As the web has grown increasingly important for conducting business in recent years, the number of lawsuits filed under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in the effort to make organizations’ websites more accessible has also grown substantially.
The Cost of ADA Non-Compliance
Despite the lack of web accessibility legislation at the federal level, the U.S. Department of Justice has consistently reaffirmed a legal precedent that requires websites to be accessible. In 2014, for example, the online grocer Peapod entered a settlement with the DOJ after a lawsuit alleged that its website and mobile app weren’t accessible to people with disabilities.
Financial services companies, too, have been the target of major ADA lawsuits. In 2011, for example, Wells Fargo also agreed to a settlement after the DOJ investigated complaints from customers with hearing and speech disabilities. As part of the terms of the settlement, Wells Fargo had to make its website accessible for customers with hearing disabilities and pay up to $16 million in compensation.
Time and time again, large financial services companies have been subject to legal action and possible financial penalties as a result of having websites that are insufficiently accessible or not compatible with assistive technologies. Some of the most high-profile cases include:
- Bank of America: In 2000, nearly two decades ago, BoA became the first U.S. bank to sign an agreement committing to web accessibility for customers with visual impairments. Since then, BoA has entered several other settlements, such as a 2013 agreement to improve accessibility for security features on its website and mobile app.
- H&R Block: In 2014, tax preparer H&R Block entered a DOJ settlement regarding the challenges faced by users with vision, hearing, and motor disabilities when using the company’s website.
- Charles Schwab: After a lawsuit from a blind customer in 2012, Charles Schwab agreed to bring its website into compliance with Level AA of the most popular web accessibility standards, the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0.
The Benefits of Web Accessibility for Financial Services Companies
In its guidelines for accessible banking, the American Federation for the Blind recommends that customers who have trouble using their bank’s website with screen readers should “give serious consideration to switching banks.” With 24 million Americans reporting that they experience vision loss, financial services companies that fail to meet customers’ needs regarding web accessibility are leaving themselves vulnerable to losing an enormous swath of customers.
People with disabilities often face challenges and barriers when performing their daily activities, and as a result, they’ve also been traditionally underserved by the financial industry. By reaching out to these customers with accessibility initiatives, banks and other financial services companies will help lower these barriers while expanding their customer base and accruing some positive PR.
Making a visible commitment to web accessibility sends the right message to your customers with disabilities: You care about not only their business, but also their quality of life.