A number of financial institutions could be running into legal trouble over alleged access barriers to their Websites for consumers with disabilities. In a wave of legal demand letters that began earlier this year, attorneys have demanded those banks make changes to their Web pages and pay fees due to violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which requires provisions be made to ensure the disabled have “full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages or accommodation of any place of public accommodation.” Banks’ public Websites are considered places of public accommodation, and thus must comply with ADA regulations.
Banks faced a similar spate of legal challenges over the past several years related to ATM accessibility. However, there are no firm regulations or standards in place addressing Website accessibility compliance in the ADA rules, according to attorneys for the firm of Vorys Sater Seymour and Pease LLP, which recently released a client alert regarding the legal challenges. And while clarity may be on the way, it likely won’t arrive any time soon. The Department of Justice, which is charged with enforcing the ADA, is in the process of establishing firm guidelines for Website access, but has been working on its rulemaking since 2010, and has postponed issuance several times since then. The DOJ’s latest projection is that the earliest Website-specific rules will be in place is 2018.
In the interim, according to the legal challenges, the standards established by the World Wide Web Consortium on Web content accessibility should serve as the “baseline requirements” that banks must meet. Those rules include technical provisions like providing text alternatives to non-text content, the ability to resize text to make it larger without assistive technology tools and without loss of content or functionality, and navigation method requirements. Given the current uncertainty, banks should be aware of the “very real” threat these legal challenges present, said the Vorys Sater attorneys, adding that ignoring the letters is at an “organization’s own peril.”
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