Not just a ramp, online banking needs to be accessible too

By George Abraham

I recall, once on my way back from work, my driver stopped at a petrol pump to refuel the car. When it was time to pay, I was handed a card swipe machine with a touch screen to complete the transaction. Being a blind user, I wondered how I was expected to key in my password without a screen reading software installed in the machine. The sales representative suggested that I let my driver put in the confidential code, which I refused and insisted for a machine with a keypad. Reluctantly, the representative got me a machine with a keypad. On any keypad or dial pad, the digit 5 is highlighted with a dotted tactile impression which helps blind people orient and locate other numbers around to press the desired ones.

In another incident, I received a call from my bank’s Relationship Manager informing me about the recent upgrade of the mobile banking app. When I downloaded the updated version and tried to transfer funds using the app, the ‘confirm’ button was not read out by the screen reader on my phone, preventing me from carrying out the transaction independently. On the contrary, before the app upgrade, the process was quite accessible. The state of affairs is such that on calling up customer care support to report this glitch, it took me half-an-hour to explain to the executive what accessibility of online banking means for a person with vision impairment.

On another occasion, I had to take my daughter’s help because I was unable to click the fund transfer button on my computer even while using the keyboard. She was able to help me by maneuvering the mouse on the ‘displayed’ menu items, which I didn’t have any way of accessing. Unlike their sighted counterparts, blind people like me engage with the digital space using screen readers like voice-overs, TalkBack, NVDA (Nonvisual Desktop Access), JAWS (Job Access with Speech) through their smartphones or computers. When using computers, we navigate using the keyboard’s ‘tab’ or ‘arrow’ key. Similarly, on the phone, we swipe and select through double-tapping on the screen.

Banks and technology developers either lack awareness about accessibility or do not consider visually-impaired people an integral part of their user base, which is a matter of concern. The fact is that successful blind professionals are working across various streams and contribute effectively to the country’s economy. They rely heavily on banking services, including the monthly remunerations to be credited into their accounts.

The Reserve Bank of India mandates that banking should be inclusive for persons with disabilities. Inclusion does not merely imply having accessibility provisions at the bank. Online banking facilities also need to be made accessible. At a time when we have ATMs, internet banking, e-Wallets, Apps and other technologically advanced banking services and digital platforms, all financial services should be fully accessible. However, the sad reality is that only a handful of these services cater to the needs of visually-impaired customers.

Denial of accessible banking services further increases the dependence of blind citizens on sighted peers making them vulnerable and invading their privacy. Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act 2016 mandates that all public facilities and services including financial and banking services should be accessible to all.

To realize the dream of an ‘inclusive’ India, first and foremost the accessibility barriers need to be broken down.