The new guidelines for accessible websites have been in the works for years now, yet many banks are still being taken by surprise. There has been much speculation about what the standards would include and when exactly website owners would be held responsible. Last year we officially saw the new guidelines come to pass, but those paying attention knew years ago they would be coming.
Through several important cases between 2006 and 2017, it became apparent that the Department of Justice now considers a website a “public place of accommodation”, falling under Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) were created as an initiative for the web to become a more user-friendly place. When it became known that the DOJ was looking for accessibility in all websites, many looked to these guidelines as the new standards for everyone.
The WCAG covers every part of a website, from simple to complex, categorizing the standards into four sections: Perceivable, Operable, Understandable, and Robust. The Perceivable category includes many of the changes that should be simple to fix, such as adding descriptions to images or presenting your content in an adjustable layout (responsive web design). Operable gets into the nitty gritty of your website, keeping your providers accountable to ensure all features and tools can be used with ease by any person. Understandable focuses on explaining why a user might receive an error message. No longer will a simple, “The operation couldn’t be completed” message work, it now needs to be specific to explain to a user why a function didn’t behave as expected. The final category, Robust, again brings in responsive web design, more specifically, taking the necessary steps to ensure that your website is interpretable by all devices, desktop, mobile, or specialized devices such as a screen reader.
What does all of that mean? Simply put, you need to make sure that whoever manages your website, whether it is your employee or a third-party, is aware of these guidelines and is maintaining your site in a way that follows them.
Let’s get into the specifics of the effects on Online Banking. Your customers, and potential customers, visit your site for two main reasons. Either they are looking for information about your bank (services, contact information, etc.) or they want to log into their accounts to check a balance, transfer money, or maybe pay a bill. Both pieces of your website need to be fully accessible by disabled individuals. The front-facing or marketing half of your site is typically what you or your staff have the option to maintain and update however you choose, while the functionality and tools available after login are typically always controlled by your core banking provider. You’ll want to check with them to ensure that their platform has been certified by an accessibility expert and that everyone involved with maintaining your site has gone through accessibility training.
If you have never used a screen reading device, imagine trying to explore a website by listening to a navigation menu read aloud, a heading, followed by content. Now imagine that happening in the wrong order, the content first, navigation next, ending with a heading, or perhaps missing a heading entirely. An already tedious process becomes even harder. All of the work you put into your website goes to waste. It’s estimated that 19% of Americans live with a disability, which means you might be isolating almost a fifth of your customers.
The bottom line is: anyone involved in your online banking process needs to understand what these accessibility guidelines are, what they mean, and how to build your website based off of them. I can’t say it enough, training is crucial to making that happen, training for both your core banking provider and training for your own staff. With the right group of people handling your website, these new web standards will be a piece of cake.