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Global Accessibility Awareness Day: Lunch & Learn Session

Background is a person on a laptop with financial graphics. Text: Global Accessibility Awareness Day. Join us for a panel discussion on banking and financial inclusion. 17th May 2023. 12.30.

Jointly hosted by Sight and Sound Technology and the British Assistive Technology Association (more commonly known as BATA)

Banking and Financial Inclusion: Feedback from the VI Community

How is our banking system inaccessible?

  • There’s an ongoing issue with the provision of audio output on ATMs. Either the ATM doesn’t offer audio output or audio is not enabled. Previously users could use ATMs by plugging in their headphones and listening to the audio. However, the migration to touchscreen ATMs is adding to this problem.
  • There’s an ongoing accessibility issue with Chip n Pin machines and in-branch/in-store payment systems. The increasing rollout of touchscreen Chip n Pins and the inaccessibility of these devices has led to service users confronting major security risks in relation to their personal data. They must verbally disclose their PINs to in-store personnel whom they don’t know.
  • Inaccessible banking notes have caused customers/service users to permit personnel to have access to their wallets to retrieve cash. This is common practice among the elderly. Once again, this leaves VI service users socially vulnerable and vulnerable to major security risks.
  • The migration to online banking has removed the social and humane aspect of the banking system, once again leading to social vulnerability and exclusion among VI citizens.


What are the possible workarounds to combat these issues?

  • Regular audits of ATMs/Payment Systems should be conducted at least once a year.
  • A report card system would be helpful to feed back to banks about what’s working well and what isn’t, and to highlight those banks that are working to improve accessibility standards.
  • ATMs that offer enlarged text/customizable color themes should become more commonplace. There is evidence of this happening already, but we need to see an increase over time.
  • Increased provision of cash-back in stores to combat the ongoing accessibility issue with ATMs. However, it is important to note that you cannot avail of cash-back with a credit card.
  • Tactile banking notes should be provided more frequently. There is evidence of tactile banking notes being produced, however, these are not available for Scottish and Northern Irish Sterling notes at present.
  • Cash Reader Apps and apps such as Be My Eyes can often be very helpful if users have difficulty deciphering banking notes.
  • Transfer to another, more accessible bank should be considered. Many elderly VI citizens have been loyal to their traditional bank for years. However, there is evidence that loyalty to traditional banks is diminishing. Sometimes it’s worth the hassle of changing banks if another bank provides a better standard of accessibility for it’s users.

Panelist 1: Introducing Richard Holmes

  • Richard is RNIB’s Stakeholder Engagement Manager, and Chair of BATA’s VI Special Interest Group.
  • Richard has 25yrs experience working in the charity sector, where he has held a variety of policy, campaigns, and public affairs roles.


Discussion with Richard Holmes

It appears automation is becoming more commonplace in today’s high-street banking system, and the role of personnel seems to be assisting customers in using automated machines, for example, when lodging cheques. Would you agree with this? How do you see the situation with regards to increased levels of automation in today’s banking system?

Yes, the drive seems to be very much towards automated in-branch banking and online banking nowadays to mitigate the rapidly increasing closure of local branches and the time and effort invested in face-to-face banking. Nowadays we seem to be driven more towards app solutions where it is theoretically possible to pay in a cheque via an app. Personally, having sight loss myself, I have not braved this yet and I still prefer to go into a bank branch to conduct such tasks. I think the trend is very much driving traffic towards web solutions, and as a general point of view, it’s always good to consider how impactful technology has been for VI users over the last 25-30yrs. On the other hand, I don’t think it’s wise to assume that progress in this area is always going to be linear.


Since you work in policy/campaigning and engage frequently with service users who get left behind by the system, what do you observe from those who are contacting you through RNIB/BATA?

Well, if you think about the demographic of VI people being mostly older, then you can start to think about some of the implications of moving from face-to-face to online banking. The levels of exclusion faced by VI people are likely to be twice as high compared to the sighted public, so that’s a significant issue. But then, how do we deal with these individuals/find workarounds to solve this problem? A possible solution could involve disclosure to a friend, neighbour, carer etc, on a consistent or, more alarmingly, on an ad hoc basis. This would involve handing out your personal banking details and accepting all the potential implications that can lead from this, including diminished financial independence. If you think about the narrative of being able to access cash simply by going to an ATM, that’s when it’s become increasingly difficult, and the increasing rollout of touch-screen machines has caused the payment system to become increasingly difficult as well. So, I suppose we are hearing problems at both ends of the process which are intrinsically linked in the sense that people might want to have access to ready cash to mitigate the potential risk of coming up against a touchscreen whilst performing daily routine tasks including shopping. It’s a vicious circle in the sense that it may be difficult to access cash if there are few ATMs with audio output available, and this means that you are heavily reliant on a payment system which is equally inaccessible. If the shop in question doesn’t offer accessible payment facilities, then it’s back to a solution of handing control over to others, which is also not ideal.


Yes, I have had 1st hand experience of the payment system myself when I was out for lunch one day with somebody I didn’t really know well, and I had to disclose my PIN to a member of staff at the till to make payment since it was the quickest way to do that. You do feel disempowered, don’t you?

Absolutely, it’s very frustrating, and again it’s one of those issues that’s interconnected with other issues in our daily lives. If you’re having a good day, you would probably have the confidence to do this, but if your day isn’t going well, for example, if you’ve fallen over many obstacles trying to walk along your own street, then something like this is more likely to bother you. I suppose, at the outset it’s like handing over any other information which would be given to personnel including health information/information on taxes. However, I think banking information is becoming increasingly like health information in the sense that it’s completely confidential. Naturally, if our sighted peers get involved, they will receive and potentially view our information before ourselves, and exportation of information brings many alarming financial implications. One of the worst implications for us would be that we potentially don’t get our information 1st hand, which is a massive breach to our right to confidentiality.


