The convenience of online payments can both enhance the customer experience and accelerate the payment cycle and cash flow.

However, this win-win scenario breaks down if the consumer is unable to make use of the payment processing website — which may happen if they are blind or partially sighted and the website or the documents contained on it are not made accessible.

The fact is that while 15% to 20% of the population needs websites and documents to be in accessible formats, only 3% to 4% of documents are actually made accessible. A primary reason for this is that many organizations wait for a customer request before they will convert a document to an accessible format. In addition, many organizations do not advertise the fact that they can offer accessible documents, so many customers don’t realize they can request them.

The United States, Canada and other countries have laws that support the rights of individuals with vision loss, requiring that documents be made accessible for them in certain situations. IMAGE: Adobe Stock

While the organization may think this “upon request” approach has advantages in terms of saving document processing time and expense, there are some serious concerns for the organization and its customers that should be considered.

One challenge with an “upon request” approach is that it inconveniences the customer. There are a growing number of baby boomers and many in other generations with vision loss. The customer experience deteriorates when customers have to initiate a request to get their documents in a format that they can access with an assistive device or in some other manner, such as braille or large print. On the other hand, companies that take a proactive approach to accessibility are more likely to gain and keep loyal customers in the growing population with vision loss.

Neglecting this population (many of whom have significant spending power) may not only slow your company’s payment cycle but also result in losing customers or not attracting them in the first place. Some individuals with vision loss will select the businesses they interact with, such as a bank, based on whether they take a proactive approach to accessibility.

Another challenge with this approach is the time lag that it imposes on the customer. We know of situations in which a customer received a printed bill and called to request that it be sent to them in braille, and only received the accessible document after two more billing cycles had passed. Neither the customer nor the company benefited from this approach, which slowed payment and required extra customer service attention to resolve the “late” payments.

Privacy is also an issue. When customers are accessing sensitive personal information, such as their financial accounts, they should not be put in a position of having to ask someone they know to read a document to them or have a call center representative offer to read it over the phone. All customers want the ability to conduct their affairs for themselves. Proactively making your organization’s documents accessible will show respect for your customers’ privacy and desire for independence.

Additionally, there are legal implications to consider. A number of laws in the United States, Canada and in other jurisdictions support the rights of individuals with vision loss, requiring that documents be made accessible for them in certain situations.

These laws include the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, Sections 504 and 508 in the United States, and the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) in Canada. Enforcement of these laws is growing. In the past year, there has been a 400% increase in demand letters and a 37% increase in DOJ lawsuits related to accessibility.

There are a number of important considerations when taking a proactive approach to accessibility.

Reworking existing websites to make them accessible in numerous common formats requires knowledge and skills that go beyond those of typical website design. In many cases, the platforms that payment websites are built in don’t handle accessibility very easily. Moreover, it is important to remember that both the website and the documents available on it need to be made accessible. As a result of these factors, companies may have to reach beyond their current workforce to obtain the necessary expertise to make their billing accessible.

There are specific industry standards applicable to accessible websites. The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) has established the primary international standard for accessibility on the web, called the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). WCAG 2.0, published in 2008, provides comprehensive guidelines regarding how to make a website accessible, including the documents accessed through it.

The formatting of financial documents for accessibility is typically more complex than many other documents due to detailed tables, graphs, personalized customer data, etc. As a result, time to market with these accessible documents can be significantly slower than static content documents.

Automating the process of creating accessible documents is advisable so that it doesn’t become an ongoing production burden for the organization. Automation also avoids the lag time involved if documents are made accessible only upon request.

A positive way to think about implementing a higher level of accessibility is to realize that your customers and prospects that have vision loss actually represent a whole new market for your organization. Responding proactively to their needs for accessible websites and documents will enhance their customer satisfaction and that will, in turn, help you grow your business.