Forward Thinking: Ensuring ADA Website Compliance

Sonny MacArthur

Risk Advisory Partner

September 13, 2017

Website Compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act

In June 2017, the U.S. Court for the Southern District of Florida ruled in favor of a disabled Winn-Dixie Stores, Inc. customer who had filed a complaint against the company under the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA). This complaint alleged that Winn-Dixie’s website failed to reasonably accommodate their visual impairment and that the website could have been inexpensively updated using Web Content Access Guidelines 2.0 software (WCAG), a standard utilized by the U.S. government to ensure ADA compliance. In essence, the court determined that Winn-Dixie’s website is a “place of public accommodation” and thus, pursuant to ADA regulations, ruled in favor of the plaintiff.

While this ruling has significant implications for all businesses, banks should pay particular attention. There has been a sharp increase in the number of individuals demanding organizations’ websites be brought into compliance, but in a highly regulated industry like retail banking, banks must also consider additional regulatory oversight groups that may investigate these claims. While the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) – to date — has not indicated an intention to investigate this matter, for banks’ websites that do not comply with the ADA, proper planning and preparation can support their efforts to avoid potential fines or future lawsuits.

First, bankers should familiarize themselves with Title III of the ADA, which mandates that all “places of public accommodation,” or public businesses in this case, are legally required to remove any barriers that would hinder a disabled person’s access to that business’s goods or services. Historically for most businesses, these barriers have been largely physical (i.e., access ramps, bathrooms that accommodate wheelchairs, hand rails, etc.).

In today’s digital age however, bankers must consider their online presence as a venue in which their customers gather. Customers with vision disabilities often use assistive technology to enable their use of a computer. Technologies such as screen readers, text enlargement software and programs that facilitate computer functions through the user’s voice provide a method to engage online and access services. With more and more of these technologies developed each year, a poorly designed website can create unnecessary barriers for people with disabilities, just as a poorly designed building does.

Your Institution’s Website Could be Under Scrutiny

An ADA compliant website is all about making sure that everyone has equal access to all of the site’s features and services. Some recommended steps to consider include:

  • Pairing images on a website with alternative text (to be read by a screen reader) that clearly describe what the image or element is intended to do or convey;
  • Providing alternative text-based documents in HTML or Rich Text Format, in addition to PDF format, which are compatible with assistive technologies; and
  • Designing the bank’s website so that it can be viewed with the color and font sizes programmed in to the users’ web browsers and operating systems.

The WCAG 2.0 standard provides businesses and developers with a straightforward set of processes and guidelines to ensure simple and ready access for disabled individuals. And, even though the standard is only a set of guidelines or best practices, U.S. courts have used it as a frame of reference for whether or not a website is ADA compliant.

While it’s true that there has been no definitive ruling yet on whether or not a business’s website is a “place of public accommodation” and thus pursuant to the ADA, this June 2017 ruling does not bode well for businesses heading into 2018. By taking steps to maintain compliance with the ADA now, businesses can not only position themselves for long-term success, but also demonstrate their commitment to all of their customers.

If you have any questions on whether or not your Bank should comply with ADA guidelines or need assistance to test your accessibility, please reach out to Sonny MacArthur at smacarthur@pkm.com for more information.

This article originally appeared as exclusive content for Alabama Bankers Association Board Briefs

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