Managing personal finances is one of the most important aspects of daily life.
Most of us look to online solutions for banking, buying products and services, and paying bills. We also use the internet to search for and apply for new jobs. So, it should come as no surprise that access barriers to these services and information will lead to increased levels of vulnerability.
Add to this that in 2021 in particular, households are reeling from the effects of the previous year and many are already facing a degree of financial struggle. Lots of people have lost their jobs, others have taken pay cuts, and some have lost entire businesses.
Put simply, people need access to financial help and support more than ever, and those in vulnerable circumstances are the worst affected. Most of us take it for granted that we have access to the information and services we need online, but for those who battle with decreased vision, physical disabilities, learning difficulties, attention disorders, autism, and a whole host of language and literacy issues, life just isn’t that easy.
Recite Me’s website accessibility solutions are here to help businesses and organisations to communicate information more effectively with vulnerable consumers by making websites accessible and inclusive to all users.
Understanding Online Vulnerability
In challenging circumstances, vulnerability levels increase and financial situations worsen, as any inequality in access to information leads to an inequality of access to services. There have always been vulnerable citizens who have found themselves at a disadvantage in the online world. So first of all, let’s make it clear that the COVID-19 pandemic is not the sole cause of soaring vulnerability levels. It has, however, acted as a catalyst and highlighted the need for significant change. With many other lines of communication blocked or prone to long delays, websites must be accessible so that everyone can access the information that is relevant to their needs – and act upon it accordingly.
“The technology of consumer engagement is changing and moving online more and more. As a result, vulnerable customers need to be supported. Recite Me is calling on all businesses to ensure their websites are accessible. We look forward to seeing more companies using web accessibility software like Recite Me to safeguard and support customers in vulnerable circumstances.”
Recite Me Founder and CEO Ross Linnett
Website Accessibility is for Everyone
It is worth noting at this point that it’s not just those with recognised disabilities and disorders that benefit from website accessibility software. In several more temporary circumstances such as bereavement or divorce, people become more vulnerable in general and may simply struggle to register or understand information. So the clearer and easier to access it is, the better for everyone.
The Financial Conduct Authority on Vulnerability
The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) is the regulator for 58,000 financial services firms and financial markets in the UK. Its main role is to protect consumers, keep the industry stable, and promote healthy competition between financial service providers. Part of the FCA’s role includes advising on web accessibility factors to ensure that vulnerable consumers do not fall through the cracks.
“Failure to communicate with vulnerable consumers in ways they can understand may result in an increased risk of [financial] harm. Consumers may not be able to understand the information they are sent or may struggle to communicate their needs. Low capability or physical impairments may result in particular communication needs. Several factors can drive low capability, including low literacy, numeracy, poor knowledge of financial products and cognitive impairments. Physical conditions can also result in particular communication needs. For example, sight and hearing impairments can make certain channels of communication impossible to use and alternative accessible formats essential.”
The Financial Conduct Authority Report, July 2020
FCA guidelines make it clear that vulnerable consumers should not be disadvantaged in understanding or accessing products and services because of their information needs. Learn more about the FCA and consumer duty accessibility here.
How Companies Can Improve Web Accessibility to Support Vulnerable Customers
The most recent report published by the FCA provides guidance for firms on the fair treatment of vulnerable customers. Key points relating to web accessibility issues include recommendations that businesses should:
Ensure all communications and information about products and services are understandable for consumers in their target market and customer base.
Take the individual needs of each vulnerable customer into account.
Provide simplified versions of communications
Provide large print accessible websites
Include audio options for online information
Proactively offer consumers communication options that can meet their needs.
Respond to the needs of vulnerable consumers at all stages of the customer journey.
Web Design that Promotes Digital Inclusion
The FCA also encourages companies to take an inclusive design approach that meets the needs of their vulnerable customers specifically, as well as the majority of consumers in their target market in general. Most good web designers can advise on a build that makes content more accessible. This means including design features that ensure the needs of vulnerable customers are met, while at the same time benefitting a wider range of consumers on the whole. There are many factors to consider, a few key examples being:
Using a content management system that supports accessibility
Using headings correctly to structure your content
Including alt text for all images
Giving descriptive names to your links
Being mindful of colour use and colour contrasts
Ensuring forms are designed for accessibility
Being keyboard friendly
How Recite Me Accessibility Technology Can Help
Abiding by best practices and guidelines to make your website more accessible is great, but won’t necessarily make it inclusive. Recite Me is a cloud-based web accessibility solution which allows consumers to customise your website in a way that works best for them. By installing Recite Me technology, you can essentially upgrade your well designed, accessible website and make it truly inclusive to all users. All of the FCA recommendations listed above can be taken into account by functions on the Recite Me assistive toolbar. Examples include the ability to:
Personalise font size, type, and colour options to make each web page easier to read.
Download content as an audio file as an alternative to reading.
Convert text into over 100 different on-screen languages.
Access text to speak functions in 35 different languages.
Have text read aloud at varying speeds in either a male or female voice.
Utilise a screen mask and ruler for better focus.
Make use of the toolbar’s built-in dictionary and thesaurus.
Switch to “text-only” mode to strip away graphics and page clutter.
If you’d like more information on how your organization can make a positive change towards inclusion by utilising assistive technology, please contact our team or book a real-time demonstration of our toolbar. Together, we can make a difference and provide everyone with equal opportunities online.