a dispute resolution, the Bank of America signed a legal agreement to make its online mortgage documents accessible to people with vision disabilities.
More recently, a lawsuit was filed against TD Ameritrade by a customer who claimed that they had trouble accessing the platform with their screen reader. As part of the settlement agreement, the firm agreed to “ensure that all feasible components of its website are rendered accessible by certain deadlines, with key features being prioritized,” and pay attorney, court and expert witness fess to the individual3.
There may also be state laws in place that ban discrimination, and thus compel banks and other financial institutions to provide their services in accessible format. The New York State Division of Human Rights conducted an investigation in 2014 and found that 12 banks were in violation of the New York Human Rights Law. Unacceptable barriers to online banking were included in the findings, and subsequently all 12 banks agreed to make web accessibility improvements.
Myth: People with disabilities have no need of wealth management services, because they don’t have wealth.
Some people in the financial industry may believe that people with disabilities, as a group, are living on a low fixed income, don’t possess assets and don’t have much disposable income to speak of. This is certainly a myth.
It’s true that some people with disabilities are living in poverty, and at higher rates than in the general population. However, there are also vast numbers who do not fit this category. Research from the National Center for Health Statistics shows that over 22 percent of disability households have incomes that are four times the poverty threshold, or higher. In fact, there are more disability households included in this group than there are below the poverty line4. In 2016, the Return on Disability Group calculated that Americans with Disabilities have a total income of about $872.7 billion5.
Don’t forget about the baby boomers. Described by the New York Post as the “richest generation in history,” these individuals are increasingly developing disabilities as they get older. This is one reason why financial institutions shouldn’t assume their customers don’t have wealth just because they happen to have a disability.
Myth: Online barriers don’t have much impact – and besides, people with disabilities have their own workarounds.
Many people with disabilities do have assistive technology that enables them to read screens if they’re blind, or use the keyboard to move around a website instead of using a computer mouse. But many of these technologies will only work properly if the website has been designed with them in mind. If, for example, images and forms on a web page aren’t labelled with text alternatives, there’s nothing for the screen reader to actually read.
A 2017 survey published in First Monday, a peer-reviewed journal about the Internet, found that many people with disabilities are still routinely frustrated by online barriers in financial services. After analyzing survey responses from people with vision disabilities, the authors wrote: “Web and app accessibility for banking and finance is clearly far from where it should be, as is obvious by the high percentage of respondents noting accessibility problems.6”
Survey respondents reported a wide range of issues and concerns. For example, on one banking website, customers were required to use a mouse to click on selections, which was impossible to do without sight. In another example, buttons on the screen had not been labelled with text, so the screen reader was unable to read them. Problems like these meant the only way customers could conduct their personal banking online was to ask a sighted person to help them.
Myth: Bank customers with disabilities want the exact same services as everyone else.
Of course, customers with disabilities do want and deserve access to the same services as everyone else. So this isn’t exactly a myth. But it’s not the whole picture, either. People with disabilities may also want and need something very different. Oftentimes, individuals have specific financial or banking needs that are related to their experience of living with a disability.
Many financial institutions recognize this, and go beyond ensuring their services are web accessible. They also offer special products and services that are geared to people with disabilities. Examples include:
- financing programs for adaptive equipment and assistive technology;
- vehicle loans designed to cover both the vehicle and the accessibility modifications;
- an accessibility banking coordinator who is knowledgeable about disability-friendly services; and
- tax-advantaged ABLE savings accounts.
When banks draw attention to those offerings that are tailored to customers with disabilities, it demonstrates an awareness of their needs. It also shows that they care about doing business with this sizeable group of consumers who happen to have disabilities.
By developing a dedicated page to explaining the various ways you meet the needs of people with disabilities, whether it’s through removing online barriers or offering customized products and services, you’ll attract more business from the disability market.
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 and remediation services with assistive technology to deliver a transformative experience for people with disabilities. Learn more about eSSENTIAL ACCESSIBILITY’s innovative solution.
- Bank Branches Decrease as Industry Evolves with Technology JLL, 2017
- Banking Status and Financial Behaviors of Adults with Disabilities National Disability Institute, 2015
- TD Ameritrade to Settle Blind Woman’s Website Accessibility Lawsuit AdvisorHub, 2018
- Disability in U.S. Households, 2000 – 2010: Findings from the National Health Interview Survey US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health, 2016
- 2016 Annual Report: The Global Economics of Disability Return on Disability, 2016
- Exploring the Accessibility of Banking and Finance Systems for Blind Users First Monday, 2017