Accessibility 101 for Financial Institutions

Online banking, stock trading, loan shopping, and money management have changed the way we connect with our finances.
You don’t have to leave the house to deposit a check, submit a loan application, or purchase a life insurance policy.
Neither should a person with disabilities.

Group of four people reading off a laptop and a tablet

What is Digital Accessibility?

Digital accessibility refers to the ability of users with disabilities to effectively use information and communications technology. Anything that provides useful information or services needs to be accessible to users with disabilities. This includes:

  • Websites and web applications
  • Mobile apps and mobile web content
  • Self-service systems (e.g., kiosks)
  • Software applications
  • Electronic documents

Digital accessibility is generally concerned with ensuring that these systems are designed in such a way that they interact appropriately with assistive technologies. Assistive technologies can include:

  • Screen reader or screen magnification software for users who are blind or low vision
  • Voice recognition software that helps those with mobility disabilities (even arthritis) navigate the web using only their voice
  • Head pointers and switch devices that allow those with more limited movement navigate without using their hands

Read the Understanding Assistive Technology Article Series

What does it mean for a site to be “accessible”?

The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) require that a website be:

Perceivable: If someone cannot see, written content can be read by a screen reader. If someone cannot hear, audio content has captions.

Operable: If someone cannot use a mouse or touchpad, they can navigate by keyboard or by voice command software. If someone moves or reads slowly, they can request additional time to complete a task.

Understandable: If someone clicks on a navigation menu, it behaves like a navigation menu. If an error is made on a form, an error message points out the location of the error and suggests how to fix it.

Robust: The site is compatible with current assistive technology and is prepared to roll up to future iterations of AT.

person with a magnifying glass over a mobile phone screen

What kinds of barriers do customers with disabilities encounter?

Andrea is blind and uses screen reader technology on her laptop and iPhone to navigate the internet and mobile apps.

“I’m trying to fill out an application online, but the form fields aren’t labeled, so JAWS (my screen reader) is not telling me what information I should type into what field.”


Don is deaf-blind and uses a screen reader with audio output connected directly to his cochlear implant.

“My bank statements are a mess. There are sortable columns, but the headers are missing, so I can’t sort by the name of the item or by credit or debit. And don’t get me started on the PDFs. I can never read those.”


Emile has limited dexterity in his arms and hands and uses a switch to use his computer and iPad. Switch devices allow a person with limited mobility to input information by tapping two buttons—one to scroll and one to select.

“I filled out the entire form to apply for a loan. I got to the end of the page where it said to check that I accepted the terms and conditions, but it was impossible for me to navigate to the box and check it. All that work for nothing!”

Frankie has severe arthritis in her hands, so she uses a speech-to-text program (Dragon NaturallySpeaking) to type and navigate the internet.

“The button at the bottom of the Add a Bill form says Add a Bill, but when I ask Dragon to click on Add a Bill, it doesn’t click that button. It took some guessing, but it turns out I had to ask Dragon to click Submit.”


Benji has low vision and uses a screen magnifying program or pinch-to-zoom feature to make the text on her screen large enough to read.

“The help text for the retirement income calculator is printed inside the form field, but the contrast is so low, I can’t make out what it says.”


Martin has Parkinson’s disease his severe hand tremors prevent him from using a mouse. He relies on his keyboard to navigate online.

“I needed a new car loan and was comparing online lenders’ rates. The site I was on used dropdown menus for navigation. I could tab through the top menu items, but wasn’t able to use my arrow keys to select from the dropdown lists. I looked for a sitemap link as an alternative, but no luck, so I moved on to a different site that I was able to use.” 

Helpful Resources

investment apps

Digital Accessibility for Financial Services Organizations

Article Series

Real-world examples of barriers that individuals with various disability types face when accessing banking and financial services websites, mobile apps, and other technology.

2 seniors using a laptop for financial services

COVID-19 Accessibility Resources: Financial Sector

Resources Hub

Access to technology for ALL people is more critical than ever now. We’ve curated a selection of resources to help you ensure that your communications and services are inclusive.

The 2020 State of Digital Accessibility in the Financial Sector Report

2020 State of Accessibility Financial Sector Report

Industry Report

A candid look into the digital accessibility programs of banking and financial services organizations.

Making the Business Case for Accessibility. What you risk when ignoring accessibility and what you gain from embracing it.

Why should I make accessibility a priority?

It reduces legal risk. If you haven’t received a complaint yet it’s likely only a matter of time before you do. Proactive, documented efforts to make your technology accessible are the best defense against legal action.

It increases market reach. Estimates are that 1 in 5 Americans has a disability that affects their daily life. Technology is a big part of daily life.

It helps sell more products. If you sell technology B2B or B2G, having an accessibility conformance report will rank your product higher in the minds of your buyers, especially in highly regulated industries or the government.

It’s the right thing to do. Just as you’d remove physical barriers to your place of business, you should also remove digital barriers for people with disabilities.

It benefits everyone, not just people with disabilities. Accessibility best practices go hand-in-hand with better user experiences for everyone who interacts with your technology.

Read More About the Business Case for Accessibility

How do I test my website’s accessibility?

Free tools can be a great place to start. There are several available that can give you a quick overview of your site’s compliance. Try webaccessibility.com to test multiple pages on your website and get a detailed report and compliance score.

Next, you’ll want to contact an accessibility expert to do an audit. During the audit process, there will be automated and manual testing, as well as functional testing by people with disabilities.

After the audit, you’ll receive a report with your overall level of compliance and a list of accessibility issues that need remediation. Depending on your relationship with your vendor, they can provide training, help desk support, or even code side-by-side with your developers.

Request a Free Risk Assessment (mini audit) of your website

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Additional Resources

digital accessibility in banking

Building a Successful Accessibility Program for Your Financial Institution

On-Demand Webinar

A look at the lessons we’ve learned to avoid common pitfalls and build a successful accessibility program.

4 hands putting together 4 puzzle pieces with financial icons in background

FirstBank’s Organizational Approach to Digital Accessibility

On-Demand Webinar

Learn about FirstBank’s multi-phased and multi-departmental approach to developing and rolling out their organization-wide accessibility program.

A quizzical man looks at a screen showing an image of a bank, and online banking apps. An email notification looms large in the upper right corner

ADA Demand Letters & Settlements in Banking

eBook

Get insights on the current legal climate, greatest areas of risk for banks, and tips on how to craft a win-win ADA settlement agreement.

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