Banking and accessibility: a far-fetched dream for visually impaired

As enshrined in the Constitution of India, the fundamental rights guarantee equal opportunities and facilities to every citizen of our country, irrespective of an individual’s background. As India is a signatory to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), it is obliged to provide equal access and amenities to the visually impaired in all arenas. However, people with disability are experiencing humiliation and discrimination at various stages in their day to day lives.

Addressing the issue of accessibility in the banking sector, several visually impaired have shared traumatic incidents on denial of provisions of all facilities from the bank officials on the basis of their visual disability. This raises questions on the awareness and sensitivity of the employees working in the banking sector and also draws attention towards the lack of implementation of the RBI and IBA guidelines for people with special needs.

Disabling the Empowered

Two counsellors Darshana and Shirin who are working with the Eyeway Helpdesk in Mumbai faced severe discrimination while opening an account with the Bank of India in Mumbai. Both of them are visually impaired. As being a part of the Victoria Memorial School for Blind, it was mandatory for them to open a savings account with the Bank of India. Along with a sighted person from VMS, our counselors visited the branch to complete the formalities. Mrs. Bheede was appointed to guide Darshana and Shirin about the procedures. However, after learning that both of them are visually impaired, she immediately denied initiating an account because as per her knowledge ‘blind are not entitled to open an account in the bank.’

Both the counsellors tried to explain to her that a visually impaired person is eligible to open an account in any bank in India and should possess all the banking facilities like other sighted individuals as guided by ‘RBI’ guidelines. As an example, they even said that they have an account in HDFC and avail all banking facilities. But unfortunately Bheede got agitated as she assumed that the counsellors were trying to teach her rules and regulations and refused to understand their requirements. She was adamant about not opening their account.

After deliberating the issue with some other employee, our counsellors were assured that visually impaired can open an account but they won’t be able to avail services of having a cheque book and Net Banking facility. Darshana and Shirin were taken aback and tried to explain them that according to the RBI guidelines, the banks are supposed to offer all the facilities to the visually impaired. As stated in the RBI Circular DBOD. No. Leg BC. 91 /09.07.005/2007-08 dated June 4, 2008,

“the RBI mandated that banking facilities (including cheque book facility, operation of ATM, locker, net banking services etc.) cannot be denied to the visually challenged as they are legally competent to contract.”

The executive argued that the Bank of India has no obligation to follow ‘RBI’ rules because it has its own autonomous regulatory body. Counsellors were surprised with this argument and understood the ignorant behavior of public sectors organization for visually impaired. They requested them for the provision of accessing internet facilities as technological support makes it easier for a visually impaired to access internet and software like ‘talkback’ support them to read hard copies in photo format also. The official humiliated both by asking them to demonstrate how they access internet on smartphones.

After being subjected to such inappropriate behavior, the counsellors requested the officials to fill their form on behalf of them as they were unable to write in the hard copy. However, it was degrading to know that the employee refused to help them with an excuse of avoiding any consequences. The sighted person from the VMS helped them to complete the paper work. The Assistant General Manager was observing the incident and asked the counsellors to provide the circular of RBI and IBA through soft copies on their email id to discuss it with their senior members. Shirin immediately provided him a pen drive with the required documents.

Finally, Darshana and Shirin were reverted back to Mrs. Bheede for the next procedure. She accepted the documents but informed the counsellors that she was still unsure of providing internet access for online transactions and a cheque book. A few days later, the counsellors visited the bank to collect their debit cards and to initiate internet banking process. Bheede informed that they were allowed to avail all the facilities as directed by the higher authorities. While completing the remaining formalities, Bheede made a remark to one of her colleagues that “blind hai, pata nahi kaise karegi? Hame to order follow karna hai”

The bank was not willing to take any responsibility and was dismissive of the needs of our counsellors. While Darshana and Shirin are educated, well employed and independent, the public sector has proved to be rigid and primitive in viewing disability as a burden for the society and further humiliate and discriminate their clients to an extent where they feel disempowered not because of being blind but because of the mindset of the people towards them. If this is the condition of the educated in the society, then one can only imagine the plight of the illiterate and the humiliation they must have undergone within the banking sector.


Eyeway has encountered many instances where the visually impaired have faced discrimination and problems of accessibility within the banking and financial services in Maharashtra. With the purpose to break the stereotypes and prejudices against the visually impaired, Eyeway has taken initiative to improve the behavioral practices of the officials working in the bank and to sensitize them about the RBI and IBA guidelines.

