Governor Andrew M. Cuomo announced agreements with 12 banks statewide that will guarantee accessible services to people with visual impairments. An investigation by the New York State Division of Human Rights concluded that many had failed to do so, finding that many of the banks did not have websites accessible to customers with visual impairments, did not provide documents in alternative formats, and had customer service representatives who were not prepared to provide information on accessibility features when contacted via telephone.
"Our state has a proud history of leading the way on enacting and enforcing fundamental civil rights protections that provide equal opportunity for all New Yorkers," Governor Cuomo said. "Everyone, regardless of ethnicity, gender, or disability should have equal access to public information and services. These banks are now doing their part by updating their policies to meet the needs of New Yorkers visual impairments."
New York State Human Rights Law prohibits places of public accommodation from denying goods or services to individuals on account of a disability, and requires reasonable modifications to make such places accessible to a person with a disability. The twelve banks that settled the discrimination complaints included TD Bank, Capital One, M&T Bank, New York Community Bank, Valley National Bank, Ponce de Leon Federal Bank, Em-igrant Savings Bank, Banco Popular, Dime Savings Bank, Flushing Savings Bank, Northfield Savings and Hudson Valley Bank.
The Division of Human Rights is empowered by the New York State Legislature to oppose systematic patterns of discrimination through division-initiated investigations or complaints. These powerful mechanisms can potentially improve the lives of thousands across the state by ensuring that all New Yorkers have an equal opportunity to participate fully in the economic, cultural and intellectual life of the state, as affirmed in the Human Rights Law.
In this particular case, DHR initiated an investigation after receiving a complaint alleging a bank's refusal to accommodate a customer's visual impairment to access banking services. DHR analyzed several bank websites to determine whether they were accessible and were using technology that would allow people with visual impairments to effectively utilize their services. Also examined was whether statements, bank notices and checks were offered in alternative formats such as Braille or audio.
After this analysis, staff conducted over 100 telephone test calls using a questionnaire that included inquiries about the availability of online services for people with visual impairments and materials in alternative formats. Based on the results of this investigation, discrimination complaints were filed against the 12 banks.
All of the banks have agreed to comply with state law by providing services to persons with visual impairments, including informational material and forms in large print, Braille and audio, among other measures.
Furthermore, as part of the agreements, banks will train customer service staff regarding the appropriate handling of calls or requests made by customers with visual impairments.
DHR Deputy Commis-sioner for Enforcement Melissa Franco said, "This is a perfect example of how the division is working collaboratively to educate New Yorkers about the state's Human Rights Law to achieve our goal of preventing and eradicating unlawful discrimination.
The filing of these complaints should serve as a reminder that the division's authority is not limited to handling complaints from members of the public and that we can and we will take action to identify and remedy Human Rights Law violations on our own initiative."
New York has the proud distinction of being the first state in the nation to enact a Human Rights Law, which affords every citizen "an equal opportunity to enjoy a full and productive life."
For more information on the law and the work of the agency, visit the Division of Human Right's website at www.dhr.ny.gov.