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4 Common Accessibility Barriers in Mobile Banking Apps

Aug 1, 2023

Digital banking isn’t the wave of the future: It’s currently essential for most Americans. 

In a 2022 survey, 78% of U.S. adults said that they prefer to bank via a mobile app or website. But despite the growing dependence on digital solutions, many financial institutions fail to meet the basic requirements for digital accessibility — leaving their customers with disabilities out of the conversation.

Banks and credit unions have a legal and ethical responsibility to address this problem. Titles II and III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) require most organizations to make their digital communications accessible.

And financial institutions have strong incentives to go above and beyond the basic requirements. About 1 in 4 U.S. adults live with some form of disability, and those individuals control an estimated $490 billion in disposable income. 

Below, we’ll look at several common accessibility barriers in banking apps, then provide a framework for finding (and remediating) other issues.

1. Color Contrast Issues

Low-contrast text may be difficult to read, particularly for people with low vision or color vision deficiencies (also called color blindness).

The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) are the international standards for digital accessibility. WCAG requires that most text and images of text maintain a contrast ratio of at least 4.5:1 with its background. Read more about the importance of color contrast for accessibility. 

As we’ve pointed out in other articles, low-contrast text may be the most common web accessibility issue. Banks and credit unions aren’t the exception: A 2021 analysis performed by Texthelp, a company specializing in literacy technology, found that one national bank had 10,000 WCAG failures for color contrast alone.

To address this issue, designers simply need to be aware of the WCAG requirements. The Bureau of Internet Accessibility provides the a11y® Color Contrast Accessibility Validator, a free tool that helps designers check web pages and individual color-pairs against WCAG standards. 

Related: Use of Color for Accessibility Explained

2. Inaccessible Login Portals

Banking portals require user authentication, but certain authentication processes can create barriers for people who use assistive technologies (AT) and some people with cognitive disabilities. 

WCAG 2.1 Success Criterion (SC) 3.3.7, “Accessible Authentication,” requires that: 

For each step in an authentication process that relies on a cognitive function test, at least one other authentication method is available that does not rely on a cognitive function test, or a mechanism is available to assist the user in completing the cognitive function test.

Banking apps can fulfill this criterion by providing login options other than a password. If people can use gestures, two-factor authentication, or password managers to complete the process, the login process is more intuitive.

Mobile apps should also warn users before time limits expire, and where possible, give users a way to extend or turn off the time limit. 

Related: How To Make Your Website's Authentication Process Accessible

3. Missing Semantic Markup

Mobile content must have appropriate semantic markup, which allows screen readers (software that converts text to audio) and other AT to present content to the user. 

Semantic markup improves navigation by allowing AT users to quickly locate the content or controls they need. For mobile apps, it’s important to define semantics for every element — and avoid issues like duplicate ID attributes on forms, which can cause problems for user agents that rely on unique attributes.

Related: Don't Use ARIA to Fix Broken Semantics

4. Missing Image Alternative Text (or Alt Text)

Non-text content must have alternative text that explains the content and its purpose. That’s true for websites and mobile apps — but missing alt text remains a common accessibility barrier.

In banking apps, images may provide important information about promotions, financial products, and policies. If text appears within the image, that text should be included with the alt text; if the image is a hyperlink, the user should be able to understand what will happen when they activate the link. 

Related: Alternative Text: What and Why

Building a Strategy for Digital Compliance in Mobile Banking

Financial apps can be complex products. If accessibility barriers become a part of your app, remediation may be difficult and time-consuming. 

The best practice is to prioritize users with disabilities from day one. Designers and developers should have a basic knowledge of WCAG, and regular accessibility audits should be completed throughout development. 

By taking a proactive approach — and using WCAG to test for issues — you can create rich content that works for all of your customers and members, which can help you showcase your commitment to an inclusive approach. 

The Bureau of Internet Accessibility provides a free checklist for mobile accessibility, which includes tips for designing content for smaller screens, using colors effectively, and implementing gesture controls. For guidance with your app development project, send us a message to connect with an expert.

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