The change came after the National Federation of the Blind, its Washington affiliate and three blind individuals warned they might sue under the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Washington State Law Against Discrimination.
BECU, one of the nation’s largest credit unions, has agreed to make its website and mobile banking app accessible to blind users after complaints from a national organization and local credit union members.
The agreement came after the National Federation of the Blind (NFB), its Washington affiliate and three blind individuals warned they might sue under the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Washington State Law Against Discrimination, said Eve Hill, an attorney for Baltimore-based law firm Brown, Goldstein & Levy.
The ADA prohibits certain businesses that are generally open to the public from discriminating on the basis of disability.
Seattle resident Marci Carpenter, 58, said BECU’s services were accessible to blind customers when she first started banking with the company approximately eight years ago.
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But then a software update removed those accessibility features, she said.
Carpenter is president of the NFB’s Washington chapter and has been blind since birth. She uses screen reader software that speaks text aloud, but websites and applications must be coded properly to successfully interact with screen reader technology.
“More developers are becoming aware of these features, but many still aren’t,” Carpenter said.
She said sometimes businesses forget that individuals with disabilities have to engage in the same daily activities, such as banking, as everyone else.
“I understand we’re a small part of the population, so chances are they don’t have 50 blind people coming into their businesses every day,” Carpenter said. “What I encounter a lot is people assuming I just sort of have a helper in tow with me everywhere I go.
“We don’t have that.”
Hill, the attorney, said “there are a lot of these web accessibility cases that end up going to litigation.”
While many banks have implemented the necessary changes, she said, “Credit unions seem to be, as a group, behind in making sure their technology is accessible.”
She said BECU responded quickly to the group’s complaint and showed “a dedication to improving.”
Tukwila-based BECU is the largest credit union in Washington and the fourth largest in the U.S., with nearly 1 million members and over $14 billion in assets, according to the company’s website.
Approximately 2.4 percent of the U.S. population reported a visual disability in 2016, according to Cornell University’s analysis of the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey. An estimated 161,900 people reported a visual disability in Washington in 2016, or approximately 2.2 percent of the state’s population.
Carpenter said she’s happy with the agreement that was reached with BECU, and she gave the company credit for being responsive and willing to implement long-term changes in a timely manner.
Mike Zell, BECU’s vice president of digital, said in an email that the credit union learned in October that a mobile app update “turned out to be compatible only with Windows screen readers and not with iOS or Android screen readers.”
After meeting with the NFB and several of the credit union’s blind members, Zell said, the company agreed to create standards to ensure its services remain accessible in the future. The credit union’s blind members will help test the improvements being made.
He said full accessibility to BECU’s website is expected by March 31, 2019, and improvements to the mobile app will be completed by May 31, 2019.
BECU also agreed to “pay an undisclosed settlement amount without any associated admission of liability,” the NFB said in a statement.
National Federation of the Blind President Mark A. Riccobono commended the credit union, saying “they have been completely receptive to the conversation.”
“They’ve brought real executive leadership to the table to understand our concerns,” Riccobono said in an interview. “One of our hopes with this agreement is that it’s a template for other banks to use as a road map to make sure their services are accessible.”