> Posted by Fernando Botelho, Founder, F123 Consulting
Microfinance institutions (MFIs) may not be aware of tools and resources at their disposal that can make it easier for them to work with persons with disabilities (PWDs) as clients or staff. A new tool launched a few weeks ago attempts to close this gap, “Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities in Microfinance through Organizational Learning and the Strategic Use of Low-Cost Technologies.” This tool is part of the Framework for Disability Inclusion toolkit produced by CFI through work with Fundación Paraguaya and others.
The new tool provides concrete guidance for selecting appropriate technologies, forming partnerships with disability-related organizations, and incorporating disability inclusion throughout an organization. It was developed by myself and my organization, F123 Consulting, inspired by our work with the staff of Fundación Paraguaya, to make their organization more disability inclusive.
For example, free and open source assistive technologies can be used by organizations that have an interest in ensuring that operational and financial viability are maintained. In that regard, it’s important to take advantage of the many available low-cost, high performing technologies, and to adapt instead of replace existing processes whenever possible. Managers don’t have to roll their eyes and fret about cost. Small modifications to already existing systems can often make MFIs accessible to staff and clients with disabilities. And the best part is that some of these modifications are free!
For example, within communications technologies, it’s important to consider the digital infrastructure as a whole in enabling the use of assistive technologies. The effectiveness of assistive technologies, such as screen reading software and virtual keyboards, depends as much on overall system infrastructure, including communication protocols, file formats, and software interfaces, as on their own capabilities. If an organization adopts open communication protocols, these channels will be interoperable with a wide range of applications, increasing the opportunities for compatibility with assistive technologies. If an organization adopts a closed protocol, such as that with Microsoft’s Skype, the result is the opposite.
To ensure organizational learning, i.e. change that is ongoing and widespread, technology is of course not enough. An MFI must have a holistic approach that includes disability-related goals and objectives in its usual processes ranging from executive evaluations to strategic and operational plans.
It is important that departments within the organization, such as IT, internal audit, human resources, and commercial/credit, are on-board with the initiative. Each department has disability-inclusion responsibilities that apply to their work. For example, IT departments play a crucial role since many tools are geared towards technological solutions to improve accessibility. But even more than new technologies, the inclusion of PWDs requires the adoption of new attitudes and processes. The tool includes guidance on department-specific institutional processes to initiate and strengthen inclusive practices as part of their day-to-day routines.
Fernando Botelho is the Founder of F123 Consulting. F123 Consulting provides NGOs, government, private sector groups, and educational institutions technical and managerial guidance on inclusion of blind and visually impaired persons.
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