The ADA: 4 Basic Facts that Financial Institutions May Not Know

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Learning about obligations under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) should be a priority for any financial institution that serves the public. The ADA bans discrimination against people with disabilities. Under Title III of the act, banks, credit unions, and other private-sector businesses must give equal treatment to all customers, with and without disabilities.

Complying with the ADA in financial services means making certain that your website, apps, PDF documents, and other technologies are accessible to people with disabilities. It’s already been well established that these digital technologies are not exempt from the law. Features to enhance accessibility – like text captioning for videos, or the ability to fill out an online form using just a keyboard – must be incorporated. Barriers to access – such as time-outs when users don’t type fast enough, or pages that cause the screen to flicker at a high rate – must be removed.

In the financial industry, the number of interactive websites and mobile apps for customers has been increasing. At the same time, the number of bank branches in communities is decreasing. The vast majority of households connected to the Internet are making use of online financial services.1 So are many mobile users. The Federal Reserve System’s report Consumers and Mobile Financial Services 2016 shows that more people than ever are checking bank balances, transferring funds, and conducting other financial activities on mobile devices.2

Today, it’s commonplace for the financial sector to offer digital services, and yet – unfortunately – it’s also common for these digital services to be inaccessible to people with disabilities. Here are four more basic facts you may not know.

1. People with disabilities are in urgent need of accessible online financial services.

The National Disability Institute discussed the banking challenges faced by people with disabilities in its report Banking Status and Financial Behaviors of Adults with Disabilities: Findings from the 2013 FDIC National Survey of Unbanked and Underbanked Households. The report noted that Americans are more likely to be excluded from the banking system if they have disabilities.3

Offering financial services online is an important way to include, rather than exclude, consumers with disabilities. However, when there are barriers to access, these consumers are further marginalized.

A recent study at the Shippensburg University of Pennsylvania gives an idea of the scope of the problem. Researchers surveyed 162 people with vision disabilities who use banking or financial apps and websites. They found that more than 3 out of 5 people had been unable to use a financial website or app because of an accessibility barrier. Even more concerning, three-quarters of the people surveyed had turned to a sighted person for help conducting their financial activities online – which carries a great amount of risk.1

And yet, there aren’t many other options. The paper noted that alternatives to online financial activity, such as handling paper statements and visiting physical bank branches, are not necessarily possible for many people with disabilities. Websites and apps, on the other hand, can be easily used by most customers with disabilities – once the barriers are removed, that is.

2. Numerous financial-sector companies have already been called out.

As we noted in a previous post, several companies in the financial sector have already had complaints lodged against them for failing to make their online services fully accessible. Experts within the industry have been raising the alarm that lawsuits targeting inaccessible financial services are on the rise.

The Department of Justice has essentially determined that it’s just as discriminatory to prevent certain customers from conducting online financial transactions as it is would be if you prevented certain customers from entering your front doors. Allowing accessibility barriers to permeate your website is comparable to dismantling or blocking the wheelchair ramp at the entrance of your building!

Financial companies that have been at the receiving end of litigation or complaints about their websites and apps include Bank of America, H&R Block, and Charles Schwab, to name a few. In 2014, 12 banks were found guilty of violating New York State’s human rights law with their inaccessible websites. That same year, the Bureau of Internet Accessibility listed dozens of North American banks that are “vulnerable to litigation risk” because of their websites.4

Currently, the most commonly cited technical requirements for accessibility in Department of Justice settlement agreements and enforcement actions are the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0, Level AA. Thus, complying with WCAG is a way to ensure you’re not violating the ADA with your digital financial services and apps.

3. It’s not a hardship to make your digital properties accessible.

Contrary to what some companies may assume, it’s a wise investment to hire experts who can evaluate your digital apps and online interfaces, bring them into compliance and monitor them periodically to ensure they continue to meet the technical requirements of WCAG 2.0. It’s not complicated, and the cost-savings and other bottom-line benefits are indisputable, according to the Shippensburg University researchers and other experts.

Consider these financial benefits of making your digital properties accessible: You avoid litigation for failing to comply with the ADA. You make your online services more attractive and easier to use by a wider range of people, including seniors and people with less experience using digital technologies. You increase the search-engine optimization of your website, thereby enhancing your online presence. You increase the self-serve activities of your consumers, decreasing the burden on your call centers.

4. Promoting your financial services as inclusive is a good marketing move.

There are over 60 million people with disabilities living in the United States, roughly one-fifth of the entire population. As a group, they have wealth – more than $872 billion in total income6 – and they are seeking accessible and inclusive goods and services. In addition, considering that these 60-million-plus individuals have families, friends and colleagues, there’s an even wider circle of people touched by disability. Many of these consumers will deliberately turn their backs on a business that demonstrates a lack of concern for its customers with disabilities.

In fact, consumers receive encouragement to shun these companies: The American Federation of the Blind has prompted its members to “give serious consideration to switching banks” if their current financial institution will not, or cannot, resolve online accessibility barriers.5

If, however, you’re in compliance with the ADA and the technical requirements of WCAG, you should be letting your customers and potential customers know all about it. Be proud that you are providing financial services to diverse communities. With accessibility comes opportunity. Promoting your inclusive services is good marketing move.

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 services with assistive technology to deliver a transformative experience for people with disabilities. Learn more about eSSENTIAL ACCESSIBILITY’s innovative solution.


  1. Exploring the accessibility of banking and finance systems for blind users First Monday, 2017.
  2. Consumers and Mobile Financial Services Board of Governors Of The Federal Reserve System, 2016.
  3. Banking Status and Financial Behaviors of Adults with Disabilities National Disability Institute, 2015.
  4. Banking on Website Accessibility Lawsuits Bureau of Internet Accessibility, 2014.
  5. Accessible Banking for People with Visual Impairments American Foundation for the Blind, 2017.
  6. 2016 Annual Report: The Global Economics of Disability Return on Disability, 2016.

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