The largest, most underrepresented minority group: Are you a member?

One in three of us will join the disability community if we’re not there already. This month I’m delighted to introduce you to Donna Mack, the Disability Diplomat™, who is a speaker, consultant, and author working with credit unions and other companies to successfully navigate the ever-changing world of accessibility. What drives Donna is the desire to bridge the gap between preconceptions about people with disabilities to create an atmosphere of understanding that allows people to be viewed for who they are, rather than for the limitations of their bodies.

Angela: Donna, you’re known as the “Disability Diplomat™.” What does that mean?

Donna: A “diplomat” is a person who is tactful or skillful at handling difficult situations or managing people. I’ve worked in cross-disability for almost thirty years, and it’s an uncomfortable topic. People just don’t know what they don’t know about it. Like cancer or divorce, disability always happens to someone else until it happens to you or someone you love. And when it does, most people are lost.

The back story: I experienced vision loss during adolescence, which made it an especially tough and pivotal time. I noticed that some familiar people who were previously comfortable with me were suddenly uptight due to their own hyper-awareness of my disability. They weren’t sure what to say or how to interact. At this, point, I determined that to maintain my quality of life, I had to set aside my adolescent self-consciousness and make the first move in social situations; to develop a personality that was outgoing enough that I’d be noticed for ME, and not my disability. I didn’t recognize for years just how impactful that single decision would be. It became my driving force, and is why I speak, consult, write, and advocate.

We tend to “otherize” those who are different from us. I’m here to put a face to disability and make it relatable. Businesses recognize that there are standards to be met. What they don’t see is how failure to comply results in an un-level playing field. Conversely there’s a huge positive impact when those standards are met or exceeded. When I educate clients on the need for disability inclusion, I provide real life examples of how specific inaccessible features of their business can prevent customers with disabilities from doing business with them, and how those same customers’ needs might not be met elsewhere in the marketplace. Those proactive, inclusive businesses are the ones reaping the rewards.

Angela: It can be challenging to navigate the world of finances, whether you’re in person in a branch or using online services. Let’s talk about branches first. What are some challenges someone with a disability wishes credit unions would do to make their branches more accessible?

Donna: Ensure that your branch’s architectural barriers (doorways, restrooms, service counters, etc.) have been addressed. When possible, include experts with disabilities in the creation of both accessible documents and inclusive policies and procedures (like those pertaining to employment and emergency management).

Face-to-face member service is where credit union branches can truly shine. Often our branch’s newest team members are among the first to greet us. The key is to ensure your teams are well trained so they’re comfortable and confident in their abilities to effectively serve and interact with members with a variety of disabilities.

Angela: Great points, Donna! Let’s talk about online services. Because of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) all websites must be accessible, right? Can credit unions check that off their to do lists?

Donna: Hardly! I’ve tried to use some credit union sites that were less than friendly, and others where the website was accessible except for one or two fields on a form. If one field is inaccessible, it renders the whole form useless to adaptive technology users.

Website information layout is critical to accessibility. Screen readers (used by blind and visually impaired folks to access the internet) are programmed to read left to right. It’s important to present information in rows, (across the page) rather than columns (up and down).

My mortgage is with a credit union. I made online payments until last year. The credit union upgraded their site, resulting in my inability to pay online due to form inaccessibility. When I called to report this, I reached a helpful rep who set me up to make automated phone payments.

Angela: What a relief to get a supportive rep to help you out. To ensure site updates don’t interrupt access, how can a credit union stay up to date when they’re making changes to their sites?

Donna: I advise routine website accessibility testing to maintain compliance. The question is who are your testers, and how are they testing? Automated testing is quicker and cheaper. It’s also a lot less accurate, so it’s not uncommon to have accessibility errors that fly under the radar. Manual testing is much more accurate but costs more money and time. If you can obtain manual testing, I suggest ensuring your testers are folks with disabilities who use adaptive technology to access the internet. Testers who are blind will naturally catch more errors than sighted testers who may subconsciously rely on their vision.

Angela: You mentioned your mortgage is with a credit union – which I love, by the way! We know that buying a house brings both excitement and anxiety to every consumer. You shared some unique challenges you faced with the paperwork that was provided when you purchased your house. Can you share what you found challenging?

Donna: I purchased my home in 2004 and refinanced it in 2013. Both times, the paperwork was in hardcopy. I was dependent on others to both adequately summarize the documents and show me where to sign. Thankfully, transactions are completed electronically now. Unfortunately, it’s my experience that screen readers can’t access all automated tools that financial institutions use for electronic signatures. I like to make informed decisions before signing. The “signing” part is easy. It’s the “document review” that’s sometimes problematic.

Angela: Wow! You really have to trust someone to review all of those documents with you thoroughly and honestly. If someone wants to do a deeper dive into their systems and processes to ensure they’re as accessible as possible, where do they start?

Donna: I suggest hiring an accessibility consultant – preferably one who has a disability, because we’re the end users of our own recommendations. An experienced, credible consultant will have the knowledge and skill to test current practices and systems, and to make recommendations that are both high quality and as cost effective as possible. You can always get in touch with me through my website. If you’re looking locally, I suggest contacting your local center for independent living. They’re great resources for disability-related information.

Angela: Thank you so much for sharing your insights with us, Donna! Credit unions are known for our motto “People Helping People.” You are truly a person who lives to help other people.


If you’d like to learn more about empathy, inclusion, and DEI in the credit union movement, reach out to me and I’d be delighted to connect you with an expert who can take your credit union to the next level.

Angela Prestil

Angela Prestil

As Senior Consultant for CU Difference, Angela brings a distinct specialty set in the critical areas of employee engagement, leadership development, and member loyalty strategies. She has helped hundreds of ... Web: Details