If you’ve received notice that your financial services site is inaccessible to someone with disabilities, you may need a bank website accessibility audit. Here’s some background on community banks and accessibility, as well as some insight on how to move forward.
Online Risk Assessment: How to Choose a Bank Website Accessibility Audit Vendor
The year 2017 brought two significant events concerning electronic banking and online accessibility litigation:
In November, the Independent Community Bankers of America (ICBA) entered into a settlement with plaintiffs (PDF) regarding its members’ websites and applications. Access Now and its counsel, Carlson Lynch Sweet Kilpela and KamberLaw LLC, had been active in sending demand letters to ICBA banks, offering to settle claims of inaccessible websites and apps.
For its part, Access Now “released ICBA’s members and banks eligible for membership with assets of $50 billion or less from all claims related to the provision of Electronic Banking Services…including website, mobile apps, accessibility, online banking, mobile banking, ATM services, and telephone banking.”
In turn, ICBA issued a “Restatement of Voluntary Access Principles” for its member banks. The Principles encourage banks to make “commercially reasonable efforts” to make online communications accessible to visually impaired visitors by the end of 2020.
In December, the Department of Justice (DOJ) withdrew pending rulemaking on website accessibility. As mentioned in January’s article, “Online Risk Assessment: Does Your Bank Discriminate?” many businesses, including banks, expected the DOJ to clarify online accessibility requirements through Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Title III rulemaking. Now, public accommodations must look to state and federal court decisions about the accessibility of websites and other digital assets. These decisions often differ across jurisdictions.
Is There a New Accessibility Landscape for Community Banks?
The ICBA settlement addresses a broad swath of claims all at once. It also connects accessibility with customer service. Yet the number of legal actions against businesses isn’t likely to slow down. The agreement is only with one plaintiff, and, as the Krieg DeVault law firm noted in February 2018, “The ICBA’s agreement with Access Now does not, however, prevent any other plaintiff from filing similar litigation against ICBA members, or any other financial institution.”
According the Seyfarth ADA Title III News & Insights Blog, the number of federal accessibility lawsuits against businesses across the country came to at least 814 in 2017. With demand letters and lawsuits as catalysts, the courts will continue determining whether an inaccessible website violates the ADA.
For community banks that choose to pursue accessibility proactively, or that are forced to by legal action, what is the standard?
The DOJ and other courts have pointed to the internationally recognized Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 as the standard within various cases and settlements . The ICBA also names WCAG 2.0 as an acceptable option to demonstrate accessibility compliance.
Editor’s note: WCAG standards were updated to version 2.1 in June 2018.
Choosing an Accessibility Audit Vendor for Your Bank’s Digital Environment
Given that standard, community banks would be wise to choose a vendor that can thoroughly audit their digital environment based on the latest version of WCAG. Banks will also benefit from an audit that recommends remediation strategies and priorities. Since new content, online features, and even new ways to serve customers are added all the time, an annual or semiannual audit of digital assets should be part of a bank’s regular practice.
We encourage legal, IT, and marketing teams to consider the following when selecting a bank website accessibility audit vendor:
- EXPERIENCE: Get information on each auditing company’s experience and how it operates: How long has it been in business? How long have they worked in accessibility? While the uptick in litigation may have brought accessibility to the forefront seemingly only recently, WCAG 2.0 has been in place since 2008, with other standards in place even earlier.
- INDUSTRY: Ask about the industries each company has served and whether they have worked with other financial institutions.
- TESTING METHODS: Make sure audits include both automated and manual accessibility tests. Automated tools are effective at indicating general issues. They are critical in finding certain errors. But even the best automated tools identify only 20 to 40% of known errors, produce false positives, and have difficulty assessing how well solutions are implemented. Manual tests that use the tools and methods people with disabilities use must also be included.
- PROPOSAL DETAILS: A written proposal should detail what the audit will include and what it will cost. It should identify the testing tools, strategies, and standards the company will use, and a time estimate for the work. The vendor will need information about your site architecture, number of pages and templates, platforms, and file types to scope the work accurately.
- PERSONALITY FIT: Interview your auditor’s team, including senior executives and those who will be doing the audit. Make sure they’ll work well with your legal, IT, and marketing teams.
- CAPABILITIES: Will one person or a team conduct the audit? With what software platforms and applications does the company have experience? Are they familiar with financial calculators? Loan applications? Third-party platforms and how they are to be handled? PDFs? Be sure the company can work with what you use.
- REMEDIATION AND TRAINING: Can the company put in place the changes it recommends? If not, you’ll need to hire another firm to fix accessibility gaps. Is it capable of either building from the ground up or maintaining site operations while remediating problem areas? Can the vendor train your team to maintain accessibility?
- ONGOING ASSESSMENT: Will they conduct an annual or semiannual audit to identify any problems that may develop?
Also listen to what each accessibility provider asks about you. Their questions will show what they know about your industry. Their specialty is web or digital accessibility, but they should understand the accessibility issues your customers will encounter with your digital content and applications. Once you find a suitable accessibility audit vendor, you should be well on your way to establishing an online banking environment that serves everyone in your community.
Microassist provides thorough, consultative accessibility audit services that gives you a robust understanding of accessibility standards—and how well your website measures against them. We welcome your questions about our accessibility audit process as you engage vendors for your bank website accessibility audit.
NOTE: A version of this article first appeared in the April 2018 issue of Compliance Alliance’s Access Magazine.
Recommended Website Accessibility Reading for Community Banks and Financial Services Organizations
- Online Risk Assessment: Does Your Bank Discriminate? A Look at What ADA Compliance Means as Financial Services Go Digital
- Digital Banking: Customer Service and Online Access
- Industry Article Highlights Accessible Banking, Concerns over Legal Risk
- The Practical Role of Automated Web Accessibility Testing Tools
- Successful Remediation Strategies for Websites Facing Accessibility Litigation
- 3 Important Reasons to Make Your Mobile Website Accessible
- Major Defense Win in Website Accessibility/ADA Case (External site: Lexology, registration required)
Microassist’s free Accessibility in the News weekly email provides a curated list of top accessibility news articles, legal opinions, and resources from around the globe. It includes coverage of website and application accessibility within the financial services industry—including within community banks, credit unions, and more.
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