Sometime around the middle of 2012, I started noticing a large increase in tweets about website accessibility lawsuits. This was a bit eye-opening for me from two perspectives: my web developer perspective and the legality of web accessibility. This is when I realized I should learn more about ADA standards and making websites accessible.

In 2012, accessibility lawsuits were certainly not as prevalent as they have been recently. Based on keyword data from the Courthouse News Service, in 2017, there were a total of 814 web accessibility lawsuits. In 2018, there were 2258, a 177% increase from 2017. Expectations for 2019 seem to be the same.

Why the increase in lawsuits?

While the answer to this is multifaceted, the two main causes are: 1) the absence of any web accessibility guidelines in the eyes of the law, and 2) recent court decisions that have expanded the reach of compliance to now include websites along with traditional “brick and mortars“. This has increased the demand for accessible websites.

Why Banks & Credit Unions?

Banks and credit unions are part of an industry pattern of lawsuits that has developed over the years, so much so that the National Association of Federal Credit Unions (NAFCU) and the American Bankers Association (ABA) declared web accessibility lawsuits a top priority. What we have found at Wakefly is the bulk of our accessibility work has been credit union and bank industry related.

What is ADA compliance?

The purpose of The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 was to protect those with disabilities from discrimination in organizations or businesses with a physical presence (“places of public accommodation” or “brick and mortars“). In the early 90’s, websites were in their infancy and certainly not on the radar of the ADA. However, in the late 90’s, web usage began to increase steadily, and in the 2000’s, we start to see the beginnings of the legal landscape of accessibility and ADA interest.

Most “brick and mortars” now have websites, which can be viewed and interacted with on many different types of devices. Today people are using many assistive technologies to access the internet, like screen readers, narrators and refreshable Braille display devices. Unfortunately, the ADA is currently void of any specific web accessibility regulations. Recent court opinions appear to have taken the first steps to clear this void by stating that websites are “places of public accommodationas well as defining specific guidelines to comply with, namely, the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0. These define how to make web content more accessible to people with disabilities.

The Guidelines

There are two website accessibility guidelines: WCAG (domestic & international) and Section 508 (United States, federal government), both of which we’ve briefly covered in the past. You may have noticed I’ve mention WCAG 2.0 and WCAG 2.1 above. Let me explain:

  • WCAG 2.0: Was, and still is to some, regarded as the default guideline. 3 levels of concern:
    • Level A (must satisfy)
    • Level AA (should satisfy) – considered the default for compliance
    • Level AAA (may satisfy) – not recommended
  • WCAG 2.1: Update to 2.0. If your website conforms to 2.1, it also conforms to 2.0.
    • Most have adopted this as the new default web accessibility guideline (Wakefly recommends 2.1)
    • Addresses cognitive, vestibular, and vision disabilities as well as mobile devices (small screens and touch screens).
  • Section 508: If your company deals with the government or receives federal and/or public funds, you must be in compliance with Section 508.
    • Includes WCAG 2.0 (Level A and Level AA only, not Level AAA)
    • Does not include WCAG 2.1

What is your bank or credit union website responsible for?

Your bank or credit union is responsible for all content you choose to have on your website. This includes:

  • Website content (i.e. – text, colors, images, tables, forms, one-time identification codes, etc.)
  • Third-party vendors (i.e. – applications, share tools, forms, etc.)
    • Inquire about accessible state or future plans to become accessible, if not already
  • Documents
    • Digital (i.e. – word documents, PDFs, spreadsheets, etc.)
    • Physical (i.e. – provide audio, braille, large print, or 24 hour phone support alternatives)

What can you do now?

Website accessibility compliance can be confusing. The laws are not ‘cut and dry’ and neither are the guidelines. Ultimately, web accessibility is the law and your website must be in compliance. Be proactive and resolve any website accessibility issues as soon as possible, rather than wait for a lawsuit.