Spring is traditionally the busiest homebuying season of the year. But with some of the lowest 30-year fixed mortgage interest rates since 2005, would-be homebuyers are getting a to jump the spring tradition and the re-fi boom has returned. With tight inventories, the digital world becomes a battleground to find and purchase a home. Refinancing becomes a race to the finish line before rates creep back up.
Today, everyone expects your home site listings, lending and re-fi process to be web and mobile friendly – and that includes millions of prospects with disabilities. 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. For example, font size and colors, transaction buttons and pop-ups, as well as images and pictures may require assistive technology, such as a screen reader, to understand the content and available options.
Digital accessibility ensures you reach the broadest, most diverse set of customers, provides those customers with the services they need, protects your organization’s reputation, improves users’ experience, and reduces your risk of litigation.
64 million people in the United States have a disability, which is one in five. This means someone you know – in your family, among your friends, at your workplace – lives with a disability and they need housing too.
Millennials are of prime home-buying age and are the largest generation in the U.S. labor force. But did you know that approximately 33% Millennial professionals have a disability?
If your mortgage application form-fill is not accessible to a Millennial with a disability, you could encounter an equal access legal risk.
According to the Mortgage Banker Association’s February 21 Chart of the week, households headed by a person 65 years old or greater had the highest proportion of homeowners at 79%. Now consider that of the 46 million adults age 65 and older 35.2% have a disability. If a senior citizen with a visual impairment cannot use your online services to refinance their home, they do not have equal access to the services you provide other borrowers.
Let’s think about the home-buying journey.
Prospective buyers begin digitally, visiting sites like Zillow, RedFin, Realtor.com and Trulia. If these sites aren’t compatible with assistive technologies like a screen reader, then persons with disabilities do not have the same access to homes available on the market.
As they continue their journey, they will need to be pre-approved or approved quickly for a loan to compete with other potential buyers. The online lending market is one of the best technological conveniences for today’s highly competitive market, but only if it’s accessible to everyone.
People seek out mobile-approved lending, hitting sites like Rocket Mortgage and Better.com, as well as forward-thinking, mobile banking competitors like SunTrust and Bank of America. If their path leads to a lender’s site where they are unable to apply for a loan, your reputation as a lender may get dinged.
On the flip side, a truly accessible site will capture their attention, keep their business, demonstrates you are inclusive of all buyers, and will quickly put you at the top of their list of lenders.
New business and a great customer experience aren’t the only priorities on a lender’s list. As the trend to litigation against inaccessible sites grows, mitigating risk remains critical. All too often, risk mitigation focuses on cybersecurity and digital equal access is forgotten.
The Fair Housing Act and Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) play a large part in the mortgage world and online presence of businesses. Over 10,000 ADA-based lawsuits were filed in 2019 and there are no signs of them slowing down. Roughly one-fifth of these were digital accessibility lawsuits filed in federal court.
The Fair Housing Act states, ““It shall be unlawful for any person or other entity whose business includes engaging in residential real estate-related transactions to discriminate against any person in making available such a transaction, or in the terms or conditions of such a transaction, because of race, color, religion, sex, handicap, familial status, or national origin.” As this relates to website or mobile app accessibility for mortgage brokers or lenders, the issues ultimately revolve around on-line mortgage applications being inaccessible to (or incapable of being reasonably completed) by individuals with disabilities or the customer experience in finding, applying for, or obtaining loans more difficult.
Bottom line - ensuring your site and other digital assets (think loan applications) are accessible to persons with disabilities will help you better serve an underserved community and reduce your risk profile.
If you’re working to reduce your risk profile and serve all customers, ensure your digital assets are accessible to everyone, especially persons with disabilities. Where should you start?
Determine the current state of the accessibility of your digital assets by working with a reliable third party for proper assessment. Develop a compliance program to ensure that all future digital assets are developed for accessibility. Add an accessibility statement to your website which communicates your company’s commitment to an accessible customer experience. Work with a third party to determine your current state of your digital assets. Finally, work with your internal development teams and your vendor to ensure your future digital assets are accessible.
Determining the current state of your digital assets begins with a good testing program. uTester was designed to give businesses like yours instant insights into your entire site, including suggestions on urgent fixes, easy solutions, code suggestions and detailed guidance from the accessibility experts at User1st – its free to use, so give it a try!
Also, for live, interactive answers to your accessibility questions, join us for one of our upcoming webinars where we cover topics from PDF remediation to web accessibility basics and why they’re crucial for all businesses. We look forward to seeing you there!
Written by Raegan Bartlo