eSignings: Accessibility in a Digital Era

Jul 06 2022

In June, AAAtraq released “Accessibility in Virtual Closings and Signings” (opens in a new window), the first part of a two-part series on how to make the closing process on real estate more accessible for disabled users. The former article focused primarily on the digital component of electronic closings (eClosing), particularly the different ways in which brokers and borrowers can engage in a closing that makes use of the digital format. The second part of the series, this article, will focus on the role of electronic signing (eSigning) in the process of eClosings and the subsequent preference for eSignings more broadly.

eSignings represent the largest supported software technology/tools most often provided or encouraged by firms at 83% of all firms.1 Electronic contracts/firms come in at a close second with 80% of all firms providing or encouraging the use of software technology.2 While eSignings are not an entirely a new phenomenon, the prevalence of eSignings has spiked in response to the recent COVID-19 pandemic. In the 2021 Technology Survey, the National Association of REALTORS found that respondents believed that eSignatures would be the most used form of technology in business over the next 12 months (73%).3

eSigning and Accessibility

eSigning documentation, much like other forms of documentation, poses significant barriers to access for visually impaired users. As such, the preparers of these documents must compose documents that are user friendly to these disabled individuals. Not only do these documents need to be formatted in manner that allows assistive technologies such as screen readers interpret and repeat the information on the page, but they must also be formatted correctly to enable signatories to receive information on the document which they are signing. If such documentation is not accessible, the validity of any signing would be in question, and the user who was disenfranchised might have grounds for litigation.

To avoid the unintended consequences of preparing inaccessible documentation, preparers must ensure accessibility of their documentation and consider the software/technology used in this process. In preparing documents, refrain from using documents that are inherently inaccessible to assistive technology, namely PDFs. Also consider the use of keyboard-only supported software, as mobility impaired individuals would be provided greater access to the information. Finally, ensure form fields are properly labeled and titled such that the documents can be signed by disabled parties. To understand more about form fields and their role in your website’s path to accessibility, view AAAtraq Academy’s video on Understanding 'form fields' and 'form field labels' on web pages (https://youtu.be/B-1HzHggElY) (opens in a new window). For further information on accessibility of eSignature software, see their websites.4

1 “Real Estate in a Digital Age 2019 Report ,” National Association of REALTORS® Research Group (National Association of REALTORS, September 2021), https://cdn.nar.realtor/sites/default/files/documents/2019-real-estate-in-a-digital-age-08-22-2019.pdf (opens in a new window), 6 & 19.

2 Ibid.

3 “2021 Technology Survey - National Association of REALTORS® Research Group,” National Association of REALTORS (National Association of REALTORS, August 3, 2021), https://cdn.nar.realtor/sites/default/files/documents/2019-real-estate-in-a-digital-age-08-22-2019.pdf (opens in a new window), 3 & 5.

4 “DocuSign ESIGNATURE Digital Accessibility,” DocuSign Support Center (DocuSign), accessed February 24, 2022, https://support.docusign.com/en/guides/docusign-digital-accessibility (opens in a new window).

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