7 ways to keep your website ADA compliant

Is your community bank’s website accessible to people with disabilities? Here’s how to enhance the online banking experience for all of your customers.

By Robert Lerose

More community banks are being sued under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) for not having easy-to-use websites for people with disabilities (see sidebar). Lawsuits against banks and other institutions spiked 300% in 2018, according to AuditOne Advisory.

Making your website and mobile banking experience ADA compliant can not only reduce the risk of a lawsuit, but it can also assure all customers that your bank is sensitive to their needs. Here are things your bank’s in-house web team or external web developer should keep in mind.

1. Put your content in priority order

Many people with visual impairments use screen readers, which are assistive technology software programs, to help them navigate the web. These screen readers read out content in order of a webpage’s HTML hierarchy. That means your webpage’s content should follow a logical sequence, with HTML heading tags structured beginning with the title, or H1. “Everything from there on down in the content area should follow a hierarchy of H2 and H3 [heading tags],” says Tracy Marston, senior front-end developer at Pannos Marketing. “You don’t want to skip from H2 to H4.”

2. Format other elements for screen readers

“You don’t want a screen reader [user] to go through the entire navigation and listen to every word on that page,” says Andrew Zeller, senior web designer at Pannos. He says the best practice is to allow a screen reader to skip the website’s header and go straight to a page’s unique content. Keep in mind that although screen readers can access drop-down menus, they can be tedious to navigate. For slideshows, insert interactive controls that let customers pause or play them.

3. Add alt text to images and title links

“The alts [the text boxes that pop up when you hover over an image or link] on images need to be descriptive of the image, so the user will know what it is when read by assistive technology, whereas alts and title text on links describe what the link is doing or where it is taking the user,” says Jade Manning, web programmer at Forbin. She says an example of title text for a link would be “Opens up online banking window.”

4. Add alt text to meaningful images

“Images should not be used as the sole means of conveying important information,” says Ira H. Aurit, president and CEO of BankSITE Services. “Icons that represent text or an image that [looks like] text are treated as images by a screen reader. Visitors who can’t see images can miss out on the information or be unable to navigate the site as intended. Text descriptions should be added to images via alt tags, especially for websites that display images of charts and graphs.”

5. Keep text clear

Font sizes and line spaces are key to this. There is no single standard, since the right formatting will vary depending on the typeface, headings, screen size/resolution and even the devices displaying the text. “A good rule is to always have your body copy no smaller than 16pt, with a line spacing of 1.5 built in,” Zeller says. Several typefaces have been designed especially for the web. Zeller cites Roboto, a sans-serif typeface developed by Google that can be easily scaled to size.

“A good rule is to always have your body copy no smaller than 16pt.”
—Andrew Zeller, Pannos

6. Balance the color contrasts

There should be a clear distinction between the color of the text and the background. Light text against a light background can cause problems with ADA compliance standards. A darker color against a light background—such as black on white or white against certain types of blue—is a safe bet, Manning says. She adds there are many online tools that help assist with determining if your color contrast passes ADA compliance standards.

7. Don’t forget about forms

“Online documents need to be keyboard navigable and contain clear instructions and labeling that can be read by screen readers,” says Aurit. “Users who might need extra time [to complete] the forms should be allowed to do so without being prevented by a ‘timeout’ security measure ending their session.”

Seek out legal advice

Federal Reserve examiners say these vendor risk management weaknesses are common:

ICBA has always encouraged community banks to ensure that all consumers have access to their websites and services. After community banks started receiving demand letters alleging that their websites did not comply with the online accessibility standards of the American with Disabilities Act (ADA), ICBA issued guidelines for how to respond.

“Many community banks have been responsive to the guidelines and have been diligent in their efforts as it relates to website accessibility,” says Rhonda Whitley, ICBA’s vice president and regulatory counsel.

After the guidelines were released, community banks were hit with both demand letters and lawsuits.

“So we went back and updated our guidelines to include not only a demand letter, but what to do and how to proceed if you’ve actually been sued. And that change is basically to make sure you talk to an attorney,” Whitley says.

For more information, visit icba.org/advocacy and read ICBA’s Guidelines for Responding to ADA Website Demand Letters.

Robert Lerose is a writer in New York.