Making it easier to quit: Accessibility for compulsive and problem gamblers

Posted on Thursday, 12 September 2019 by Liz Certa
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Most of us involved in building an accessible internet would agree that as the internet integrates into more of our lives and continues to expand in capability, WCAG should expand with it to include more and different kinds of disabilities. David Swallow has recently written a brilliant series on using WCAG to accommodate anxiety disorders, which I highly recommend reading. One other possible disability that has received very little attention or discussion is problem and compulsive gambling. With a few changes, WCAG could be expanded to encompass this spectrum of disability, using recommendations and techniques that are already made and have already been successfully enacted.

Disordered gambling is not covered under most laws relating to disability, but it was first recognized as a psychiatric disorder in 1980 (PDF). What’s more, disordered gambling is quite prevalent. According to the National Council on Problem Gambling’s FAQ:

2 million (1%) of U.S. adults are estimated to meet criteria for pathological gambling in a given year. Another 4-6 million (2-3%) would be considered problem gamblers; that is, they do not meet the full diagnostic criteria for pathological gambling, but meet one or more of the criteria and are experiencing problems due to their gambling behavior.

Furthermore, internet gambling is only increasing. While internet gambling does not seem to be contributing to more cases of compulsive gambling, one study suggests 75% of internet gamblers qualify as “problem gamblers.”

There are two separate places where internet standards could be enacted to accommodate problem gamblers; the first is banks. Two different banks in the UK have rolled out features designed to help problem gamblers looking to kick the habit. Some of these features include putting a delay on transactions made to businesses with a gambling merchant code. While it is possible to circumvent this block either by withdrawing cash (although there is a daily limit on cash withdrawals) or waiting until the delay passes, this barrier has proven to be effective in reducing impulsive gambling behavior. The CEO of Monzo, one of the banks that rolled out this feature, said users who signed up for it saw a 70% reduction in in their gambling transactions. Psychiatrists in the United Kingdom are pressing the more major UK banks to adopt similar features and there is no particular reason why requirements for them couldn’t be included in the next WCAG release.

The second front to consider is gambling websites themselves. In 2012, The National Council on Problem Gambling released guidelines for gambling websites who wished to display their logo as a gambling website that helps problem gamblers. There are too many standards to list here so I’d strongly encourage you to read the guidelines for a recovery-friendly online gambling experience yourself. Here are just a few of the standards that a WCAG tester could theoretically verify:

  1. Resources are publicly available for problem gamblers, such as a gambling addiction hotline, how to assess if you have a gambling problem, and tips on how to set practical limits.
  2. Personalized information is available on how much money a user has spent.
  3. Players have a way to set limits for themselves on money and time spent.
  4. There is a means for a player to exclude herself from using the website.

However, this resource is from 2012. The internet has changed considerably even since then, and there is one other standard that is possible on the 2019 internet: a user choosing to self-exclude can supply a contact that would receive an automated notification if that user tries to gamble or to remove herself from the excluded rolls. This suggestion is courtesy of Dr. Kenneth Certa, who has been practicing psychiatry since 1983 [disclosure: Dr. Certa is my father]. According to him, a real time notification of a relapse to a compulsive gambler’s spouse, sponsor, or therapist could be tremendously beneficial in the recovery process.

While this article has suggested many specific rules that could appear in a version of WCAG that is inclusive to compulsive gamblers, any actual guidelines would need to be the result of collaboration between recovering problem gamblers, online gambling site operators, banks, and medical professionals who specialize in compulsive gambling. The intention here is solely to start a conversation. WCAG has tremendous potential to do good here, and that potential is at least worth exploring.

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