Increasing access to technology is being touted as the best path to financial inclusion for people living with disabilities (PLWDs).
The findings are captured in a MasterCard report, which notes that disability-friendly technologies provide PLWDs with an opportunity to gain financial freedom.
The report, Bridging the Disability Gap: An Opportunity to Make a Positive Impact, cites a number of physical constraints in accessing financial institutions and services that prevent PLWDs from banking independently.
Types of disabilities include visual, hearing, speech, mobility, cognitive, and psycho-social.
As part of the solution, the survey proposes reducing the gap in smartphone ownership, mobile internet usage, and digital literacy.
“Diversity, equity, and inclusion are part of who we are, and we bring this to life by deploying products, services, and partnerships that are aligned with the 2030 Agenda of ‘leaving no-one behind’,” said Umar Hashmi, Vice President, Global Product and Engineering, Mastercard.
Emerging technologies including artificial intelligence, machine learning, robotics, and the Internet of Things (IoT) can be delivered through apps and web-enabled services.
With more PLWDs owning digital devices and smartphones, it means they can access the emerging technologies which in turn addresses the accessibility gap in financial services.
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Physically challenged individuals usually face challenges traveling to the location of a financial institution, branch, or ATM.
Those that are visually impaired experience difficulty perceiving and understanding what is written on paper or electronic devices, while those with hearing challenges have trouble communicating with banking service providers.
The MasterCard survey includes real-life case studies of persons with disabilities having to depend on others to perform simple financial tasks.
It is estimated that 15 percent of the world’s population experience some form of disability, constituting the largest minority group globally,
A 2019 UN report cites data that show persons with disabilities consider 28 percent of banks in developed countries, and between eight percent and 64 percent of banks in some emerging economies, to be inaccessible.
A mobile-first approach to financial inclusion in the Middle East, Africa, and South Asia has been pointed out as a good starting point.
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The MasterCard white paper proposes the use of mobile banking as a solution, especially in the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic and the emergence of the ‘new normal’ that has increased user interfaces that are uncluttered, simple, and distilled to display core information in a user-friendly manner.
On the other hand, artificial intelligence (AI) and chat-bots are bridging the information gap by helping customers navigate banking tasks using conversational interfaces.
Contactless payments promote greater enablement, not only in stores but also at ATMs. Users can choose to interact with a familiar device such as an accessible smartphone rather than the kiosk when requesting cash withdrawals.
Text-to-speech or speech-enabled digital processes based on natural language processing (NLP) have profound implications for accessibility for those with sensory limitations.
Intuitive, personalized tools such as those that implement debit card spending controls and transaction monitoring can prove valuable for financial independence.
The latest Economic Survey shows about 49.4 percent of PLWDs in Kenya owned a mobile phone with females taking the lead at 51.6 percent, followed by males at 46.4 percent.
Assistive technologies are no longer a costly afterthought but an integral element in the design of products as manufacturers seek diversity and inclusion.