Digital banking accessibility: Caring is about more than ADA requirements

Creating truly accessible banking experiences involves more than building ramps in a digital-first world.
Feb 17, 2022
Laura Caseley
Content Writer

Nearly 20% of people – that’s one in five – in the U.S. have some form of disability. This includes both visible disabilities, the kind that are evident through medical devices or bodily differences, and invisible disabilities such as chronic pain conditions, mental illness, and other less “obvious” issues. And they all still need to manage their finances in a secure way. That means financial institutions must make sure they have the same access to service and support that everyone else does.

With the growth of online banking, this should be easier than ever as people who can’t walk or drive to a local branch can access their account information from their location at any time. But unfortunately, that’s not always the case.

Just like a building must be ADA compliant, so too must websites meet certain accessibility standards, or the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). But too often, they don’t. In 2018, 40% of all community banks in the U.S. faced lawsuits for lack of accessibility on their sites, and in five states, 100% of credit unions also faced legal repercussions for the same issue. And while that’s a bad look for the institutions, the real problem is that it means a significant portion of customers can’t get the financial services they need – at least not without difficulty. That shouldn’t be the case. 

Web accessibility isn’t just a courtesy or important because it’s the law. Accessibility is a basic right, and it must be a priority in order to ensure your digital banking products are available to all people. It also means understanding that accessibility is more than ADA required ramps and bathroom stalls, and that it's time to take a closer look at your digital accessibility.

What does “accessible” mean when it comes to websites?

The Web Content Accessibilty Guidelines (WCAG) defines an accessible website as meeting four criteria:

  • The site must be perceivable. This means that the information on the site must be able to be perceived in some way by the user.
  • The site must be operable. People with disabilities must be able to operate and navigate the site using its interface and components.
  • The site must be understandable. If users can’t understand what the site is offering, then it’s not accessible. The information and the interface must be easy to understand.
  • The site must be robust. A robust site has many options that can address multiple accessibility issues, and continues to do so as technology evolves.

When assessing the accessibility of your site, keep these four points in mind for everything on the site, from the written information to the images and navigation. Designing for accessibility means a shift in mindset to see as many levels of accessibility as possible. 

Using a physical location as an example again, it’s great to have that ramp and bathroom stall but there’s a lot more that can be done. Do you have a way for those with limited sight to perceive signage and written materials? Are walkways and spaces between furniture wide enough to be navigated with a wheelchair or walker? When you start to think about it through the lens of accessibility, more and more opportunities become evident. The same mindset works for designing a site.

What kinds of accessibility issues need to be addressed?

When creating a digital platform, designers must consider the experiences of all people, and the more considerations the better. If that sounds insurmountable, don’t worry – it’s not. Instead of focusing on disability, focus instead on inclusivity to maximize ease of use for all users regardless of ability. This makes your site better for everyone, broadening the usability of your site and services. Inclusive accessibility also transcends ability issues and covers social, economic, and other needs of specific demographics.

Visual - If seeing a screen is hard for someone, then making the most of digital banking is not going to be an option for them. 

Perhaps the issue people think of first when it comes to websites is visual impairments like total or partial blindness, color blindness, and other issues. This is a huge part of accessibility in web design. The WHO found that in 2017, 217 million people around the world lived with some form of visual impairment. Certain color combinations, brightness, and saturations can also be difficult to look at for extended periods of time and cause discomfort, ultimately distracting from the information on the page. 

Deafness and hearing issues can also be an issue if your site relies on audio, such as through video presentations. In these cases, the visual information must stand in for the audio. 

Cognitive - Retaining complex information is difficult enough, and is even more difficult for people with cognitive issues. 

Cognitive disabilities are also something to consider. Not everyone with cognitive impairments has or needs assistance, but still require their information to be clearly stated, easy to understand, and easy to remember. It also means your website needs to be laid out in such a way that is intuitive and easy to navigate with sections and pages clearly labeled.

Linguistic - ensure that those with reading issues as well as English language learners can understand what you’re telling them. 

