Diversity Insight: Is Your Website Accessible to Every One of Your Members?

building a website usable by people with impaired vision
Ernie Crawford Photo
Crawford Technologies

4 minutes

Automation can help your credit union reach more current and potential members.

With the internet so prevalent in everyday life, it’s useful to think of your website as your credit union’s billboard. Members and potential members may “drive by” quickly, glancing at your intro paragraph, but not much more. Others may slow down and take a few moments to investigate what your credit union has to offer. Either way, it’s important to ensure that everyone can read and consider what posted on your website.

Ensuring your website follows the accessibility guidelines that are available can guard against Americans With Disabilities Act lawsuits, with which credit unions and banks have been dealing often in the last few years. An October Supreme Court decision not to hear an ADA-related appeal by Domino’s Pizza has dashed financial institutions’ hopes for relief from this trend.

For your members who are blind or partially sighted, accessing websites can be a particular challenge.

The U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that about 3.4 million Americans aged 40 and over, or 13% of the population, are legally blind or in some way visually impaired, and the percentage only gets higher as age increases. This group includes a large segment of people reaching the pinnacle of their careers, as well as Baby Boomers, many of whom are retired or close to retirement and seeking advice and assistance about ways to reconfigure their financial resources.

Although your website may be attractively designed and offer links and downloads for marketing brochures and other information, and though it may be SEO optimized, here is one last important question to ask: Is our website accessible to every one of our members?

You may offer large-print brochures and other material upon request, but unless you promote this service on your site, potential members might not take the time to discover it. Those who have vision challenges may just continue their Internet search to find a credit union (or bank!) that does meet their needs.

When they do find a website they are able to easily navigate, it must be capable of helping them throughout their entire visit, from the homepage to their final destination—from static content about your CU’s offerings to transactional information like account balances. Adding accessibility tags to all static content ensures that blind or partially sighted prospects or customers will have a seamless experience as they navigate your website with an assistive device. Adding these accessibility tags to your brochures, FAQs, rate sheets and other static documents by converting them quickly and accurately will help you meet the requirements set forth by legislation.

One more reason to address the issues facing vision impaired customers is that both the United States and Canada have passed legislation requiring that documents be made accessible to those with vision loss when needed, and these laws do apply to websites. In the U.S. those laws are the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, Sections 504 and 508. In Canada, it is the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act. Not surprisingly, as complaints have been filed and have resulted in court rulings in favor of plaintiffs, many corporations, state and local governments, as well as some of the larger, nationwide banks, have been working to bring their websites into compliance with these laws. After all, it’s very easy for a visitor to determine if your website is accessible or not.

What You Can Do

Recognizing all of these challenges for visually impaired individuals, the World Wide Web Consortium in 2008 introduced Web Content Accessibility Guidelines to make websites accessible, including documents that are available through the website. These guidelines define certain business rules or “tags” that are inserted into a document to make it accessible for those who are visually impaired. The tags need to be added to the static or unchanging documents at the website, such as marketing materials, and the transactional documents that are periodically updated, such as tables, charts and graphs, or even members’ checking account and credit card statements. Using manual procedures, each document or element at the website must be tagged individually.

Redesigning an existing website to make it more accessible usually requires finding and hiring a consultant or site developer with specific skills and, best-case, some background and experience in working with the W3C standards. Furthermore, this can be a costly and time-consuming undertaking and can hamper your ability to quickly reach potential and existing members with the latest promotion or to introduce new products and services.

An alternative solution is using automated processes with the capability of making your website and accompanying documents accessible to those who are blind or partially sighted without a significant rebuild, and which also avoids the inconvenience and lag-time of preparing accessible documents individually on-request. With automation, static PDF files are tagged using an algorithm on text content location hierarchy. For more complex transactional documents, business rules are established to tag the various elements appropriately. The business rules then apply to each document. Compared to doing the task manually, automation can save your organization from 25% to 100% of processing time.

Optimizing your credit union’s website to serve blind and partially sighted individuals can not only help your credit union serve more customers, it’s simply the right thing to do. A visually accessible website shows customers, both with and without disabilities, that your organization has gone the extra mile to be inclusive in the communities you serve. Beyond these positive benefits, being proactive about making your website and all the documents housed there accessible can help reduce the risk of litigation, which can cost money and brand reputation. Finally, a website that’s inclusive of everyone is another way to differentiate yourself from the competition.

An electronic document industry pioneer, Ernie Crawford is president/CEO and founder of Crawford Technologies. One of a small number of people worldwide with the M-EDP (Master Electronic Document Professional) designation, Crawford has more than 30 years of senior marketing and management experience in the customer communications management market. Follow Crawford Technologies on Twitter or LinkedIn.

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