For a blind technology user like myself, one industry in which digital accessibility is of the utmost importance is online banking. Once I can manage my finances online, I can enjoy all the rest the Internet offers. Having control over my money is huge for my independence.
Almost all modern banks provide a website or mobile application that allows customers to pay bills, transfer money, set weekly or monthly budgets, and much more. The good news is that most banking sites are doing a lot to provide an intuitive, usable, and accessible experience for assistive technology users like myself. I will discuss some of these design choices and strategies in this post.
As with all my personal posts, I will focus exclusively on my experience as a person who is blind and relies on a screen reader to navigate the web.
1. Remember Web Accessibility for your PDF docs.
Almost every bank provides customers with digital copies of monthly statements in PDF form. Traditionally, this has posed a significant challenge to screen reader users because of the various accessibility problems associated with standard PDFs. In the past year, two of the three banks I use regularly have started offering accessible PDFs for statements. When I activate the "View Statements" button on the homepage of the site or app, it gives me two download options, the standard version or the accessible PDF version. The accessible PDFs seem to work very well. I can move around the document using manual navigation or my screen reader's designated text and document navigation commands.
In most cases, banking websites will show the monthly transactions in a table with columns for transaction type, date, and amount. These tables are effortless to navigate with my screen reader because the column and row headings are labeled well in the code. Overall, these accessible PDFs work very well. This experience is a huge win! As a customer, examining statements is essential for my budgeting.
Note: I've written about my experience on banking and financial websites before. Read Common Challenges I Face When Banking Online as a Blind Customer here.
2. Use a smoother Tab Navigation for the Transaction list.
One feature on virtually every banking site's homepage is a list of recent transactions. In the past, navigating this list has been a frustrating endeavor for screen reader users. In most cases, the screen reader would announce each element of one specific transaction separately, with some interaction required to advance to the next transaction component.
Here is an example. The word Tab represents every time I press that key during manual navigation.
Transaction: "Amazon.com" (Tab)
"June 19, 2023" (Tab)
Suppose I must press the tab key repetitively to hear each element of one transaction. In that case, it dramatically slows me down and is frustrating.
Luckily, banking site designers have found a way to smooth out this process by having the screen reader announce each part of a transaction with slight pauses between parts. Pressing the tab key on most banking sites will move the user by the entire transaction rather than by bits and pieces of each transaction. Here is an example of how this works:
"Amazon.com, $20.50, June 20, 2023, Pending, Balance: $238.17" (Tab)
"Walmart Super Center, $57.26, June 22, 2023, Pending, Balance: $310.79."
This structure is intuitive and represents a well-thought-out and accessible design. Hopefully, more banks will follow this model.
3. Improve Account And Menu Navigation for your Blind Customers
While most banking sites have reasonably accessible homepages, navigating through account and settings menus has traditionally been problematic for assistive technology users. These areas of the site or app often seem forgotten by accessibility initiatives. The good news is that this is drastically changing!
All three banking sites I use have accessible account and settings menus. An accessible menu experience is essential. Often you need the menu to change the notification settings or link and unlink accounts for electronic payments. I will give an example from my bank. I have a much older version of the app on my iPad. My iPhone has the most recent version. I will show the differences between the screen reader experience in the main menu when navigating using manual touch and swipe gestures. The first announcement of each example represents the label on the menu button itself.
Older inaccessible version:
"Hamburger Menu" (Tab)
"Account Menu, Heading" (Tab)
"Log-In Options" (Tab)
"Application Settings Link" (Tab)
"App Version" (Tab)
Contact Us" (Tab)
"Legal And Regulatory"
The older inaccessible version has sloppy button labels and completely unlabeled links. Here is the newer and much-improved version with every link labeled.
"Navigation Menu Button" (Tab)
"Account Menu, Heading Level 1" (Tab)
"Log-In Settings Link" (Tab)
Manage Accounts Link" (Tab)
"Notifications And Security Settings Link" (Tab)
"Application Settings Link" (Tab)
"Application Version" (Tab)
"Contact Us Link" (Tab)
"Legal And Regulatory Link."
The newer version is far more accessible and represents a positive movement in the online banking industry toward better accessibility.
For a comprehensive look at financial services and web accessibility, check out this whitepaper, Best Practices in Digital Accessibility for the Financial Services Industry.
Why Accessibility Matters for Customers on Financial Websites
There are many great things to speak about regarding the accessibility and usability of online banking and financial services websites. From an assistive technology user's perspective, digital accessibility on financial apps and websites is essential. By prioritizing digital accessibility, these organizations empower people like me with personal and financial independence. I look forward to a future of even more digital accessibility gains for banking and financial service companies.
See how the banking and financial industry compares to other industries when it comes to digital accessibility, according to the lawsuits filed in 2023. Check out UsableNet's 2023 Midyear report. Download now.
Editors note: This is a post written by our marketing intern, Michael Taylor. This post reflects his opinions and experiences.