How to build award-winning accessible interfaces in banking: 5 questions with James Green, Head of Digital Accessibility at Chase

  • Chase won an award by the American Council of the Blind, for the bank’s commitment to accessibility of its website and mobile app.
  • James Green, the bank's Head of Digital Accessibility, discusses what it takes to build award-winning accessible interfaces in banking.

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How to build award-winning accessible interfaces in banking: 5 questions with James Green, Head of Digital Accessibility at Chase

Recently, Chase won an unsolicited James R. Olsen Distinguished Service Accessibility Award by the American Council of the Blind, which recognizes the bank’s commitment to ensuring accessibility in the development of its website and mobile app. I sat down with James Green, who has been with the bank for more than a year as its Head of Digital Accessibility, to discuss what it takes to build award-winning accessible interfaces in banking, and what motivated him to work within accessibility, and with Chase in particular, after spending 16 years at Visa.

  1. Was accessibility always of interest to you professionally and what made you choose Chase as the next step in your career?

    I've been in the accessibility space since 2006. I was actually at a credit card company prior to coming here for 16 years and I built their accessibility team. Before I did accessibility, I was doing user research. And so if you're talking about design and usability, you're trying to fix the VIMM model, which deals with Visual, Intellectual, Memory and Motor testing. You want to make those things easier for your users and more usable from an accessibility perspective. It's basically the difference between making it easier and sometimes making it possible. I love making things that are better and more efficient, but really importantly, I love doing the work necessary to make sure that everyone has the opportunity to be independent and participate in society with the technology that we have available today.

    One of the reasons why I came here was how mature their program was and the reputation of their app. It takes a lot, especially at a really large company, when we have such scale. You have to be extra careful. But you know, I've always found that accessibility isn't about making your product and then fixing the bugs. It really is about philosophy. It's about corporate habits, culture, and communication. So when you have that foundation, where the team is working well together, and they're all owning their own piece of accessibility, you're able to create products consistently. 

  2. How does Chase approach accessibility in its product development cycles and does it utilize in-house subject matter expertise to aid these processes?

    I know we've probably got about 90 or more subject matter experts that work at the firm. My team is about 55 right now. And we are in the Chase customer-facing accessibility team. We also have an internal employee-facing team of about 20. And then we have some other pockets around the company. So there's a lot of subject matter expertise inside the firm. Our philosophy is: we should do it ourselves the right way, versus farming it out or any of those types of things.

    My team structure is that we've got a small team of folks who work on standards, so they focus on the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines. They write the standards for the firm. Because WCAG 2.1 was written to be adopted by countries as law, it wasn't really written for practitioners like us, so we have a translation of it. They also write our test scripts.

    We also have a team of dedicated trainers that are role-based. So we have trainers that focus on testers, designers, and developers. And right now we're working on one that's focusing on product owners, which is super important because you want to go as far left in the process as possible.

    We also have some testers and advisors which embed with the product teams. They're there from the beginning of the process. They're working with the product owner and talking about what their goals are for a product, what are the users’ needs and interactions.

    Then we move to the designers. Our designers not only do their design and make sure that the design is accessible from, for example, the color contrast perspective, but they also use a concept we call “green lines”, which is kind of a layer to markup, a design. So the developer knows exactly what to do, and so that they don't accidentally make some decision that messes it up. For example, I give you an image. You're going to tell the developer through the green lines what the alternative text is for blind users. There's a lot of coordination and work in the design phase.

  3. The WCAG 2.1 (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines) are expecting a change soon, with the 2.2 update around the corner. How is Chase preparing for this change?

    We've got members of the team who participate with WCAG in writing the standards. And we have our internal interpretation of 2.2’s requirements ready. We will make a decision at some point that this is our new firm-wide standard, but already, we are ready for that. We are telling our teams that if you've got a product that's 2.1, now is the time to start looking at 2.2, because eventually it's going to change. And If you've got a product you haven't built yet, we have the 2.2 requirements ready, so you might as well aim any net new work at 2.2.
  4. Chase has a branch in Washington DC which is built with hard of hearing people in mind. How does Chase combine its physical and digital approaches to accessibility?

    The best thing to do there is to just go talk to the communities and find out where there are opportunities to improve their experiences. Our branch in DC is a great example of innovation. We actually have a branch innovation team that doesn't just work on building branches, but also tries to find ways to bring more technology to branches, which will help all of our customers and some of that is going to be related to accessibility. 
  5. How do you build awareness about accessibility within Chase?

    A big part of my role is evangelism. Just making sure that everyone is aware and even when you're aware, you can always get a refresher and learn more. So, I do presentations around the company. We also have a training team which produces a lot of self-paced training, as well as what we call boot camps that are really popular where staff can learn about accessibility, ask questions and receive live training, through Zoom. Moreover, we have a variety of vectors, from newsletters to, sharing successes, getting the information out there and we also have a very strong business resource group focused on employees with disabilities and caregivers. So we partner with them and they share the things we're doing and we share the things that they're doing across the company.

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