Are Utilities Paying Enough Attention to Accessibility?

by | Mar 18, 2021

Utilities in the USA are subject to the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Under this act they are legally required to ensure that all utility services are accessible to people with disabilities.

Put another way, the ADA enforces “the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, or accommodations of any place of public accommodation.”

ADA compliance includes providing people with disabilities (PWD) access to enjoy the same level of service from their utility as anyone else.  This means that utilities must provide online services and digital communications that are optimized for customers who are living with a visual, audio, motor and cognitive impairment.

Accessibility requirements extend to any service or communication that is provided by a utility to its customers. This includes:

  • physical services or properties, such as service centers and printed documents, and
  • digital services or properties, such as online documents, communications via email or text, as well as websites, portals and mobile apps.

Why accessibility in utilities is critically important

On the one hand, utilities have a legal or regulatory obligation to ensure that all customer services and communication are accessible. There are consequences for failing to meet accessibility standards, such as complaints to industry regulators or an ombudsman. If a regulatory body finds that an organization has failed to provide accessible services or properties, it can impose sanctions.

Find out more about Web Accessibility Lawsuits.

But the legal obligations should not be the primary drivers of accessibility in utilities. The idea that you may be failing to reach a significant portion of your customer base should be a major concern. According to official statistics, 26 percent (one in 4) of adults in the United States have some type of disability.

The bottom line is – accessibility is both a commercial necessity and a business advantage.

Accessibility in customer communication management (CCM)

Recent media attention has placed a spotlight on getting your website compliant with accessibility regulations.  The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.1) were established to provide companies, including utilities, with guidelines as to what website accessibility compliance really means.

However, it is not just the public website that must be accessible. When it comes to accessibility in CCM, utilities must ensure that any communication, regardless of whether it is physically delivered or emailed to customers, can be consumed by someone with an impairment.

Customer communication is perhaps an area that has not received adequate attention, which means utilities are not as compliant with accessibility laws as they may think.

What is accessibility in Customer Communications Management?

Accessibility in Customer Communications Management refers to how easily a recipient with a physical impairment or learning disability can access or consume information. Regardless of whether it is contained on an organization’s portal or web page; in an email or text; or in a document that is presented online.

Are all your utility’s digital properties accessible?

Digital communications, such as emails, documents, and payment processes, have not necessarily received the same level of attention as website compliance. This means that utilities, contrary to internal perceptions, may not have achieved accessibility compliance yet.

It is critical that your compliance team reviews all digital assets to ensure each one is accessible:

  • Portal accessibility – utility portals that require customers to log in to access services, confidential information and regulated documents must adhere to the same accessibility standards as public websites.
  • Payment accessibility – payment processes and confirms must be easy to use for all customers, including those with visual, motor, or cognitive impairments.
  • Email accessibility - transactional emails and campaigns must be designed and developed to be consumed through assistive technologies, such as screen readers and magnifiers. In addition, any custom landing pages that are accessed via emails must also be checked for accessibility.
  • Document accessibility - customer documents, such as bills, statements and mandated reports, such as water quality, that are emailed or made available online to view or download must be generated through a compliant document generation platform.
  • Form accessibility – forms that a customer is required to complete and submit, for example energy assistance forms, must be accessible through a screen reader or other assistive technology.
  • Mobile app accessibility – information and services provided through a mobile application, such as consumption reports or outage notifications, must be accessible.

Need help auditing your communications for accessibility?

Utilities need to partner with a service provider that understands accessibility requirements and can assist with relevant advice and expertise. A CCM platform that can produce accessible communications on time and at scale for millions of recipients is also a key requirement.

Doxim offers an all-in-one partnership to help utilities generate and distribute accessible documents and communications.

Read more about Doxim’s Document Accessibility solution.

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Jason Pothen
Regional Vice President, Utilities and Healthcare at Doxim.
Jason has 22+ years of experience serving a diverse array of industries, across a wide range of print and digital communication technologies. Prior to joining Doxim in July 2020, he was a Senior Client Services Manager at Taylor Communications. In his current position as Regional Vice President, Utilities, Jason is focused on developing long-term client relationships to facilitate account growth and expedient conflict resolution, He retains a key interest in communication management in other regulated industries, such as the Healthcare sector.

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