Unaware or Reluctant?

Balu Shinde is a government employee residing in Pune. He has raised an issue on behalf of his female colleague who was denied locker facility in the Bank of Maharashtra on the grounds of her visual disability. Balu and his colleague are totally blind. As per the RBI guidelines, his coworker wanted to avail the locker facility and requested the bank official to help her with the same. However, the official denied providing the services as the bank was not willing to take onus if any malpractices occur in the future.

Balu immediately contacted Eyeway to seek solution for his colleague. Our counsellors made him aware of the guiding principles implemented by RBI and IBA in the banking sector and made him understand that visually impaired are entitled to be provided with locker facilities either in the presence of a bank representative or any family member to help him out for handling valuables from the locker. When Balu and his colleague presented the IBA circular to the bank, the official firmly denied accepting it as he was not aware of such guidelines for persons with disability. He demanded for the regulations provided by the RBI.

Eyeway counsellors provided the soft copy of the RBI and IBA circulars to avail the locker facility easily. But still the bank official wanted to discuss it with the higher authorities and coordinate accordingly. Till date, Balu’s colleague is waiting for a response from the bank. It is unfortunate to comprehend that many employees are unaware of the circulars for persons with visual impairment and are not willing to take responsibilities of their duties.

Winning the right way

A 40-year-old central government employee, Sanjay Uike serves the Indian Navy. He lives in Lonavala near Pune. Sanjay requested the State Bank of India to provide him with a debit card for his personal use. However, the bank denied accepting his request as he was 100% visually impaired.

With disbelief and rage, Sanjay contacted Eyeway Helpdesk to seek help in procuring the debit card and his to regain his self-esteem. Our counsellors immediately provided him all the documents containing the RBI and IBA rules and regulations and suggested him to present these files to the bank official.

After a span of 10 days, Sanjay successfully procured his Debit Card with the help of the guidelines.

Banking Culture of Dishonesty

Vijay Salunke is totally blind since birth. He has completed his post-graduation and is self-employed since the past two years. He has requested various banks in Maharashtra for loans, however every bank has refused to deliver assistance as he is blind. Finally, Vijay was approached by Axis Bank in Pune and they were willing to offer him a credit card. On the other hand, the bank did not explain him the terms and conditions and handed over a hard copy which Vijay was unable to read. Without knowing much, he opted for a credit card. After few months, he realized that his account has been seized due to excess credit limit.

He only had one account through which he could fulfil his financial requirement. Devastated, he requested the bank authorities to exceed the time limit for repayment of the credit amount. He has been trying to resolve the issue for more than six months, and as a last resort came to Eyeway to find solutions. The counsellors clearly made him understand that every bank is obligated to follow their own policy. Further, the counsellors forwarded his query to an RBI official in Maharashtra. He guided Vijay about the procedures to resolve the problem and personally had a telephonic conversation with the Bank for a smooth functioning of the procedures.

At last, Vijay was able to make the repayment of his loan amount in one occasion. However, this traumatizing experience that he faced with the bank is something he would never forget. For his expansion of his establishment, Vijay never looked again towards any bank. Rather, he asked his friends for providing financial assistance as a loan to set up his business and started his venture. He also shared his experience about NHFDC organization which was supposed to be set up in order to fulfill the financial needs of handicapped aspirants for self-employment. However, they failed to implement their vision as acquiring loans from NHFDC was an extensive procedure and several visually impaired were unsuccessful in living up to their criteria.

Is banking sector really approachable?

Babasaheb Raut, is a 52-year-old government employee. He is an awardee of ‘National award for person with disability’. Babasaheb applied for issuing a credit card in various banks in Pune including the main branch of State Bank of India. However, with the trajectory that the banking sector follows, every bank rejected to provide a credit card because of his blindness and as he could not sign any documents. The officials were not accepting thumb impression in place of his signature. The Eyeway counsellors provided him with both the circulars in order to resolve his issue.

Raut believes that it was disturbing to have gone through such facets of discrimination even after being well-employed and being honored with a National Award. There should be proper course of action through RBI to stop discrimination against the visually impaired.

Despite having a legislative and executive push for inclusivity in all sectors, the adoption of accessibility of features and technologies in Indian banks today are rare to have occurred. Banks are not implementing the RBI and IBA guidelines and are inefficient to fulfill their legal requirements. It is important for them to understand that disability is not an obligation, but in turn would benefit the banks to ensure growth and development and provide a hassle-free environment to all its customers!