Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) provides that, “No individual shall be discriminated against on the basis of disability in the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, or accommodations of any place of public accommodation by any person who owns, leases (or leases to) or operates a place of public accommodation.”
What constitutes a “place of public accommodation?” The answer to this question is not clear in the eyes of the law, and it is making it difficult to apply the law consistently when legal action is taken. Credit unions (and other businesses) have been targeted with claims that their websites have barriers that prevent or limit access for disabled individuals. While the Department of Justice has taken the position that websites are covered under Title III, federal courts across the country are in disagreement as to what is defined as a “place of public accommodation.”
Of course, credit unions want and need to comply with the law. Not doing so can be damaging both in perception and costs. “If you settle with one law firm, nothing precludes you from getting hit with another threat, from a different or even the same law firm,” shared Leah Dempsey, CUNA Senior Director of Advocacy and Counsel, in a recent interview.
But the most important part is simply ensuring that your website is as accessible as possible to as many members as possible. This falls under the credit union principles of providing information and having concern for our communities. It comes down to providing the best member service that you possibly can. You ensure that your branch is ADA compliant. With websites and mobile banking becoming the “new” branches, why wouldn’t you ensure the same in your digital spaces?
Components of a Compliant Website
With the lack of a clearly defined federal regulation, the universal standard to follow is set forth by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), an organization that “develops standards and support materials to help you understand and implement accessibility.” They recently released Version 2.1 of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), which contains guidelines to help navigate the areas of website design, content, and development, organized by sections entitled “Perceivable,” “Operable,” “Understandable,” and “Robust.” Using this guide, the following are a few common areas to review on your website:
- Videos with Audio
Provide captions, a full-text transcript (or at the minimum, a text description), and include a way to stop, pause, mute, or adjust volume.
- Non-Text Content
Ensure all images, video, and audio on your website include a text alternative. Also, be sure all controls are named, such as “search” or “submit.”
- Text Content
Use subheadings to break up content, add a “skip to content link,” clearly identify input errors, and avoid anything that flashes more than three times per second. Each page of the website should have a language assigned to it.
- Color Usage
Information should be conveyed using more than only color. (For example, instructions, charts, graphs, etc.) Text links should have a clear, strong contrast.
These examples are not intended to be all-inclusive. Please review the WCAG for more detailed instruction.
How Do I Get Started?
Trite but true: The best place to start is the beginning. If this is not an area that your credit union has addressed, you are not alone. But it is best to get started as soon as possible.
- Who’s In Charge?
Determine who on your staff is responsible for fixing any non-compliant areas of your website. They also will need to continue to monitor and maintain your website moving forward, and stay informed on the latest guidelines.
- Audit Your Digital Channels
Not only will your credit union’s website need to be reviewed, but also your accompanying mobile applications and any other digital resources your credit union provides both internally and to your members. Third-party linked sites also should adhere to WCAG in order to provide the best member service.
- Add Accessibility Language
Not only is it important to take action to make your website compliant, it also is important to include disclosures about this compliance on your website. CUNA has prepared sample language in their Guide to Considerations Regarding Website Accessibility. Samples include copy for a field of membership description/disclaimer, accessibility statement, and pop-up box.
- Implement a Strategy & Adjust Accordingly
The WCAG 2.1 defines three levels for accessibility conformance: A (minimum level), AA (expected level of compliance for businesses), or AAA (maximum level). While Level AAA is the most ideal level to achieve, credit unions should have their websites at a minimum of Level AA. Setting a strategy to adhere to today and moving forward helps everyone stay on the same page.
- Get Help
We cannot stress how important it is to ensure that your website is ADA accessible. Not only is it important from an evolving legal standpoint, but it’s important in providing the best possible member service!
World Wide Web Consortium’s Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI)
WC3 Web Content Accessibility Guidelines
CUNA ADA Website Accessibility Resources
CUNA FAQ’s on ADA Website Compliance
CUNA Guide to Considerations Regarding Website Accessibility