Eyeway Stories

How will this discrimination end?

One of the frequently reported issues on our Eyeway Helpdesk from blind and visually impaired people across India, is the discrimination meted out to them by nationalized as well as private banks.

Our helpline counselors are fully equipped to resolve such challenges faced by the callers. Often the problem is addressed by producing the RBI issued banking guidelines to the concerned officials. In the course of these interactions, the counselors and visually impaired customers also sensitize the bank authorities about access to equal financial rights for all citizens, irrespective of blindness.

Recently, our Maharashtra Helpdesk counselor encountered similar discrimination by a private bank in Mumbai. Shirin Kheriwala is a 46-year-old woman living with an eye condition called Retinitis Pigmentosa. She finished her education from Pune University and is a financially independent person, serving the needs of thousands of visually impaired persons like her.

Having lived with vision impairment, she understands the importance of access to equal opportunities, when it comes to products or services. In the process of opening a salary account, Shirin was asked to use a thumb impression instead of signatures like her sighted colleagues. When she protested, the bank officials shared their lack of understanding on how a person with vision impairment could sign and open an account.

Shirin not only insisted on signing on the account opening form but also asked for all services including net banking, debit card, credit, and loan services. The bank representative could not deny at that moment, but he returned three days later, asking to close the account and initiate opening a new one using a ‘special’ form for blind individuals. And for this she was asked to visit the branch physically as opposed to her sighted peers who could open accounts via online mode.

Shirin was surprised as no such special forms exist specifically for disabled customers. She was also asked to sign an undertaking that she was fit to take care of her debit card. Again, appalled by this, she clarified with the banking official if the bank takes responsibility of debit cards issued to sighted customers.

Irked by this experience and the inability to get a functional account with all facilities, Shirin approached the nodal officer with her complaint. She reiterated her rights as an independent and financially capable person, following which the officer intervened to resolve the matter entirely.

This and similar such incidents allude to the lack of awareness that exists top down in the banking system. There are clearly stated provisions and guidelines, but the staff that interacts with customers is not trained or sensitized or even equipped with relevant information. How will we stop discrimination if we don’t even educate the people in the implementation chain?

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