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Small Bank Industry Group Settles ADA Claims, Adopts Digital Accessibility Guidelines

C.P. Hoffman 01/09/18

Late last year, the Independent Community Bankers of America (ICBA), an industry group representing banks with assets of $50 million or less, reached a settlement with the accessibility advocacy group Access Now, Inc., in which ICBA agreed to adopt and distribute a Statement of Voluntary Access Principles to its members.

In exchange, Access Now, Inc., released ICBA members, as well as other banks eligible for membership, from all ADA claims relating to the provision of electronic banking services.

The settlement follows a series of demand letters sent to ICBA members by Access Now, Inc., offering to settle potential claims arising from alleged violations of Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

ICBA’s Voluntary Access Principles include encouraging members to:

  • Make commercially reasonable efforts to make websites accessible to individuals who are visually impaired or low vision, with WCAG 2.0 success criteria named as a one potential guideline in the absence of Department of Justice (DOJ) regulation;
  • Train employees responsible for digital accessibility;
  • Develop electronic banking service accessibility guidelines of their own to promote increased independent use by individuals with disabilities;
  • Post notification and contact information for individuals who may encounter barriers to access, as well as provide a reasonably prompt response to inquiries or complaints about such barriers; and
  • Use existing vendor management processes to encourage third party vendors to conform to the Voluntary Access Principles.

The Voluntary Access Principles set a target date for implementation by December 31, 2020, unless formal website accessibility regulations are issued by the DOJ prior to that point. On December 26, 2017, however, the DOJ announced that it had withdrawn its proposed website accessibility regulations, calling into doubt whether any action is likely (or even possible) before December 31, 2020.

The ICBA settlement does not protect the ICBA or its members from potential ADA lawsuits from other plaintiffs. As such, member banks may remain at legal risk even if they fully comply with the Voluntary Access Principles’ 2020 deadline.

The settlement also does not extend to credit unions, at least 60 of which have been sued over allegedly inaccessible websites in the past four months.

Access Now, Inc., has no connection to Access Now, the non-profit group focused on net neutrality and related issues.

This blog post is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice.