In our work developing websites for financial institutions, we've navigated the roadmap to ADA compliance for banks and credit unions. We've tackled the nuts and bolts of what compliance means, how to be compliant, and best practices for maintaining compliance. But I noticed a major piece of the puzzle is missing—incentives. What does ADA compliance mean for your bottom line, besides just avoiding a lawsuit or fine?
Is there a net positive for your business? Why go to all the extra hassle? How can you motivate your people to care about doing a thorough job of ADA compliance on your website, and in your day-to-day processes?
I aim to fill in the gaps here and offer some practical business incentives for your bank to have a thoroughly ADA compliant website.
1. Large Consumer Segment
Nearly 1 in 5 people have a disability, according to the 2010 U.S. Census.
"About 56.7 million people — 19 percent of the population — had a disability in 2010, according to a broad definition of disability, with more than half of them reporting the disability was severe."
That's just in the United States.
According to Fifth Quadrant Analytics, a data source, the global disability market is the next big consumer segment you should be focusing on:
"The disability market represents 1.3 billion people globally who face challenges across three general areas—dexterity, cognition or sensory issues. Equivalent in size to the population of China, the disability market represents an annual disposable income of $1 trillion—and $544 billion in the US alone. When you include friends and family, this adds another 2.3 billion people who control an incremental $6.9 trillion in annual disposable income."
Consumers in this market, along with their families and allies, are committing their money and loyalty to companies that demonstrate inclusion of people with disabilities. You have the opportunity to serve this market and earn their loyalty by offering a superior website and online banking experience for those with disabilities. Your website should be built to be ADA compliant, but that's not where it stops. Compliance and optimizing for accessibility is an ongoing process. Your marketing agency should be offering ADA Compliance expertise and training on how to maintain compliance.
2. SEO Benefits
This is a fascinating topic because there's a little bit of misinformation and overselling around the SEO benefits of accessibility. Let's state up front there's a difference between ADA compliance and accessibility optimization. There is overlap between optimizing your website for search and for accessibility compliance. However, we don't want to over-hype this angle, as tech accessibility consultant Karl Groves warns in his article The Accessibility & SEO Myth.
The most recent school of thought out of the SEO experts at Moz is that "if you’re optimizing for accessibility, you’re probably covering your bases for those technical optimizations where accessibility and SEO overlap. BUT, this doesn’t always work the other way around, depending on the SEO tactics you take."
What areas overlap for SEO accessibility?
- Video transcription
- Image captioning
- Image alt attributes
- Title tags
- Header tags (H1, H2, etc)
- Link anchor text
- On-site sitemaps, table of contents, and/or breadcrumbs
- Content ordering
- Size and color contrast of text
- Semantic HTML
If you want to dive into the nitty gritty of technical SEO optimization and accessibility optimization, take a look here and follow the discussion in the comments and the part 2 post to come.
Our take is that developing a bank website or app that everyone can use is good SEO, but keep in mind that accessibility optimization goes much further than technical SEO.
3. Avoid Legal Problems, Give Better Customer Service
Website accessibility demands are on the rise, and mobile apps are next, says the American Bankers Association.
"Since the beginning of 2015, more than 244 federal lawsuits have been filed throughout the country against companies of all sizes, including banks... For years, plaintiffs’ firms have used the ADA to obtain large sums of money from companies, including banks. This trend began with physical barriers, then moved on to ATMs, now demand letters to various companies, including banks, allege that people with disabilities are denied access to online goods and services in violation of ADA. The letters seek an out-of-court settlement, injunctive relief and attorney’s fees and costs."
Our feelings about this legal practice aside, it is a fact that compliance is the law. All consumers deserve access to your bank's website and mobile banking app. Besides the legal jeopardy your organization may face if found non-compliant, your reputation and relationships with clients are on the line as well. While the legal standard is still undefined, banks have nothing to gain and everything to lose if they wait to become compliant.
In the absence of a legal standard, what is the definition of an accessible website? In their article "Avoiding the Website Accessibility Shakedown" the ABA Banking Journal states this:
"Courts use a very practical rather than technical analysis regarding the definition of accessibility. Specifically, they look to whether disabled individuals are able to use the website and access the companies’ products, goods and services. The ADA requirements and this analysis also apply to bank websites provided by third-party vendors. They do not, however, apply to unaffiliated websites accessed through a link on a bank’s website."
One solution is to ask for feedback and provide an easy way for your customers to provide feedback about your website and mobile banking apps. This is a proactive step that shows your intent to provide an accessible website, and it's good customer service too. Solicit feedback from a focus group of users with a range of abilities, as well. Your customers and testers will likely point out ways to improve your website and help you continue to improve services.
4. Better Usability for Everyone
Accessibility focuses on people with disabilities, but many accessibility requirements also improve usability for everyone. Optimizing for accessibility helps users in a variety of situations:
- In a car, when visual attention is limited
- In a room with bright sunlight or glare on screen
- At night or in a dark room
- In a noisy environment
- In emergencies
As mentioned earlier, accessibility includes a technical aspect that is usually not a focus of usability.
Requirements for assistive technologies like screen readers that read aloud website pages, screen magnifiers that enlarge web pages, and voice recognition software that is used to input text—most of these requirements are technical and relate to the underlying code rather than to the visual appearance.
In practice, basic accessibility is a prerequisite for usability.
General usability principles are included in accessibility requirements because they can be significant barriers to people with disabilities. For example, a website that is developed so that it can be used without a mouse is good usability.
One example of this is keyboard-only navigation.
Power users prefer to ditch the mice and just use shortcuts and hotkeys. Users with visual impairments or fine-motor impairments have no choice but to use the keyboard or an assistive technology like a screen reader. In all of these cases, best usability practice is to set up your website so that you can perform all functions with just the keyboard.
Have you ever tried it? Try to navigate without a mouse, just using tab, shift+tab (to go back to the last item) and enter. Nielsen Norman Group's article on keyboard-only navigation for improved accessibility gives you a step-by-step test to conduct on your website, with optimization tips.
The W3C Web Accessibility Initiative covers the requirements and differences between general usability and specific requirements for usability for people with disabilities in more depth in this article.
5. Accessible and Universal Design
Design plays a large role in ADA compliance and accessibility. When we think of design, we often think of visual design, but there are universal design principles we all benefit from.
There is a difference between accessible design and universal design, according to Usability First.
"Accessible Design includes the needs of people whose physical, mental, or environmental conditions limit their performance. Universal Design extends standard design principles to include people of all ages and abilities, but remains general and doesn't address all the specific needs of any particular disability."
Adopting universal design principles benefits all, and has been shown to make accomplishing web tasks easier for everyone. Some of the benefits include:
- reducing fatigue
- increasing speed
- decreasing errors
- faster learning times
Some general principles of universal design include:
- flexibility through choices, variety of ways that tasks can be accomplished
- reducing complexity
- allow users to customize settings
- intuitive navigation and structure of the website
- provide sensory feedback in variety of ways
- redundant modalities
- avoiding "side effects"
You can find further web-specific accessibility and universal design tips here.
ADA compliance should be viewed through the lens of the benefits it brings to your customers and your business. By adopting an accessibility mind-set, you can improve the web experience for all through better SEO, superior customer service, serving the disability market, and applying best practices in usability and universal design.
Disclaimer: this is not legal advice and should not be construed as such. Always defer to the advice of your legal counsel in matters of ADA compliance. We regularly work in tandem with legal teams to ensure a positive outcome.