Tema Smith-Bosken is a rare individual who came to technological accessibility by way of her husband, Bob Bosken, a techie who is blind. She has become a tenacious advocate and leader for an inclusive cyberspace. The couple met in the 1990s as co-trainers contracted with the Social Security Administration (SSA) to train new SSA employees. Bosken was working with Bartimaeus, a company of access technology experts with blindness, and was training individuals with visual impairments. He later became an employee of the SSA.

Having never known a blind person, Smith-Bosken was fascinated by how Bob interacted charismatically with other people, and with how he interacted with technology as well as she did. She wanted to learn more and she did. Today, she is as familiar with JAWS, NVDA, and VoiceOver as any user who is blind. She and her husband are high energy advocates for all things technological. When I ran into them for the first time in years and we exchanged life updates, Smith-Bosken was delighted regarding her new job at JPMorgan Chase.

"They are going to be the go-to financial institution for all people with disabilities," she enthused, and clearly felt fortunate to be among the gurus mapping the company's accessibility journey.

A Personal Prologue

Before beginning work on this article, I had some personal experience with JPMorgan Chase and the company's approach to accessibility. When accessible ATMs (those with headset jacks, indicating that the menus are spoken) were popping up all over the country, Chase was the first bank to add "talking" ATMs to two of its branches in Cincinnati, which is where I live. One of those branches was a mile from my home, so I opened an account. The ATM was great, though branch employees knew little to nothing about its presence or functionality.

When I later opened a Chase credit card, I was delighted to discover that the bank's braille statements were the most professional of any I'd seen from any company to date—and were produced by a blind-owned company in Tampa, Florida.

Later still, when I opened a mortgage with Chase, I was dismayed to learn that, although I could get my credit card statements in braille, no such alternative format was available from the mortgage department. [Author's note: That experience was in 2010. When reviewing this article prior to publication, media representatives of JPMorgan Chase assured me that mortgage statements are now available in alternate formats.[

JPMorgan Chase Players and Plans for Accessibility

Of course, people who are blind and visually impaired aren't the only potential customers seeking inclusion by a financial institution. In recognition of a multi-faceted need for inclusive practices, the company has assembled a team of developers, testers, and advisors who represent the array of disability challenges from vision and learning disabilities to mobility difficulties and more.

Smith-Bosken says that some 200,000 Chase employees have received the company's ADA course, while 30,000 to date have participated in role-based accessibility training. The latter is designed to meet the needs of each specific role — from Web developers to content authors to bank tellers. Smith-Bosken has had a hand in designing some of that training and has experienced the joy of observing fellow employees experience it.

For some, training has focused on methods for creating accessible PDF files; for others, the focus might be on disability etiquette.

Chase has ramped up its presence at technology and disability related conferences. At the 2015 CSUN conference, there were five sessions led by Chase staff, two of them by Smith-Bosken herself.

Closer to home, the American Foundation for the Blind's 2015 Leadership Conference in Phoenix will feature a luncheon demonstration and discussion of Chase's Web accessibility features for up to 30 individuals who express interest.

On the webpage discussing Chase's commitment to accessibility, clear awareness of most disability issues is evident. Besides raised-line checks and alternate format statements, customers will find offers to provide sign language interpreters for facilitating financial discussions, reader services by appointment to explain confusing financial issues on statements, a close adherence to World Wide Web Consortium guidelines, and an awareness of most popular screen reading software.

Becoming an Accessibility Aficionado

While plenty of people who do not have disabilities work at JP Morgan Chase and elsewhere in the realm of accessibility, anyone who actually "walks the walk" is likely to have a bit more zeal for getting it right.

Smith-Bosken didn't have a disability when she became immersed in a belief that accessibility, independence, and inclusion were human rights, but her immersion is perhaps more complete than some who actually experience lifelong disability.

The Boskens' two children, ages 14 and 10, have caught the accessibility and technology bugs as well.

Her sons, Smith-Bosken says, have been listening to speech synthesizers since they were born, and every laptop and phone in the family has a screen reader running on it.

While they do enjoy movies together, a more common family scene is for the four of them to cuddle while listening to an audio book that Bob has downloaded from the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped BARD site.

One son aspires to be a designer of accessible video games one day, because it makes him mad that he can't play his favorite games with his dad.

When asked if she can navigate a computer screen without vision, Smith-Bosken says that she often closes her eyes while looking at a Web page, and encourages co-workers to do so as well.

One laptop at home actually has a broken screen, and Smith-Bosken will sometimes use it, with JAWS or NVDA reading the screen to her, to send an e-mail or read a file.

The JPMorgan Chase Online Environment

Seeking a personal encounter, I decided to test the Chase website with a personal mission.

I had actually visited the site once several months ago, with a not-so-happy ending. I had received a promotional invitation to sign up for autopay for my mortgage and to be entered in a drawing for $35,000. That was incentive enough for me to visit the site, and unfortunately, I ran into an unlabeled button or link and abandoned the effort.

Today, the team of accessibility gurus at Chase like to fix broken labels and buttons, so before completing this article, I paid the site another visit.

My mission was to sign up for online banking.

The process wasn't simple or fast. There were six steps, each with its own page. The process was, however, completely accessible and successful. Each step was clearly labeled and fairly easily navigated which, as all readers of AccessWorld know, is not something we can take for granted in the online environment of any corporate entity, financial or otherwise.

Smith-Bosken emphasized that there is big news coming regarding online accessibility. While she was not at liberty to elaborate, it is clear the company plans to roll out some additional accessibility features in the foreseeable future.

Will JPMorgan Chase become the go-to financial institution for all people with disabilities? That will depend on future strides in online usability and access, the continued commitment of its accessibility team, and the involvement of accessibility advocates with spirits kindred to that of Smith-Bosken.

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Deborah Kendrick
Article Topic
Access to Banking