The recent uptick in discrimination lawsuits based on the Americans with Disabilities Act is affecting organizations of all sizes and industries — including credit unions. Because credit unions are considered “public accommodations” under Title III of the ADA, the law prohibits them from excluding or discriminating against people with disabilities when conducting business.
In December 2017 alone, more than 30 ADA lawsuits were filed against credit unions in nine different states, alleging that their websites were insufficiently accessible to serve people with disabilities. So far, more than 60 credit unions have faced website accessibility lawsuits.
Creating Clearer Standards for Credit Unions
Since the ADA does not explicitly address website accessibility, many credit unions are left wondering how the law affects them and how best to proceed. The National Association of Federally-Insured Credit Unions (NAFCU) is responding to these recent legal cases by working to clarify existing U.S. legislation and enact new laws to better address the issue of website accessibility.
In a November 2017 letter to U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, NAFCU President and CEO Dan Berger requested that the U.S. Department of Justice “consider issuing additional guidance and/or an interim final rule that provides clear 'rules of the road' for financial institutions in the area of website accessibility under the ADA.”
The NAFCU has also supported a bill in Congress, the ADA Education and Reform Act of 2017 (H.R. 620). The bill seeks to place stricter limits on the process for filing ADA lawsuits and requires training and education programs for state and local governments about improving accessibility in public accommodations. H.R. 620 recently passed the U.S. House of Representatives and now passes to the Senate for discussion.
Addressing Current Risks
In response to many members’ concerns about ADA lawsuits, the NAFCU has also written an article outlining potential risks for credit union websites. Because no U.S. laws specifically address website accessibility, and because the Department of Justice has yet to make an official statement about website accessibility standards, the NAFCU advises that credit unions make their own “risk-based decisions” about how best to implement accessibility for their websites.
Finally, the NAFCU has provided support to credit unions that are facing website accessibility complaints in federal district courts. The NAFCU has submitted three amicus briefs on the behalf of credit unions in Virginia facing litigation, two of which have already been accepted. In January, a federal district court ruled against the plaintiff in one of these cases because he was not eligible for membership at the credit union.
With the number of ADA lawsuits increasing and unclear legal requirements, these are uncertain times for organizations concerned about website accessibility, including credit unions. Visit the Bureau of Internet Access blog to remain up-to-date about the latest news and information on website accessibility.