The primary method of communication on websites is through the written word. That makes sense, but it can also prove a challenge for those with reading comprehension or other linguistic disabilities, and isn’t always fixed by a simple text-to-speech app (although those are great to have!). This is especially true for highly complex writing. And while it’s not a disability, complex writing can also be hard for those for whom English is not a native language. Banking and financial services have the unique issue of being an industry with a lot of specific and technical terms and acronyms, which can exacerbate these issues.  

What can you leverage to make sure your platform is accessible?

Keeping accessibility in mind is easier than you might think, especially if you keep a checklist to make sure your site includes the necessary criteria. Accessibility criteria really dovetail quite seamlessly with general good design practices for websites, and can easily become second nature. Site users will simply see a great site that makes them feel comfortable and allows them to get the information they need. 

There are many tools already available that can be leveraged when considering accessibility. All that’s needed is a little bit of a mindset shift to use them for inclusivity, too. And there are plenty of financial institutions around the world that are already making inventive strides in how to get digital banking to every customer. You can also look outside of the finance world to get inspiration from other sites. 

Platform 

There are plenty of software options that allow people to interact with your site in the ways they need. Text-to-speech options can read copy aloud, and alt text describes an image in words for those with visual impairments. Keyboard-only navigation options are great for those for whom using a mouse is difficult. 

Many devices have these options built in, but the onus of accessibility should not be on your customers when they’re on your site. 

Design and layout 

A cluttered or confusing layout and navigation is stressful for anyone, and can cause even more stress for those with a variety of disabilities. That’s why it’s imperative to have a site with clear pathways, plenty of open space, and the ability to go back easily if a mistake is made. 

It also applies to buttons and clickable elements, too. Buttons, check boxes, and selections must be large enough to find and click or tap, even with an unsteady hand. 

Two example websites comparing a cluttered and difficult to navigate website on the left and an improved layout on the left with a simplified visual design.
Reduce visual clutter to improve the navigation of your websites and digital products.

Language

Language and text should be easy to both see and comprehend. Keep sentences short, concise, and limited in terms of topic. Try to keep jargon or industry terms to a minimum. In banking, sometimes this can’t be avoided, so consider having a glossary or an easy way users can source definitions as they read. Apps like the Hemingway app can help you get in the habit of clear, understandable writing. ​

Color 

Use color wisely. Not everyone perceives color in the same way, so make sure the site is still navigable and tells the same story in low-saturation or grayscale views. WebAIM provides tools like a contrast checker so developers and designers can see if their pages have enough contrast to be easily read. Make sure that color is not the only method of conveying information. Instead, combine it with other elements like bolded or italicized text, thicker borders, tooltips, and more. 

Examples comparing an illegible color combination on the left with an improved color combination on the right with better contrast and readability.
Color selection plays a big role in the usability and readability of your website and digital products.

Screen readers and images

Those with visual impairments may use a screen reader, which reads text aloud for easier understanding and navigation. However, a screen reader can’t parse an image for them, even if the image has important text in it. That’s why it’s always a good idea when using images to include an alt text description that clearly describes what’s in the image. Most platforms allow for an alt text option when including images, so it’s best practice to always include this information.


Human interaction

Having an actual human connection is important for everyone, and it can make a world of difference for someone who might otherwise struggle to use a website alone. Piraeus Bank’s e-branch in Greece offers a “digital cashier” service, which means that customers can connect via video or audio chat for guidance on site use. Hearing impaired people are partnered with cashiers trained in Greek Sign Language. In Turkey, Kuveyt Türk Participation Bank offers XTM, a sign language banking video service that even extends to non-Kuveyt Türk customers. 

What does having an accessible site mean for you?  

With not very much effort and only a slight shift in design philosophy, your site will be opened up to even more customers. In turn, this drives traffic and SEO, and also cements your institution as the kind of place that really cares about all people. After all, empathy is the cornerstone of human innovation and interaction, and including it in design and user experience practices will make your institution all the better. 

Narmi Inc.
P.O. Box 231517
New York, NY 10023

Digital banking accessibility: Caring is about more than ADA requirements