Capital One’s accessibility fail

CapitalOne Customer Relations Center
Image by taberandrew via Flickr

The current website and interface for financial institution Capital One suffers from some accessibility issues. While its source code suffers a little from divitis and classitis (using the DIV and CLASS (X)HTML elements excessively for layout purposes), by far the most annoying problem is that the site requires users to enable JavaScript to login to view their accounts. It’s as if accessing your Capital One account gave you a paper cut. It’s annoying, but it may be worth a little blood and a Band-Aid® to turn on JavaScript and see your transactions.

This morning, however, Capital One sent an email to its credit card customers announcing that they were moving from an accessibility paper cut to full-on, get-it-over-with-quick amputation.

Starting January 24, 2010, your online statements will be available in PDF format only. HTML access will be discontinued.

If you don’t already have Adobe Reader(R), which is a PDF file viewer program that can open and interact with your online statements, you can download the latest version for free. Please visit [junk link obscured by HTML tracking gibberish].

Remember, your current statement as well as statements from the previous 18 months are always available for you online. Simply log in to Online Banking and select the Statements tab. If you need to, you can even download and print PDF copies, which are identical to your paper statement. Please visit [junk link obscured by HTML tracking gibberish].

If you have signed up for paperless statements and can’t download Adobe Reader(R), click here to learn how to start receiving paper statements again. Please visit [junk link obscured by HTML tracking gibberish].

Their current system is quickly and easily accessible by anyone who can use JavaScript. This user base includes nearly all browsers and mobile devices. It’s pretty fast and allows users to easily and effectively access transaction history. Capital One is turning it off.

In place of their current, working system, they’re leaving us with a head-fake towards functionality by saying we can still download our transactions in PDF format. While it’s true that PDF is an accepted standard, making it the only way to access our data poses the following problems.

  1. Now the users must launch a separate program to view their transactions. This program takes time to launch. Even users with Chrome’s PDF plugin, which renders the PDF in the browser using Google, are removed from the carefully-crafted user experience offered by the website.
  2. Screen readers and mobile devices will have a harder time accessing the site, if they can access it at all.
  3. Third party sites like Mint may no longer be able to access the information. It’s too soon to tell if Mint will be effected, but such a significant change is bound to affect any automated system that logs in to access transactional data.

To make matters worse, they’re recommending the Adobe Reader(R) software, by far the most bloated and malware-like PDF reader on the market. If the user isn’t careful, simply attempting to download Adobe Reader installs a package called Adobe Download Manager. We’re not making this stuff up. If you have Adobe Reader, check your installed programs list. Did you ever wake up and say, “Gee, I wish I could find a product from Adobe that I could install to make it easier to download other Adobe products.” Bet not. It was installed because you didn’t read carefully when you installed Reader. We call it malware when a product installs something you didn’t know about, and Adobe does it with their Download Manager. Uninstall it, you don’t need it and you never did – Acrobat Reader can be downloaded just fine without allowing extra crap on your system. For more information about the proper use of PDF, view the transcript or listen to the episode from Auction Podcast Episode 5 – PDF.

Now don’t read this article and think that we’re saying that PDF should never be used. PDF is a fine format, and the ability to view transactions as a PDF would have been a nice feature to add to Capital One’s existing offering. Providing customers with the ability to print their statements in a way that is formatted like the statements sent in the mail is a very laudable goal. The problem is that they’re moving exclusively to this new format, at the expense of the usability, accessibility and speed by disabling their existing system.

Imagine if we auctioneers said that the only way to get information about an auction, property, or other item was with PDF. Think of how our users would feel when they could no longer simply read the content in their browsers but instead had to launch a completely separate program and enter a different user experience. Sure, we’ve mentioned this topic here before, but Capital One’s accessibility failure announced today gives us a concrete example of why this entrapment of content is bad for users.

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Aaron Traffas, CAI, ATS, CES

twitter.com/traffas | aarontraffas.com | aarontraffasband.com

Aaron Traffas, CAI, AMM, CES, is an auctioneer from Medicine Lodge, Kansas. He is currently community evangelist for Purple Wave in Manhattan, Kansas. Aaron serves as the current president elect for the Kansas Auctioneers Association and in the past has served on the National Auctioneers Association Education Institute Board of Trustees. He is a past instructor at CAI and co-wrote and instructed the ATS designation course from NAA. He currently instructs the Internet Auction Methods course offered by the NAA. During the summer, Aaron operates a farm in south central Kansas. Aaron is an active singer and songwriter and the Aaron Traffas Band's latest release, Enter: The Wind, can be found at iTunes, Amazon and Spotify.
  • “Imagine if we auctioneers said that the only way to get information about an auction, property, or other item was with PDF.”

