Why Your Credit Union Website Should Be ADA Compliant

Providing for all members means an accessible and enjoyable experience—in branches and online.

When you think about Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) compliance and your credit union, are you thinking about your website? Accessibility goes beyond the physical world. So, just as you would want to create an easy and seamless experience in one of your physical branches, your online presence must be similarly welcoming. Digital accessibility means that all users can easily navigate and understand your site—from the text and images to the interface and design.

Especially as more and more of daily life moves online, it is critical to consistently review and update your credit union’s online presence. This isn’t about staying on trend or current. It’s about providing for all your credit union members. An ADA-compliant site ensures all your members are able to access the same information. They will not encounter any roadblocks because of a visual, auditory, motor, or cognitive disability.

In recent years, a focus on website accessibility has continued to develop. Businesses are becoming more aware of needs and accessibility continues to come up in the courtroom. In 2018, more than 2,250 web accessibility lawsuits were filed in federal courts. (Including several lawsuits filed against credit unions; another reason to take actionable steps now.)

Fortunately, there is a place to go for help with technical standards. While the ADA doesn’t specify website standards, businesses can look to the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) for guidance. Businesses can rely on the WCAG and perform an audit of their own. Professional website building and auditing companies can also provide expert help.

Need a quick audit? The WAVE Web Accessibility Evaluation Tool is a free starting point. It even has Firefox and Chrome extensions. Simply plug in your website address and see errors and alerts.

What Is ADA Compliant

In 1990, the Americans with Disabilities Act became law, marking an “independence day” for those with disabilities. It specifically prohibited discrimination in relation to employment, public services, public accommodations, and telecommunications. In establishing the ADA, the U.S. government was also creating the first comprehensive civil rights law for people with disabilities in the world. Central to the ADA is the elimination of barriers—through policy, physical design, personal attitudes, or other ways. Such barriers could keep people with disabilities from living their own lives and experiencing meaningful equal opportunity.

Of course, more than 30 years have now passed since the creation of the ADA. And over the decades, the ADA has evolved. Some businesses and organizations have been quick to adapt and update. Others have not.

In our physical world, the ADA means that businesses and organizations must abide by guidelines as required by law. What might easily come to mind when talking about ADA compliance are designated accessible parking spaces. But accessibility goes much deeper and can be quite detailed. Per the ADA’s advice for small businesses, any “architectural barriers” should be removed when it is “readily achievable.” This could translate to adding a ramp or widening a doorway.

While some ADA regulations may seem obvious, others may come as a surprise. Now, think about the online world, which was nowhere near what it is today back in 1990. What doorways still need to be opened to individuals online? Think about your website—the text, colors, buttons, and navigation. While it might look good to you, that doesn’t necessarily make it work for everyone.

ADA Compliance Moves Online

It’s 2021. And we are all very online. As businesses grow their online presences and became more aware of needs, ADA compliance also continues to gain ground. And, with the coronavirus pandemic shifting much of life into the digital world, an accessible digital branch for your credit union is just as important as a physical one. Maybe even more important!

Just as those “architectural barriers” can keep individuals from easily accessing a branch or store, technical barriers can create online roadblocks. With accessibility, we cannot assume everyone can enter a building the same way. Similarly, we cannot assume everyone can experience a website the same way. So, your credit union members may rely on assistive technology. As a result, screen readers, voice-activated controls, or hearing aids are part of their experience navigating the online world.

Thinking About Experience

Let’s consider a couple ways assistive technology may change the user experience for your credit union website.

Challenge: Individuals with low vision or vision impairment may rely on a screen reader to absorb information on a website. A screen reader computer program will speak the text that appears on the screen. However, screen readers cannot interpret images, like photographs or graphics.

Solution: Include a text equivalent and descriptive “alt” text for each image. 

Challenge: Video or other multimedia features present barriers for individuals with vision or hearing impairments. Some people may face difficulties seeing or hearing the video or may not be able to experience the material at the appropriate volume or speed.

Solution: Similar to still images, include another way to access the material. Provide audio descriptions and closed captions. Make sure play/pause buttons are available and easily accessible. 

person in white long sleeve shirt holding credit card in front of computer

Those examples represent general challenges that may arise for any basic website. What about ADA website compliance at your credit union specifically? Think about how the experience may be different for different members. Perhaps you use PDFs to share special information or resources on loans. As image-based documents, not all PDF formats are accessible for screen readers. Consider including an alternative source, like an HTML page, with the same information. Also, does your credit union offer online banking? Think about buttons and navigation. Even simple changes, like increasing the size of text and headings, can make a difference.

Your ADA Website Checklist

Here’s the thing: Getting your credit union website, or any website, to be ADA compliant is no one-time thing. In the same way that you take care of your brick-and-mortar locations to update based on changing building codes or fix occasional leaks, websites must be maintained. This is annual or seasonal maintenance.

Where are some places to start?

  • Review the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) to learn how you can make your website more accessible. If the recommendations are confusing, call in an expert for help.
  • Conduct a quick audit with the free WAVE Web Accessibility Evaluation Tool, and also take a tour of your own website with an open mind. Is there anything that feels confusing or unnecessarily complicated to you? How might others experience the same website?
  • Look to your images and visuals. Do your photos have descriptive text and captions? Do your videos come with closed captioning? Is there any flashing or movement that could be distracting?
  • Consider your layout. Are buttons large enough? Are headings clear? Do the text and background colors offer good contrast?

So many of us are used to thinking about how the web makes life easier. From the comfort of the couch, someone can order groceries online, deposit a check through a mobile app, contact a family member, and download a new movie. However, one person’s easy experience does not represent the experience for all.

What is most important is that it becomes a habit. Make accessibility something you and your employees are thinking about. Keeping your credit union website ADA compliant is a continual process. As always, remember that not everyone experiences the world the same way you do.

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