Demonetization Blues

Govt needs to ensure that the recent demonetization does not lead to financial exclusion of the blind and visually impaired citizens

If the recent demonetization of 1000 and 500 rupee notes has to be made into a success for all sections of society then one needs to pay attention to the below listed red flags as far as persons with blindness and visual impairment are concerned. A cashless digital economy may imply near financial exclusion of the blind population from the mainstream economy.

  • Several banks in the country refuse to offer banking services (opening of accounts, issuing credit and debit cards, issuing loans) to blind and visually impaired people. This despite the clear RBI/IBA guidelines that ensure provision of normal banking facilities to persons with visual impairment.
  • Most banking websites are inaccessible with captchas, graphics etc. posing as hurdles to free navigation. The government needs to ensure that banks provide persons with visual impairement easy access to internet banking services for payment transfers (like NEFT/RTGS) and any other banking transactions.
  • A lot of newly launched as well as existing e-wallets and apps (like UPI, Paytm) are not accessible. The government needs to set standards of accessibility before these apps/wallets are put into use by the general population.
  • Just as many other sections of the population, a large section of the blind population is not digitally literate. It is critical to train and empower them so they can be an active part of the newly emerging digital economy. This might also involve in providing easy affordable access to assistive devices and technology.
  • There is negligible or no assistance offered to visually impaired people at the banks. Unless the bank officials and employees are sensitized towards the needs of a blind person, accessing banking services will end up being an unpleasantly difficult task for the blind population.
  • A lot of ATMs are inaccessible to the blind because they cannot read/see the instructions that appear on ATM screens. Government needs to ensure the ATMs are technologically accessible (like talking ATMs) to persons with visual impairment.
  • The new 2000 and 500 rupee notes issued by the RBI are not particularly accessible to persons with blindness and visual impairment. There have been several reports from different parts of the country where visually impaired people have complained of the notes not having proper marks for easy identification, being of the same size as some of the smaller denomination notes and so on. Steps need to be taken to ensure proper accessibility of new currency notes.

The government (including respective ministries) need to address the aforementioned issues to ensure a smooth transition into a growing digital economy which is accommodative and accessible to persons with blindness and visual impairment as much as it is to any other citizen of this country.

Below are links to some news reports that have recently appeared on demonetization and the visually impaired.