Website ADA Compliance

As the banking industry’s online presence has grown, so has the user base and what customers expect to find on their bank’s website.  For most users, this is a straight forward and convenient option to check their account balance, transfer money, or just look up their branch’s hours or address.  However, for those users with disabilities, browsing websites requires additional coding and a well-designed layout, and, if your website does not comply with Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), there could be major repercussions.

Recently community banks have seen a surge of demand letters from plaintiff’s law firms alleging that banks’ websites are in violation of the Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA).  The Department of Justice (DOJ) is in the process of developing regulations for website accessibility, but has announced it will not finalize these regulations until at least 2018. It is believed that the regulations will follow Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 Level AA and the DOJ has urged businesses to be compliance.  Even though the website regulations have not been formalized, certain disability rights advocate groups and attorneys have sent out hundreds of demand letters seeking remedial actions and financial payment. There have been many suits filed against banks large and small, but the majority of the demands letters end in a request for financial payment and assurance that the accessibility issues are corrected or they will file suit with costly settlements and unfavorable publicity.  Since discovering a website is inaccessible takes much less time than discovering that a bank’s parking lot doesn’t have handicapped parking spaces, this puts everyone’s website (that has not been reviewed for accessibility) at risk.

The best defense to such claims is making sure that the bank’s website is compliant with the WCAG 2.0 Level AA Guidelines which are broken into four different types of guidelines for website compliance:

Perceivable – Information and user interface components must be presentable to users in ways they can perceive (e.g. alt tags that say what the item actually does, like ‘Submit form Button’).

Operable – User interface components and navigation must be operable (e.g., you must be able to navigate the site using a keyboard as well as a mouse).

Understandable – Information and the operation of user interface must be understandable, (e.g. error messaging on a form should make sense; instead of ‘Invalid field’ messaging, use ‘The Email field must be in a valid format’).

Robust – Content must be robust enough so it can be interpreted reliably by a wide variety of user agents, including assistive technologies. In other words, don’t use tags or code that only certain browsers understand.    

There are several free online tools that can help evaluate websites availability compliance such as AChecker and WaveFor more information on WCAG 2.0 Level AA compliance, visit World Wide Web Consortium.