Brace Yourself

ADAJune 20, 2017

Website accessibility is about to hit the financial industry in a big way. Accessibility News International predicts that the mortgage industry is about to have a rude awakening thanks to regulatory compliance measures from the Department of Justice and private litigation.

It can all be traced back to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) which ensures that individuals with disabilities are not excluded, denied services or treated differently than other individuals. Originally only meant for governmental websites and services, the value of extending this access and consistency was not wasted on other sectors such as banking – especially since private litigation showed that simply ignoring the ADA was not an option. By 1996 the US Department of Justice (DOJ) had seen fit to enforce the ADA guidelines on all companies offering goods and services online and in 2010, hammered out these compliance requirements for all to see.

The question then is how has the mortgage industry escaped the DOJ’s gaze? The answer is that it hasn’t really. The compliance requirements are still treated as guidelines and, in spite of several successful private litigation proceedings backed by the DOJ, they aren’t actually a legal requirement. Come 2018 when the accessibility rules are published however, and the full weight of the DOJ will come crashing down on anyone not following them – and with an increasing number of transactions and business being done online in the real estate industry, that’s likely to be the DOJ’s starting point.

Not that this has prevented many (250 and rising) private lawsuits from already being filed against various sections of the mortgage industry for not having accessible websites or mobile apps. The banking sector too (mentioned earlier) hasn’t done enough to significantly improve its accessibility focus. In the 2016 Independent Community Bankers Association survey, 20% of banks reported receiving “demand letters” that sited ADA. This fact has even prompted the American Bankers Associationto advise its members to deal proactively with accessibility issues – which roughly translates as a warning that financial institutions will be sued and there isn’t anything the Association can do to help.

It is a stark warning, especially since failure to adhere to the compliance guidelines will simply leave the company open to private litigation and increased costs including loss of business and reputation. From the perspective of those with a disability, all this is good news.

For the 53 million US adults (one in every five) with visual, hearing, mobility or cognitive disabilities their voices are being heard. Any institution that fails to acknowledge its accessibility obligations will lose 53 million US customers, suffer from negative perception of the brand in even greater numbers and then face the possibility of private litigation backed by the DOJ and the law. For any financial and mortgage industries that aren’t being proactive in their accessibility focus, it’s time to brace yourself.

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