Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Are banks failing disabled people online?

The article below is from The Guardian Media Network at this link:

Financial institutions need to act on making online products and services more accessible for disabled people

An extraordinary summer of Paralympic achievement helped shed light on disability sport in the UK, but was it enough to bring awareness to other areas that affect the disabled population? While Lord Coe claimed that "the games had a seismic effect in shifting public attitudes" towards the disabled community, what is actually being done about it?
There are more than 10 million people with limiting long term illness, impairment, or disability in Great Britain. Of these, nearly 4 million have never used the internet. The 21st century has become a world dependent on technology, yet while 84% of non-disabled people live in households with internet access, only about 60% of disabled people can say the same. The truth is that even if they do go online, they do not have the same choice or access to all the products and services that everyone else has.
We have worked with visually impaired people who have chosen to bank with a particular financial institution not out of choice, but because other financial institutions were simply not accessible. Although assistive technologies (such as screen readers) are available for use, the core issue is that the majority of websites have problems with access. Disabled users may not be able to read site menus or access specific tools designed to enable product choice, simply because the website may not be optimised for use with their screen reader. Inevitably, these banks will lose these customers as they go to competitors who have recognised the problem.
We conducted our own research, testing the web pages of 11 leading banks and building societies, to determine which areas needed to be improved and what main problems disabled people are most likely to encounter. These included web pages, links, pictures and forms not being labelled correctly (meaning that a person using a screen reader would get lost on the site) and broken tabs, or "skip navigation links", which allow those who cannot use a mouse to navigate the site.
Barclays was rated as the worst offender, failing on 35 out of 64 tests, followed by NatWest, which failed 34, and Santander and HSBC which failed 27 each. Lloyds, Halifax, Nationwide, ING, Smile, Citibank and First Direct all failed 18 times.
Given that disabled people collectively spend more than £80bn a year on products and services, it is not really a market that any business can afford to ignore. Research by Capgemini in its World Retail Banking Customer Experience report last year found that quality of service and ease of use are the two biggest factors that affect people's decision to leave a bank. The study also found that customers in every region rank the internet as one of their most important channels, yet for disabled users it is not necessarily the case. All banks have accessibility issues and this can undermine loyalty and lead to lost customers.

Accessibility best practices

So what can be done? First, it's law under the Equality Act for website owners to ensure their websites are accessible to users with disabilities. Businesses need to learn what this means to them. The Shaw Trust's website accessibility accreditation service is a service that enables businesses to make their website accessible to all their visitors. We ensure the websites follow the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) web content accessibility guidelines (WCAG).
The guidelines are based on best practice ideals and are put in place to make sure no user is excluded due to disability or choice of device or software. Accessibility needs to be implemented at the earliest stage of the design process and we highly advise that websites work with the oldest technology to prevent exclusion of certain individuals. It should come as no surprise that one of the best ways of ensuring a business' website is accessible is to involve disabled people during the design and production process. One aspect of Shaw Trust accreditation is to have our websites tested by experienced web editors, all of whom are disabled individuals and users of adaptive technology.

Where do the difficulties lie?

One of the main barriers to web accessibility is because designers and web developers are often unaware of accessibility practices. This means that many websites may not work with assistive technologies, thus preventing disabled users from accessing services or functions. The Equality Act recognises the lack of compliance standards and is making inroads into the public sector's perception of access issues.

What role does web accessibility play in the future for disabled users?

The virtual world may be without walls, but there certainly are barriers. We consider the UK to be a country of egalitarian values but when the disabled are left behind in what has become an ingrained part of everyday life, the issue needs to be addressed.
Following a Shaw Trust web accessibility conference geared towards top financial institutions in Stratford last week, it was clear there is a desire for change by the banks but a lack of understanding of how. This was enlightening. As long as there is a will and that Paralympic spirit lives on, there is definitely a way.
Ian Lyons is a sales manager at the Shaw Trust, the largest third sector provider of employment services in the UK. The trust, set up in 1982, helps people with disability or disadvantage to find and stay in work

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