> Posted by Siddhartha Chowdri, Program Manager, Disability Inclusion, India, CFI

While attending the recent Techshare disability inclusion conference in New Delhi I was invited to attend a “High-Level Meeting on Inclusive Financial Service.” This meeting aimed at starting an intensive national dialogue on the use of technology in making banks in India more accessible to persons with disabilities (PWDs). This unique summit was organized by G3ICTthe Indian Banks’ Association (IBA)Xavier’s Resource Centre for the Visually Challenged (XRCVC), IBM’s Human Ability and Accessibility division, and the Centre for Internet and Society in Mumbai.

Ambassador Luis Gallegos, Chairman of G3ICT, Mohan Tanksale, Chief Executive of IBA, Sam Taraporevala, Director of XRCVC

Through the course of the afternoon many dignitaries shared their views and strategies on financial inclusion for PWDs. Senior leaders of the IBA (Mr. Mohan Tanksale) and the Reserve Bank of India (Ms. Sadana Verma and Mr. KC Anand) discussed the advances in regulation that have made banking more accessible to the blind and were extremely passionate about making the case to all financial institutions in the country that there is a legitimate business case for using available technologies to become more accessible.

After hearing the perspective of the banks and regulators the discussion turned to the technology providers. Mr. Nagesh Nayak of NCR gave us all a great lesson on how not to be accessible. NCR had the mandate to develop talking ATMs to enable visually impaired persons to access their accounts. He showed us a video that let us understand how the first talking ATMs did not actually improve access. For example, the ATM would ask the blind user to choose an option but then not say the options out loud. Then Mr. P. Ramachandran who flew in from IBM’s research headquarters in Austin, Texas explained how IBM’s Human Ability and Accessibility group is using technology to empower employees with various disabilities to make significant contributions to their business. If the likes of NCR and IBM can be so proactive in promoting accessibility and provide tools and case studies, then hopefully the financial service providers of the world will not be too far behind.

The greatest insights for the day came from two blind participants that have experienced the frustrations of inaccessible financial services firsthand. Mr. Ketan Kothari of Sightsavers recounted how his mother who cannot use a computer was readily given access to internet banking, but he was denied the service because he was blind. Financially literate and highly educated blind people are treated on par with the illiterate. Mr. Sam Taraporevala, Director of Xavier’s Resource Centre for the Visually Challenged (XRCVC) who presided over the opening discussions, encouraged regulators and bankers to set standards based on full accessibility. For example, a fully accessible ATM would enable a person to complete a transaction even if you turned off the screen. He was very clear that given ever-evolving technological capabilities, regulators and bankers should not focus on specific and prescriptive methods of inclusion (talking ATMs, ramps for bank branches, sign-language interpreters). He explained to the forum that we need to define what it means for people to have access and then reconfigure existing technology and innovate new processes to achieve this level of accessibility. For example, the Unique Identification authentication that is being rolled out across India could significantly enhance people with disabilities to access financial services. (Incidentally, this has significance for various vulnerable populations.)

After the discussions the participants coordinated with the team at XRCVC to form working groups in specific areas related to inclusion. It was also agreed by all the participants that in the next such forum we need to include discussions around challenges of people with other disabilities than visual impairment and think much beyond ATMs when we think about financial access. In a country like India, where less than half of the population uses ATMs, it is absolutely essential to understand how PWDs in the other half access financial services.

This event and this drive for technology enabled digital inclusion would not be possible without the enormous efforts and visionary leadership of the Chairman of G3ICT, Ambassador Luis Gallegos, and its President, Mr. Axel Leblois. Collaborative, high-level, multi-sector dialogues like this are going to be essential to accelerate the pace of disability inclusion in financial services. And I hope in India that we are able to one day realize their vision through and turn this dialogue into action.

Have you read?

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

How Financial Services Providers Can Extend Disability Inclusion

Combatting Exclusion for Persons With Disabilities in India and Mexico