> Posted by Pina D’Intino, Senior Manager, Scotiabank

The Financial Inclusion 2020 campaign at the Center for Financial Inclusion at Accion is building a movement toward full financial inclusion by 2020. Accordingly, this blog series will spotlight financial inclusion efforts around the globe, share insights coming out of the creation of a roadmap to full financial inclusion, and highlight findings from research on the “invisible market.”

In 1998, I unexpectedly lost my sight as a result of a medical complication. One of the first things that struck me was the impact this disability had on my day-to-day living, including my ability to independently and confidentially access and conduct my banking. Thankfully, I was still employed and could continue to save and invest towards the purchase of a home and ultimately plan for retirement. However, this proved to be much more difficult than I imagined.

Today, 15 years later, and after acquiring sufficient skills to use a screen reader, I am able to access my retail accounts for basic banking but am still unable to effectively use tools with my screen reader that will allow me to estimate the cost of purchasing a home or what my mortgage would be, nor am I able to independently use simple investment or trade tools that would allow my savings to grow. All this despite the evolving technical enablers and my digital literacy increasing.

As more and more branches are moving towards self-service tools, it has become harder to meet in person with a financial advisor. And yet, I cannot independently access information that would allow me to make informed decisions, cannot independently conduct or monitor my investments, and need someone to read to me the complex and lengthy application forms that I need to complete. Furthermore, if I go to a branch with someone else, at times, the staff will not allow me to include the person in the conversation unless a proxy or power of attorney is on file for them to disclose any personal information. At other times, they will speak to the person who comes with me, rather than speaking to me directly.

Pina D’Intino (third from left) among others who work in disability inclusion at the FI2020 Global Forum

Why is it that after all these years and many published standards, legislation, and policies that promote access to information and communication, we continue to face such barriers?

Some of the things that could make it possible for us, people with visual disabilities, to take care of our needs simply include accessible websites and on-line tools. Whether using a screen reader, a magnifier, or simply having the ability to personalize the way I access my banking, I should be able to take care of my banking needs independently. As you can imagine, having to listen to everything using a screen reader can be overwhelming and confusing at times, so it would also be helpful if banking documents could be simplified and easily navigated, and forms or applications could be completed  independently. For example, most often, I can complete a portion of a given form, but then I’m expected to print it, sign it, scan it, and return it. How do I know where to sign? How do I know what the scanned version looks like? For someone like me an accessible form and acceptance of electronic signatures would go a long way.

Policies need to be flexible to meet the needs of persons with disabilities (PWDs) and ensure we are treated with respect and dignity. However, it is also important to recognize that the way I conduct my banking may be very different from someone else who has the same or similar disability. Banking staff must be trained to understand the needs of PWDs and refrain from assuming they know how the customer wants to be served. Ask, don’t assume.

For more information on Financial Inclusion 2020, sign up for project updates.

Pina D’Intino is the Senior Manager of the Enabling Solutions and Management team at Scotiabank, Toronto, Canada and is chair of the Accessible Financial Services initiatives at G3/ICT. Pina has acquired more than 27 years of experience in the IT and financial industry. She is also the chair of the Canadian Financial Institutions on Assistive Technologies (CFIAT), bringing together financial organizations to leverage and share accessibility practices and strategies, and a board member on the International Association of Accessibility Professionals (IAAP).

Image credit: The Center for Financial Inclusion

Have you read?

A How-To Guide to Realizing Disability Inclusion at MFIs is Now Available

A Call for Disability-Inclusive Development at the UN

Combatting Exclusion for Persons With Disabilities in India and Mexico