Why is it so important and where should I focus my attention during this process?

The fact that the internet is changing the way we live is obvious, especially in the way we bank. Trends show that banking websites are more sought out than physical branches. Therefore, online banking services are growing faster than ever. This emerging scenario has led to a dramatic increase in the number of demand letters and lawsuits related to ADA's accessibility discrimination issues that banks are receiving.

Current conditions make it apparent that there is a lack of clear guidelines and standards to follow for making your bank's website universally accessible. If we dwell on these issues, we lose focus on what really is the center of this discussion. I am talking about real-life users; I am talking about people with disabilities.

Most banks and businesses are getting lost in the volume of information coming from different directions. Lawyers talk about clarification, rules, and regulations. Congress is sending letters to the Department of Justice (DOJ) asking for clearer rules. You constantly hear about 508 Compliance, ADA, Rehabilitation Act, Regulatory Compliance, etc. IT experts talk about software and artificial intelligence that can simulate visual impairment conditions. A plethora of headlines on the news and blogs talk about banks being sued in federal courts. Even here in Wisconsin, since the beginning of this year, some community banks have been receiving demand letters coming from California.

At the end of the day, this is not about Congress or lawyers or any software. As I said, we are talking about something very simple. This is about making your bank's website, online banking functions, and financial services accessible to all, including people with disabilities. When you truly understand what this is about, it is easy to see that to achieve this goal, you don't need to wait until the Department of Justice writes the proper clarification, or that a legislator decided that this is going to be WCAG 2.0 AA or some other kind of standard. You don't need advanced software or AI simulations. You only need a real user, someone with a disability and experience using adaptive technology, navigating through your website. You need to involve a real-world user with a disability in the testing and auditing process.

In effect, if you receive a demand letter, or you find your bank being sued in a federal court, it's going to be because a person with a disability couldn't access some of the services or information on your bank's website. It won't be because a software package, Congress or any other regulator said that your website is not accessible. It will be because a real user with a disability took action against you. 

In September 2018, the DOJ responded to members of Congress about the explosion in website accessibility lawsuits with this statement: "Noncompliance with a voluntary technical standard for website accessibility does not necessarily indicate noncompliance with the ADA." According to an analysis by the international legal firm Seyfarth Shaw, "it is a recognition that a website may be accessible and usable by the blind without being fully compliant with the privately developed Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 or 2.1." Seyfarth Shaw also stated that for most of the courts "the operative legal question in a website accessibility lawsuit is not whether the website conforms with WCAG, but whether persons with disabilities are able to access to a public accommodation's goods, services, and benefits through the website." Additionally, the DOJ has consistently taken the position that the absence of a specific regulation does not serve as a basis for noncompliance with a statute's requirements. These statements reinforce the need to include real users with disabilities in your website compliance process. 

Your bank should be proactive! Take your organization down a simple and easy path, avoiding a messy situation. Stop moving in the wrong direction by looking for solutions in the wrong places. Refocus your attention on what is important. Online banking services need to be accessible to people with disabilities. 

The only way to successfully do this is to involve people with disabilities in the testing, design, and creation process. The reality is that banks need to take accessibility very seriously for many reasons: due to your bank's reputation, because it is a socially responsible institution, for risk mitigation, or simply because it is the right thing to do!

Cesar Guillermo Baena profileGuillermo is a current business development professional with Beyond Vision. He has a background in BSA/AML and regulatory compliance and a degree in economics. For any question or concern regarding this article please email him at gbaena@beyondvision.com.