‘Accessibility is a hat I wear 100% of the time’: Lessons learned from U.S. Bank, Citi, and Google

  • Often banking apps cannot be fully operated through keyboards or alternate keyboards. This bars people who are visually impaired from using these apps.
  • FIs like U.S. Bank and Citi and companies like Google, have started to pay more attention to accessibility needs across their digital platforms.

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‘Accessibility is a hat I wear 100% of the time’: Lessons learned from U.S. Bank, Citi, and Google

Banking is a necessity for most, but not everyone is able to access it equally. For example, often banking apps cannot be fully operated through keyboards or alternate keyboards. This bars people who are visually impaired from using these apps. These kinds of operability issues were found in 67% of banking apps according to the Bureau of Internet Accessibility.

Horizontal bar chart showing the failure rates across accessibility metrics like perceivability, operability, understandability, and robustness. Metrics like robustness, understandability, operability have very high failure rates and perceivability is close to 50%.

Equal access to information and services is not possible if essential software like banking apps continue to fail on critical accessibility metrics. Accessibility doesn’t have to be the “road less traveled by”.  In fact, FIs like U.S. Bank and Citi and companies like Google have started to pay more attention to digital equality needs across their digital platforms by building internal oversight teams and partnering with accessibility software and training providers. 

Understanding how these institutions tackled accessibility issues may be the key to deconstructing the hard problem of inaccessible software into a solid plan of action for digital equality.

Making use of accessibility tools: U.S. Bank

“Accessibility is a hat I wear 100% of the time, I don’t get to take it off. And that’s where my passion comes from,” says Heather Lee, a user experience architect on the digital accessibility team at U.S. Bank. Under her tutelage, the bank has been able to bake digital equality into its product development lifecycle. For the bank, this is an ingredient that goes first but not last. The bank collaborates with customers that have disabilities. It also works with Deque Systems, a digital accessibility company based out of Houston, to ensure every product meets accessibility goals and standards.

The firm’s commitment to provide accessible products and services led to the implementation of automated accessibility testing at scale.

Currently, the bank has accessible parking spaces, teller counters, and talking ATMs which also meet height and reach requirements of the ADA. People can and contact their local branches to arrange American Sign Language interpretation services for in-person or virtual meetings. And the firm provides statements and communications in large font, Braille, and accessible digital formats.

Lessons learned at Google

Google’s digital equality journey started with a complaint, said Eve Andersson, senior director of product inclusion, equity, and accessibility at Google, last week at Deque Systems’ axe-con conference. A client noticed a regression in one of their product’s accessibility and sent an email to the firm, citing concerns. Andersson  sent an email to the concerned department but then lost track of how matters proceeded. She snapped out of her complacency when the client sent another angrier email. 

It was time to take charge. For her this meant going up to the VP and asking for the right to stop any inaccessible product from going to market.

That was not going to happen within an organization as autonomous as Google. So, Andersson and her team restructured their plans to come up with a hub and spoke model. At the core of this plan was the idea that the “hub” was responsible for oversight and providing centralized services regarding accessibility. And the “spokes” (every product development team) would be empowered to design, build, and test their products for accessibility. 

Their first area of focus was building centralized education materials that teams could use to understand what needed to be done to meet accessibility requirements in their products.

Using an incremental approach, Google was able to introduce internal standards which allowed every team to bake in accessibility themselves.  Similarly,  the team also introduced accessibility orientation for new hires like engineers and product developers, which made sure they got hands-on experience with coding accessible software.

10 years later, this step-by-step approach means that Google built a solid culture of accessibility. This allows teams to work independently with accessible tools that are used in-house. And provides recognition for those who champion this work through its “Accessibility Champs” program.

These strategies can easily be adapted to the financial services milieu. Since most FIs have an array of products and services, the incremental and hub and spoke method can serve as a blueprint for accessible product building.

Go beyond: Citibank

Citibank’s accessibility journey has recently been evolving, with the establishment of its Digital Accessibility Center of Excellence. This center monitors and manages digital equality efforts across all the digital content created by the bank for its different lines of business. The firm now focuses on pre- and post-production accessibility requirements and uses Deque Systems’ education platform Deque University to educate its teams.

Moreover, the bank also has an Accessibility Resource website which is used as a hub for Citi employees to access disability inclusion and resources. Given Citibank’s influence, the firm hasn’t stopped at just promoting accessibility in-house but it also co-developed the “EmpoweredNYC Campaign” with the city of New York, which provided financial counseling for the differently abled community in NYC. 

The key takeaway here is that accessibility should be cultivated within organizations and then also spread around. Large FIs have the room and funds to not only focus on building accessible tools for their employees and customers but to benefit the differently abled community at large. These kinds of initiatives go beyond providing access but help cultivate a better socio-economic reality for this community. Accessibility is not really a destination; it is very much a journey whose graph is asymptotic. While small FIs can start by building digital equality into their platforms from the start, bigger banks can have an impact outside their organizations as well. 

The rising tide of accessibility will not just lift up customers but also raise banks into perceptions, ideas and business of those who experience the world differently.

Both forms of action are incredibly important. While ensuring financial services are accessible is the first step. Providing opportunities and co-creating products with this community completes the picture. Simply, ‘nothing about us, without us’. 

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