ADA Compliance: An Eye for Accessibility
By Tim BohlmanSVP, Technology Solutions CU Solutions Group
Credit unions are beginning to see their websites and mobile applications as more than just digital branches, but as fundamental platforms for their members. In today’s digital age, the first and often most important contact a member has with a credit union is through the institution’s website or mobile app. So, what happens when a website has fundamental flaws? In the last three years, banks and credit unions have received thousands of demand letters and even lawsuits challenging the accessibility of their websites under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Plaintiffs in these cases, sometimes organized by advocacy groups, are not picky. Credit unions of all sizes, from those with $2 million in assets to those with $20 billion have been hit with lawsuits. Just in December of 2017 alone, more than 30 credit unions were served with lawsuits related to ADA compliance.
The wave of lawsuits and demand letters in recent years is due largely to a renewed focus on ADA-related compliance by the Department of Justice (DOJ). The DOJ had been preparing new regulations for Title II and Title III of the Act, the latter of which impacts various industries, including financial services. Originally planned to be released in 2016, new regulations were delayed and in December 2017, the DOJ withdrew the guidance document, sidelining new regulations indefinitely. In the absence of detailed language, both advocacy groups and those looking to profit financially from these lawsuits, are continuing to target financial institutions. Credit unions need to ensure that their websites are ADA compliant, or else risk seeing a demand letter in the mail.
“The absence of law begets lawsuits,” says Sean Bradley, president and chief technology officer at AudioEye, a technology firm that specializes in online accessibility. “The logic, here, is simple. Since businesses and organizations aren’t mandated, the issue isn’t on their radar. Since it isn’t even on their radar, they are completely blindsided when they are served a legal complaint claiming ADA Title III violations. If the DOJ gets around to issuing a ruling, more businesses and banking institutions would know the requirements and their responsibilities under Title III, as it pertains to digital inclusion and ensuring equal access for their users."
Understand compliance requirements
The lack of specific ADA website standards and continued delay of new regulations mean that it can be hard to know what is specifically required of credit unions in terms of accessibility. However, this does not mean that ignorance can be used as a shield against ADA compliance. The DOJ has become increasingly more diligent in the enforcement of ADA violations. Credit union compliance and risk staff, as well as the leadership team, would do well to learn more about ADA Title III regulations.
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