Long awaited Guidelines from the federal Department of Justice (DOJ) for website accessibility under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) are now expected sometime in 2018. But, as discussed below, that does not mean that financial institutions transacting business with the public through websites and mobile applications should ignore web-based accessibility entirely until 2018. Law firms and the DOJ are attempting to enforce the ADA on website owners in the absence of mandatory regulatory guidelines.

The ADA and public accommodation

By way of background, the ADA requires that “places of public accommodation” be accessible to the disabled. Most financial institutions operating some form of physical facility open to the public understand their obligations to make those physical facilities accessible. Public accommodations are generally businesses that are open to the public and fall into one of 12 categories listed in the ADA, including “service establishments” which includes banking and financial institutions. Disabled persons can sue under the ADA alleging that they were denied full and equal access to the goods and services at a “place of public accommodation.” The DOJ also can bring suit for alleged ADA violations. There is a set of very specific and largely objective criteria for accessibility …