In Our Opinion

ADA Compliance – More Questions Than Answers

By November 1, 2016 January 23rd, 2019 No Comments

While the US Department of Justice (DOJ) has delayed releasing new regulations pertaining to website accessibility under the American with Disabilities Act (ADA) until 2018, that has not stopped some law firms from filing suits against financial institutions, and others, for failure to comply with ADA standards. These lawsuits, as well as the release of information by the American Bankers Association, has triggered panic among banks and credit unions across the country, and is sure to start a land grab for products & services financial institutions can purchase to evaluate, certify and monitor websites.

The issue is, while we have a lot of information available to us, there are still more questions than answers when it comes to ADA compliance.

So let’s try to break down what we know, and what we don’t.

First, DOJ regulations are coming and financial institutions (and others) need to be ready to comply. According to an ABA Staff Anaylsis of Accessibility of Web Information and Services from September 2016, some businesses may be exempt from conforming if it “poses financial and administrative burdens or fundamental alterations.” But, as the ABA goes on to say “considering the resources of most financial institutions, it is unlikely that the DOJ or a court would conclude that website accessibility modification can cause undue burden to a bank.”

Simply put – as you need to make your offices accessible, so too will you have to make your website.

Second, we have a good idea what compliance is going to look like, and can start thinking about how to incorporate it into current sites or planned redesigns. Specifically, it is understood by most that “Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0, Level AA” will be the standard to which most websites will be held. To meet WCAG 2.0, AA compliance, developers need to ensure the site is:

  • Perceivable – Information and user interface components must be presentable to users in ways they can perceive
    • For example: Are images tagged with alternative text? Do videos have closed captions? Do audio files (podcasts) have transcripts? Can users change the font size, or color of the site to improve legibility?
  • Operable – User interface components and navigation must be operable
    • For example: Can users navigate through the site without a mouse (using a keyboard)?  Can animated items be paused, or stopped? Are there any elements that could trigger seizures?
  • Understandable – Information and the operation of user interface must be understandable
    • For example: Is the navigation through the site consistent? Are forms properly labeled? Are error messages understandable and helpful?
  • Robust – Content must be robust enough that it can be interpreted reliably by a wide variety of user agents, including assistive technologies
    • For example: Can it be navigated using available assistive technologies (i.e. screen readers) today? Tomorrow?

Third, WCAG 2.0, AA compliance may not be enough. If, despite your best efforts, a customer still cannot access your site, you may be required to make further modifications. Which is most likely why the ABA is recommending financial institutions should also “create an accessibility webpage with information on accessibility and a process for reporting website access problems and getting help.” Bank of America has a page about website accessibility, which is actually part of the larger section on Accessible Banking where they outline their principles for Accessible Banking and how individuals with disabilities can do their banking in person, at home or elsewhere.

"Save time. Knowing your accessibility options."

Bank of America’s Accessible Banking home page

Tips for screen reader users

Now, let’s consider what we don’t know:

Who completes the audit? There are many free services such as the Web Accessibility Evaluation Tool (WAVE) which will help determine if your site is compliant. But who is going to review and process the results? Can the financial institution or web developer take the lead, or should it be a third-party completing the review and recommendations?

What documentation will auditors accept? While a free report generated from a site like the Bureau of Internet Accessibility will help identify issues with your site, it may not pass inspection by regulators either because, as the report states it “does not represent a thorough analysis, for which a manual review of the website per WCAG 2.0, AA specifications is also advised,” or because regulators don’t recognize the author’s authority or expertise.

How deep does compliance go? As part of our research, we updated our own site to integrate more accessible features. A review with WAVE showed that we reduced our errors on one selected page to zero.

But visiting our project management website, hosted through Basecamp, immediately triggered a warning related to missing form labels.

As we use Basecamp, many financial institutions partner with vendors to provide services including online banking, mobile banking, online account openings, loan and mortgage applications, online calculators, financial education videos and email marketing. Are these sites and services compliant? Again, who will review, verify and document compliance? And when should you expect partners to reach compliance?

How much time do you have? Recognizing it is up to each institution to evaluate the benefits and risks, and determine a final timeline, lawsuits and recommendations are combining to put pressure on financial institutions to comply sooner rather than later. So while we do still have many questions, the time to start addressing ADA compliance is now.