Demonetisation and Disability

Demonetisation, cashless transactions, digital banking, eradication of black money, Whatever you call on the great initiative taken by the Prime Minister, I whole heartedly accept the move. In my own little way I am supporting by making 80 to 85 percent of my monthly spending with e-cash. Along the way I see many problems being a non-visual user. I am sure these problems are true to every individual with visual challenges in the country.

Before I drive you through the problems, let me provide you with some realities and a little background of banking support for persons with disabilities.

The background

In 2007 India ratified United Nations Convention on rights of persons with disabilities. This means

Countries that join in the Convention engage themselves to develop and carry out policies, laws and administrative measures for securing the rights recognized in the Convention and abolish laws, regulations, customs and practices that constitute discrimination (Article 4).

Taken from The convention in briefExternal Website (www.un.org).

Following this ratification, Reserve bank of India passed two circulars in November 2007External Website and June 2008External Website to address the needs of persons with disabilities. The summary of these circulars is to avoid discrimination in providing the banking facilities to the customers on the grounds of their disability.

Even after this initiative many bankers repeatedly denied facilities such as debit cards and internet banking for persons with disabilities.

Problems with digital banking

Let us now suppose that debit card and internet banking facilities are made available for persons with disabilities. Understand the next challenges for them.

As per 2011 censusExternal Website almost 27 million of total population in India have a disability. Almost 18 million have been reported in rural India.

Non-availability of banking facilities

As I have outlined in earlier sections, despite of circulars by RBI, many bankers deny cheque, debit/ credit card and online banking facilities for persons with disabilities. Due to this many of them cannot be a part in the demonetization initiative.

Digital illiteracy

Due to very limited education facilities and typical Indian parenting problems many people with disabilities have to be at home, only can do primary education or restrict themselves to home education system. This cause a huge barrier for digital literacy. This means people with disabilities cannot use online banking facilities and can be a part of demonetization.

Problems for rest of persons with disabilities

The story is not over yet. The digital accessibility comes into picture. Most of the banking websites, mobile applications and the payment gateway systems are inaccessible. Below are few such problems that prevent persons with disabilities from participating in the cashless society or that prevent from being part of demonetization.

1. Inaccessible websites

As I have outlined in a blog earlier this year most of the public sector websites are inaccessible. I am sure most of the private sector websites will not stand behind. For instance the private sector website I use does not allow a JAWS user to transfer funds. The fund transfer link itself cannot be located when accessed with the JAWS screen reader. It is very much important to make the bank websites accessible.

Secondly we should not forget the payment gateways such as payUmoney, mobikwik, Paytm etc. As a frequent user the experience is definitely not a satisfaction to me.

Finally the check-out or payment pages of the websites through which the user does the transaction too are not accessible. I used to have a real tough time paying the electricity bill as the providers website is inaccessible. I often used to fail 3 times and used to be successful in 4th or 5th attempt.

So the bottom line is, if the cash less transactions need to be successful the service providers such as electricity, tax, telephone and other consumer required websites, payment gateways and bank websites need to be made accessible.

2. Mobile applications and Accessibility

To encourage cash less transactions, governments are launching the mobile apps for the citizens. Ideally these apps should serve the users as their personal wallets. The one recently launched by honorable Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh called AP Purse is one such app. I have not checked it’s accessibility though, these apps need to be made accessible. Similar problems of websites outlined above holds same for mobile applications. The service provider apps, bank websites and gateway applications need to be accessible in-order to be a transaction successful.

The rural part of India and most of the urban regions highly rely on smart phones for various transactions. Major part of cash less transactions are going to be mobile driven. The mobile app accessibility should be a high priority for service providers and the government agencies.

3. Accessibility of swipe machines

The next untouched area so far or generally ignorred is the accessibility of swipe machines or electronic data capture (EDC) devices. These are also called as point of sale terminals. Debit / Credit cards are used to make payments through these point of sale terminals. In general the visually challenged customer will not know the amount swiped by the retailer unless a message pops up into the users mobile. On the other hand the user has to compromise on the debit / credit card secret pin to a unknown person. May be an accessible alternate need to be brainstormed to this problem. These kind of payment is going to hit largely in the market with the new cash less initiative of Government of India.

These are the major areas Government of India should immediately look at. Through this article I am highlighting the needs and fore-seen problems of persons with disabilities because of cash less society. In no way I am against the initiative of Government of India. On the other hand if the above said problems are taken care by the committee formed by GOI, additional set of users i.e. citizens with disabilities can take part in the cash less initiative and benefit out of the incentives provided.

Last updated on 22nd December, 2016

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