    Sadly, I can think of several auction websites that present their information this way.

  • Ricky Jones

    What could be the reason for this? I'd like to know the thought process that went in to making this decision. I also agree on your comments regarding Adobe Reader. There are better alternatives. But I suppose when something becomes standard, it's hard to get people to understand. To some (I would guess most) people, Internet Explorer -is- the internet, Windows -is- the computer, and Adobe Reader -is- PDF. It's hard to break such a pattern (although Firefox is doing a good job in the browser wars).

    Regarding divitis and classitis: what is the preferred method of site layout, if not divs and classes? Also, I did a quick comparison of AuctioneerTech's and Capitol One's source code. I found 79 divs and 158 classes in Capitol One's source, and 149 divs and 411 classes in AuctioneerTech's source. Just a rough count using the source from the home pages, so please excues me if I'm in error.

    I know that comparing the source of the two sites is apples to oranges, as the they serve different purposes and are designed with those purposes in mind, but that's kind of the point. What does it really mean that Capitol One uses 79 divs? What does it say about AuctioneerTech if they use 411 classes? Trying to make a call on what constitutes too many divs or classes seems arbitrary. Depending on how important layout is, then one div might be one too many in the eyes of some.

    Not trying to be contrary, or anything. Your opening paragraph just intrigued me.

    Thanks!
    Ricky

  • Great comment, Ricky.

    The DIV element is certainly one of the proper elements in page creation, but it can often be used incorrectly. Take the following example code snippet, lifted from the third edition of Designing With Web Standards by Jeffrey Zeldman.

    <div class="leftandtopalign">

    <span class="blackborder">Shoot the developer, then shoot me</span>

    </div>

    There's no call for this kind of excess, and there's so much junk there that it's as bad as using a TABLE for layout. Here's a way it could be written and, through the use of proper styling, look exactly the same as however the first thing was supposed to look.

    Shoot the devloper, then shoot me.

    AuctioneerTech is a WordPress powered site. I agree wholeheartedly that WordPress sites have way too many DIVs than they need, marked with way too many CLASSes. If I were hand-coding AuctioneerTech, you can bet it would have much cleaner code.

    The DIV is a great element, but when it's used simply for layout instead of to represent a semantic grouping of related elements, it adds unneeded weight to the page and confuses the markup unnecessarily.

  • Great comment, Ricky.

    The DIV element is certainly one of the proper elements in page creation, but it can often be used incorrectly. Take the following example code snippet, lifted from the third edition of Designing With Web Standards by Jeffrey Zeldman.

    <div class="leftandtopalign">

    <span class="blackborder">Shoot the developer, then shoot me</span>

    </div>

    There's no call for this kind of excess, and there's so much junk there that it's as bad as using a TABLE for layout. Here's a way it could be written and, through the use of proper styling, look exactly the same as however the first thing was supposed to look.

    Shoot the devloper, then shoot me.

    AuctioneerTech is a WordPress powered site. I agree wholeheartedly that WordPress sites have way too many DIVs than they need, marked with way too many CLASSes. If I were hand-coding AuctioneerTech, you can bet it would have much cleaner code.

    The DIV is a great element, but when it's used simply for layout instead of to represent a semantic grouping of related elements, it adds unneeded weight to the page and confuses the markup unnecessarily.

  • Disqus makes it really difficult to represent code. I'm still working on getting the p tags to show properly in my example.

  • I'm going to go ahead and give up trying to figure out how to escape a paragraph tag in Disqus and just explain it. In the first example with the excess, there is a paragraph enclosing the SPAN that has a class of “small”. In the second, clean example, all the junk is replaced with a single paragraph that has a class of “wish”. We want to use class names to describe what content is, not how it looks.

  • Ricky Jones

    Thanks for this reply, Travis. I had a feeling that all the divs and classes in AuctioneerTech was from WordPress, although I've never used it.

    I'll have to find a copy of Designing with Web Standards. I've been hand-coding html and css for a couple of years, but I know my code is sloppy, both from being self taught, and because of a lack of experience. But I'm trying to learn more, because I enjoy the field. So discussions like this are helpful.

    Ricky

  • Ricky Jones

    Woops! Sorry for calling you Travis.

  • If you hand-code pages or work at all with (X)HTML, Designing with Web Standards will change your life. It's an absolute must-read! Make sure you get the third edition.

  • Emily

    I'd really like an explanation for this change, too, and CapitalOne's e-mail to customers offered none whatsoever. Is it a security consideration? And if so, was my information not secure already?

  • Emily

    I'd really like an explanation for this change, too, and CapitalOne's e-mail to customers offered none whatsoever. Is it a security consideration? And if so, was my information not secure already?