Congratulations to New York State Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo’s office for its announcement this week of a comprehensive accessibility settlement with HSBC Card Services. Read the NY A.G.’s press release. The settlement, negotiated by attorney Jeffrey Powell in the Bureau of Consumer Frauds and Protection, addresses web accessibility, alternative formats for visually impaired customers, relay service for deaf and hearing impaired customers, and other important accessiblity issues. Under the Agreement, the HSBC web site will satisfy Conformance Level AA of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0, promulgated by the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) of the World Wide Web Consortium (w3c) no later than May 31, 2010.
The HSBC announcement continues the New York State Attorney General’s office leadership role in the field of web accessibility enforcement that began in August, 2004 when the office announced ground-breaking web accessibility settlements with both priceline.com and ramada.com. Read the 2004 press release on the web site of the New York Attorney General.
HSBC joins other financial institutions with a public commitment to make their websites accessible and provide alternative formats. These institutions include Bank of America, Wells Fargo, and the nation’s credit reporting agencies. A list of web accessibility settlement and alternative format agreements reached through Structured Negotiations can be found in the Categories Section of this website. The New York press release posted here is copyright to, and available on, the New York Attorney General’s website.
ATTORNEY GENERAL CUOMO SECURES GROUNDBREAKING NATIONWIDE AGREEMENT WITH HSBC CREDIT CARD TO DELIVER SERVICES TO CUSTOMERS WITH DISABILITIES
Company Will Overhaul Website to Ensure Customers with Vision or Hearing Loss Can Effectively Dispute Charges and Receive Customer Service
Agreement Also Requires All Notices, Forms and Statements in Formats Accessible to Customers with Disabilities
New York, NY (September 1, 2009)– Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo today announced a nationwide agreement with HSBC Card Services, Inc., a company which serves millions of customers, that requires the company to enhance its policies and systems to accommodate customers with vision and hearing impairments. Under the agreement, the company will offer customers with disabilities improved communication options and services, as well as a fully accessible Web site.
The agreement resolves an investigation triggered by a complaint from a blind credit card holder in New York. HSBC representatives repeatedly told the customer that she could not dispute a charge on her statement unless she completed a written form, which she could not read due to her disability. The Attorney General’s office reviewed the company’s existing policies and training with respect to offering accommodations to customers with disabilities, and concluded that they were insufficient to guarantee full and equal access.
“Failing to provide customers with a way to use services or receive assistance regardless of disability is discriminatory and illegal,” said Attorney General Cuomo. “HSBC’s willingness to overhaul its policies and systems sets a new precedent in customer service for individuals with disabilities, and I commend the proactive action it’s taken today.”
The settlement requires HSBC Card Services to make significant changes to its policies and procedures. Specifically, it will:
- Overhaul its website to ensure that customers with disabilities, including those with vision loss and hearing disabilities, can utilize its website and services;
- Offer statements, notices, standardized forms, and informational materials in alternative accessible formats, including on-line HTML versions for customers with visual impairments;
- Make reader services available via its toll-free customer assistance line for customers with visual impairment;
- Train customer service staff on responding to calls placed by customers with hearing or speech impairments through a TDD/TTY or a Telecommunications Relay Service, and monitor such calls for quality assurance purposes;
- Adopt clear and uniform procedures on how to receive, review, track, and promptly respond to accommodation requests; and
- Designate an ADA Coordinator to ensure that the company effectively meets the needs of customers with visual and hearing impairments.
Carl R. Augusto, President & CEO of the American Foundation for the Blind, said: “We applaud the Attorney General Cuomo for reaching this groundbreaking agreement to give customers with vision loss options to access their financial information, whether via the web, telephone, or hard copy. There is no greater sense of security than knowing you can easily and immediately review information regarding your financial accounts and statements. This agreement serves as a model for other financial services companies to better meet the needs of all consumers, including those with vision impairments.”
Michael Rothenberg, Executive Director of the New York Lawyers for the Public Interest, said: “The law requires companies to offer aids and services to ensure that persons with disabilities are not denied services available to other customers. We applaud Attorney General Cuomo’s leadership in enforcing the law and urge other companies to enhance access to their services for persons with vision and hearing impairments, including expanding the accessibility of their Web sites.”
This case was handled by Jeffrey K. Powell, under the supervision of Counsel for Civil Rights Spencer Freedman and Civil Rights Bureau Chief Alphonso B. David.