We recently noticed an increase in the number of lawsuits filed against financial institutions for non-compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. The reason: Lack of access to the financial institution’s website for those with disabilities.
This isn’t surprising given that the law was enacted long ago but delays in Department of Justice (DOJ) guidance and alternative court decisions muddied the water. Standards set by court decisions are inefficient at best and in some cases are reversible. Standards set by technology experts are more definitive but they are often not prescriptive so the path forward isn’t clear.
It wasn’t until recently that the DOJ used a standard called “The Web Content Access Guidelines” (WCAG 2.0) in court that has led to general acceptance of the guidelines. Note: WCAG is promulgated by the World Wide Web Consortium. This was not the panacea that one might think because the WCAG 2.0 notes that it has not achieved success in setting standards for all handicaps, including cognitive issues. Also, the most recent guidance provides some assistance; but it doesn’t give clear guidance. So, the solution isn’t complete.
The practical problem is that the infrastructure in place is not sufficiently resilient to guarantee all users have access to website content, based on the WCAG 2.0 guidelines. While bankers have responsibility for their websites, there are a number of others key players involved in creating a satisfactory user experience for those with disabilities.
- There are a limited number of assistive technology application providers available and they must cover a number of operating systems and browser alternatives. Choices are limited and in some cases they create integration problems.
- Objectives for addressing specific disabilities have increased, which at times requires the development of new infrastructures or technology. Evolving issues require vigilance.
- End users must maintain their equipment (operating system, browser application, configuration, and monitor/speaker quality) to levels anticipated by the assistive technology vendor. Help end users understand the limits of technology.
- Issues with website scripting (including errors that are not specifically evident such as obfuscation of alternative text by images) are not readily highlighted in coding processes. In these cases, have your website tested periodically.
Financial Institutions should promote understanding, dialogue and practical solutions to provide customers with a satisfactory website experience.
Consider the following when looking to provide web access to site visitors with disabilities:
- Keep up-to-date on ADA issues related to websites by periodically searching for them on relevant (technical and regulatory) sites.
- Provide a link for users to report website issues that specifically address difficulty in receipt of website content by handicapped web visitors.
- Inform website designers of any issues you discover and ensure that corrective action is taken in response to website ADA issues.
- Audit your website periodically for ADA issues based upon the WCAG 2.0 standard.
- Verify that changes to the site don’t create new issues in complying with ADA.
In taking these steps, you’ll show your financial institution takes ADA compliance seriously and that you’re all sensible measures to accommodate website visitors with disabilities.