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COVID-19: Digital Accessibility Keeps Financial Services Open to All


User1st & The Viscardi Center Joint Blog & Financial Services Webinar

Social distancing, quarantine, and state orders due to COVID-19 is forcing consumers and banks to drastically change banking and payment habits toward more online services. But for persons with disabilities, these online services can present more obstacles than conveniences.  Closing the digital divide for persons with disabilities is now imperative to keep financial institutions’ digital doors open, compliance costs down, and all customers happy.

Over the past decade or so, we’ve seen the expansion of online service offerings at banks and credit unions of all sizes. These services range from the ability to research loan rates, to opening new accounts and applying for loans, completing basic transactions, and accessing educational information and financial toolkits. All the more reason to ensure these digital services are accessible to all customers, including those with visual, hearing and motor skills impairments.

In fact, the Bureau of Internet Accessibility (BoIA) has been helping eliminate the accessibility digital divide for people with disabilities around the world for over a decade. It has published a variety of research on website accessibility within the banking industry. Based on findings from one of its testing platforms, BoIA published research in 2018 indicating the banking industry had made strides when it can to making online resources more accessible, but there was still room for improvement. According to BoIA’s benchmark, the average failure rate of the accessibility of online content within the banking industry was 58%. Content can include uncaptured videos, PDFs that cannot be read by screen reader software, inaccessible online forms and more.

In April, the Federal Housing Commissioner announced loss mitigation options for single family borrowers accordance with the CARES Act.  Under current COVID-19 conditions, a borrower must be granted forbearance for up to 6 months on their loan if they are experiencing a hardship.  Given the heavy dominance of electronic communication to receive forbearance, digital accessibility is even more critical to serve persons with disabilities.

This week, Citi announced expansion of its COVID-19 assistance to customers, small businesses and other industries. However, if the website doesn’t work properly with a screen reader, then a person with a visual impairment may inadvertently be blocked from this assistance.

Online and mobile banking was already growing drastically while physical retail bank branches were shrinking. According to S&P Global Market Intelligence, the industry’s total branch count in the U.S. declined by more than 1,500 over the 12 months that ended February 29th.  Due to this trend, digital accessibility had already become an important issue for the financial industry.

Under normal circumstances the most common banking activities demand a high level of connectivity – depositing checks, paying bills, transferring funds, checking your balance.  Today, banks across the nation are responding to consumers’ economic needs by offering such services as fee waivers; deferred payments for credit cards, auto loans and mortgages; loan modifications; low-rate and zero-rate loans and much more.

For people with visual, auditory, motor, or cognitive disabilities, the ability to access content and transact business through a website or mobile application can be much more challenging than for those individuals without disabilities.

In this environment, your organization has two choices – either win the battle for the best online service or possibly get saddled with an accessibility lawsuit.  Imagine if someone cannot pay their bill online or apply for deferred payments or get that low-rate loan because your website or online application cannot accommodate their screen reader.  Digital accessibility lawsuits were already on the rise with more than 500 suits filed before the coronavirus crisis hit.

Digital accessibility ensures you reach the broadest, most diverse set of customers, provides those customers with the services they need, protects your bank’s reputation, improves users’ experience, and reduces your risk of litigation. In addition, it can open up a whole new customer base, leading to increased revenue and product/service development innovation. 

To learn more, please join User1st and our digital accessibility partner, The Viscardi Center, for a free webinar on May 21, at 1 PM, "Digital Accessibility Basics for Banking & Financial Services."  

The Tools and Expectations of the Differently Abled
Customers with disabilities use a variety of tools and techniques to use digital content.  Take a look at how they may explore your website:

Keyboard Navigation: Motor and vision issues can make using a mouse troublesome. A popular alternative method for page navigation is using the “Tab” key or keyboard-only navigation. Intentional, accessible websites can structure navigation buttons, content and form fields to make keyboard navigation logical and intuitive.

Text for Video and Audio: Content with video or audio is frequently unusable to users with disabilities. They seek out text versions of content to apply for products, process applications and consume critical customer information.

Screen Readers and Text-to-Speech: Screen readers and text-to-speech programs make entire websites, images and interactive items comprehensible – if you provide the correct descriptive text and site functionality.

Accessibility that addresses navigation and comprehension methods will significantly boost your organization’s user experience for all your customers, not just persons with disabilities.

User1st & The Viscardi Center Help Organizations Open Their Digital Doors

User1st and The Viscardi Center enable organizations to rapidly discover and continually test, implement, and maintain digital  accessibility of all your online content to reach and serve more customers as you work to a build truly accessible digital presence. We’re solely focused on digital accessibility and continually strive for innovation through offerings that allow organizations to realize the benefits of  accessible web content.

Don’t wait for a lawsuit. Instead, provide the best online service to all your customers. User1st provides the most comprehensive tool to both detect and fix accessibility errors, keeping your digital door open to millions of Americans with disabilities.  Request a demo with an accessibility specialist today about uRemdiate™.

Request A Demo

Don’t know where to start? Take advantage of our free tools to assess your website. Visit the Chrome Store and start your web compliance check with our free accessibility testing tool, uTester™.

Install Free Chrome Extension


Written by Raegan Bartlo