Are You Meeting Your Obligation to Provide Accessible Insurance Documents?

Whether motivated by the need to comply with legislation or the desire to provide an excellent customer experience, there are compelling reasons why insurers need to make all documents accessible to the blind and partially sighted.

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Documents play a vital role in communicating with your insureds, but are those documents accessible for those with vision loss? Whether motivated by the need to comply with legislation or the desire to provide an excellent customer experience, there are compelling reasons why insurers need to make all documents accessible to the blind and partially sighted.

Documents of many kinds—from applications to policy declarations, endorsements, riders, confirmations, annual policy statements and more—are central to the operation of every line of insurance. Whether they are printed or stored in electronic form, these documents represent the vital communications between the insurer and the insured. For that reason, it is paramount that insurance organizations recognize that laws related to accessibility have implications for these important customer communications.

According the World Health Organization, an estimated 253 million people are living with vision impairment. For those who are blind or partially sighted, reading and understanding documents is difficult or impossible without the help of a sighted person or an assistive device.  Over the years, laws in the United States, Canada and other jurisdictions have been enacted that require documents are made accessible to those with visual impairments.

Some of the most prominent legislation requiring companies to offer alternate formats for documents includes the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990, and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, Sections 504 and 508 in the U.S., and the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) in Canada. In addition to complying with these regulatory requirements, a growing number of organizations in every industry are recognizing that providing accessible documents is simply an important component of effectively communicating with customers and transacting business.

To truly meet the needs of visually impaired customers, employees and others engaging with your business, insurers may need the ability to produce documents in a variety of accessible formats, such as Braille and large print, as well as e-Text or audio formats made available online or produced on a CD. Additionally, blind and partially sighted individuals access documents electronically, so accessible PDF and Accessible HTML are growing in popularity as electronic formats that make these document communications compliant.

Developing an approach for document accessibility

For some insurers, producing accessible documents may be an entirely new concept. Developing a successful approach to introducing it into the organization requires a careful review of applicable regulations, an analysis of your organization’s document landscape and a detailed assessment of the processes and tools that will be needed to reach your organization’s goals.

In my company’s experience working with organizations developing and implementing an accessibility strategy, a helpful place to start is to separate the documents in use into one of two categories:

  • Ad hoc documents, such as letters, memos, website content and other documents that are individually created and typically change regularly, or
  • Transactional documents, such as account statements, invoices and trade confirmations that are cyclical in nature and made available to clients on an event-driven or periodic basis (i.e. monthly, quarterly or annually). Content is unique to each client and typically confidential in nature.

An insurance organization may benefit by taking a different approach to each of these two categories of documents. One way to make ad hoc documents accessible is to manually set up the accessibility components when the document is originally created in its source composition software, assuming the software supports adding accessibility features. While this will normally make the document immediately accessible when output to an electronic format such as PDF or HTML, it also has drawbacks in terms of the time and employee training required to successfully take this approach. Another option is to rely on a third-party provider to add the accessibility components, which has another set of time and cost implications.

Similar to ad hoc documents, for transactional documents, making the documents accessible from the outset is challenging because few customer communications management (CCM) composition software solutions have the capability of including accessibility components within documents. Outsourcing is another option, but this approach may slow turnaround to an unacceptable timeframe of several days or even weeks. Outsourcing is often done for printed documents, which are output using specialized software in large print or braille formats and mailed to customers.

Win/Win Scenario

Because of these challenges, seeking an automated, post-document-composition approach to making electronic transactional documents accessible is often advisable. Taking this approach makes it possible to enable specific content to be properly “tagged” for accessibility no matter where it is located on the document or what composition system is used. It will also significantly reduce archiving costs, since documents will not need to be stored in their accessible form, which often makes for large file sizes.

It’s becoming more and more important to be in compliance with global regulations mandating that organizations offer documents in accessible formats for their blind, partially-sighted and cognitively disabled customers. Financial penalties can be high and there is also the risk of under-serving this rapidly growing population. Insurance firms that implement solutions to document accessibility enable customers with vision loss to manage their personal affairs without the need to enlist the help of others. That is a win/win scenario for the insurer and for the customer.

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Ernie Crawford // An electronic document industry pioneer, Ernie Crawford is the President/CEO and founder of Crawford Technologies. One of only a small number people worldwide with M-EDP (Master Electronic Document Professional) designation, Ernie has more than 30 years of senior marketing and management experience in the high-volume electronic printing market.

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