ADA compliance for financial institutions: Here’s something you can do

Industry Insights

Friday, December 17, 2021

ADA compliance for financial institutions: Here’s something you can do

Accessibility is about more than in-person parking spaces and wheelchair ramps at branch locations. With so much banking increasingly done online—especially given the COVID-19 pandemic over the past year—it’s crucial to ensure you’re accommodating users with disabilities who visit your digital platforms. Ninety-four percent of mobile banking customers use online banking platforms at least once a month, and digital banking stats predict the total number of online and mobile banking users will exceed 3.6 billion by 2024.

 

As digital continues to grow and evolve, have you given much thought to how to make your materials accessible to those with vision concerns?

 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), vision disability is one of the top 10 disabilities among adults 18 years and older.

 

What might that mean to your organization’s website? A lot, because you need to make sure you’re compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). It prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in areas such as employment, transportation, public accommodations, communications and access to state and local government programs and services.

 

The U.S. Department of Justice’s (DOJ) view is that Title III of the ADA requires all private businesses to make their websites accessible to consumers with disabilities. And because many financial institutions (FIs) deal with government programs through the likes of the Small Business Administration (SBA) and others, they also must be in compliance with Section 508, which requires them to develop, procure, maintain, and use information and communications technology accessible to people with disabilities.

 

Lawsuits specific to digital banking accessibility have grown exponentially. In 2019, more than 11,000 ADA lawsuits were filed: 2,408 were related to digital accessibility—and that number continues to increase.

 

Taking ADA compliance into consideration can save your organization from expensive litigation and damage to your reputation.

 

The good news is that FIs have provider options to manage these needs. For example, NEACH’s Associate Member code mantra, offers a solution.  The Boston-based company created an AI-driven Intelligent Document Processing (IDP) platform, which automates digital document accessibility compliance. The platform extracts, classifies, and captures document insights, and transforms any document into any desired digital format.

 

“We are a document automation technology company. What that really means is that we are able to streamline and automate a lot of the time-consuming document workflows that are required for businesses, such as banks,” says Sanjeev Kalyanaraman, Chief Operating Officer of code mantra. “And we make it easy for documentation to be accessible to people of all abilities.”

 

One of the common use cases banks encounter is Section 508 compliance. Unfortunately, Kalyanaraman explains, a lot of the information banks post online—from online forms to statements to marketing pieces—is saved as downloadable PDF files. This, he says, makes it difficult for those with visual disabilities to access what’s in the documents.

 

Even sighted people don’t read in a linear way, Kalyanaraman says. They scan documents, looking for what they need to know. But a visually impaired person needs to get that same information. They need tools such as text to speech software to help them hone in on the important details.

 

Overall, approximately 12 million people 40 years old and over in the United States are vision-impaired: That’s 10 percent of potential customers that non-compliant banks are unable to help.


“If you go to the website of any large bank, you can find an accessibility statement. But, ironically, almost no small banks or credit unions have one. Or they publish a document on their website saying they are accessible, but the document itself isn’t actually accessible,” he emphasizes.  “It’s unable to be understood by anyone who is vision-impaired. For example, it’s in a small font. There are no headers. There is no metadata on the PDF—meaning that if you give it to a text to speech reader, it will respond, ‘Cannot interpret document. Document invalid. Format cannot interpret.’”

 

What code mantra does is use AI to pull out the salient data from documents and then automate it. For example, they can extract contextual information from items like a statement of work, contact information, or financial disclosures on pdfs and also turn that into HTML, so the same information on the PDF is also on the website.

 

One of the tools code mantra provides is periodic compliance reports for their clients; since information on the website is public, their AI tools can perform a free accessibility audit and determine which materials are not compliant. Customers of code mantra also can benefit from a white glove-type service, in which the company will go through a bank’s entire website on an ongoing basis and provide periodic compliance reports. It does this without having to integrate within a bank’s systems, a step that can be tedious and time-consuming.

 

One thing to remember, however: Compliance is about the financial institution, but it’s also about vendor management, says Sean Carter, President & CEO for NEACH and NEACH Payments Group (NPG). “Usually, websites are hosted by a third-party. So FIs will need to make sure that those companies are compliant as well. They need to meet ADA requirements, too.”

 

Ensuring ADA compliance can save on penalties. But it also creates goodwill for and confidence in your institution. When people with disabilities have a good digital experience, they are likely to share that experience with family and friends, and they’re also likely to return to your institution for more of their financial needs.

 

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