At present, who in the banking sector is advocating for those with disabilities? What’s happening in the space now?

Well, I think there’s a good deal more understanding within the sector itself regarding some of the issues previously discussed. The Financial Combat Authority, which is a UK body and finance, are very aware of some of the concerns raised. I suppose one of the challenges in this area is that there’s an awful lot and it’s about trying to work out the correct target for the message being conveyed. For example, in terms of the accessibility of ATMs and the increasing use of flat cards without numbers on them, it’s about making these more accessible and distinctive. The payment system is a tricky one as well since banks acquire from several providers, and the message would go to different groups. That said, there is an increased awareness and understanding, and indeed a willingness to address some of these points from within the sector. I think it would be helpful if banks collectively or individually undertook an audit of where they currently are. Otherwise, it’s difficult for everyone to get a clear picture of the current situation in terms of accessibility, what needs improvement, and what’s working well. Certainly, an audit needs to be done in terms of ATMs with audio output. We need to establish the following; how many ATMs have audio output, how many have their audio switched on and functional, and how often are they checked? This would enable us to go back in 12 months’ time and assess if/how the situation has improved. I consider it imperative for VI people to be involved in the auditing and implementation process from the outset, but I suppose this is a working progress.

Panelist 2: Introducing Josh O’ Connor

  • Josh is Head of InterAccess, a leading Irish accessibility consultancy.
  • Josh is ex-Chair of the Accessibility Guidelines Working Group at the w3c.
  • Josh is ex-Editor of the WCAG 2.1 Accessibility Standards.

Discussion with Josh O’ Connor

Since auditing apps and websites is your bread and butter, can you describe the current state of online banking from your point of view?

Firstly, I think this touches on a much broader societal issue, for example, when we consider the lack of physical access to personnel and services and the impact on those with disabilities/the elderly. Even though technological solutions are great, overuse of such solutions removes the humane aspect of things, causing our society to become far too mechanistic and our VI citizens to become socially vulnerable. However, in answer to your question, there is certainly more awareness around accessibility and the various legislative/policy type requirements have raised more discourse around it which is great. We see that people are looking to conform to standards and be more accessible as essentially there is a stick there. The European Accessibility Act is coming more to the forefront as it is going to cover banking and related services as well as other services (websites, smartphones, eBooks, ATMs, travel). However, where this leads and how successful it is we don’t really know at this point. From a banking perspective there is certainly a commercial imperative to have effective, well-designed systems that can solve the needs of users. Overall, I think many of the challenges faced by the sector haven’t really changed.


So, to focus on the positive, one of the things we want to talk about is things that do work well, as clearly some things are indeed working well. I’d like to discuss non-traditional banks such as Revolut. I started using Revolut about a year ago, and now I’m wondering how I ever managed without it. Would you say that these types of banks that establish themselves with their own apps are more likely to make themselves accessible? Have you seen anything there?

Unfortunately, no I haven’t because I haven’t been looking at that sector in the context of the work that InterAccess does in auditing and testing. What would be interesting though would be to look at these non-traditional banks and identify the differences in terms of their accessibility and usability. I do know of a German bank that has a well-designed app and you can tell that they’ve made a demonstrable effort to make the online banking experience as good as possible. I’m afraid I can’t speak much about its accessibility, but in terms of its general usability it’s very good. I think traditional banks have been a little lazy in the sector and have legacy systems that they’re not necessarily eager to change. Fortunately, some have been more proactive than others, and there’s a definite commercial imperative there. New players in the space must realise that if they can design and make these systems as usable and accessible as possible, there is a commercial win there. There are 80M people with disabilities in the EU, so if people can’t go to traditional banks because the services are terrible, then they’re going to gun for non-traditional alternatives, aren’t they? That’s a substantial market right there!


I know you’ve already touched on the issues of accessibility and usability. In general, if a product/service is usable by the public, is there a better chance it’s going to be accessible for VI users? Do you see a link there?

Yes, you could say there’s been more attention paid to positive user experience in a general sense, but when you think about something being inaccessible, my first question is always “to whom is this inaccessible?”, because accessibility is always such a broad definition that covers many cohorts of users with different, and in certain cases, competing needs. In fact, that’s something that people don’t understand when they first contemplate accessibility. They think that accessibility is just one umbrella they can put everybody under, and it’s going to work. However, you may have needs for one group that are the complete opposite to the needs of another. That said, it’s generally a good rule of thumb that if something is quite usable, there is evidence of a culture within an organization that pays attention to people’s needs. If you do that, then it means you can build requirements to support those needs, and if you don’t understand the user requirement you’re trying to meet, then you’re just trying to conform to some standard. This could lead you down the wrong path and you may end up with token accessibility, such as braille behind the glass of a vending machine.


When a product/service is inaccessible, VI individuals often become overwhelmed and fatigued, and they feel as though the problem lies with them. Obviously, this is not the case. How can people advocate for and stand up for themselves in this situation?

Absolutely, service users are not the problem here. It’s critically important that you let personnel know you’ve got a problem with the service, and if it’s an accessibility related problem you have, then others most likely have that problem as well. However, if you don’t advocate for yourself, then you could say you’re tacitly accepting the problem by not reporting it, and that’s not something we want to maintain. I agree with Richard that none of the benefits of accessibility in this area occur in isolation or affect just one group. There’s a halo affect around this which is important to note. So, in a way, you could say this problem affects you individually, but if you suspect it could also affect somebody else, then you should make that known as well. It’s always best to sell the benefits of an accessible service to whoever you’re dealing with when lodging your complaint and say to them “doing this would benefit x, y, and z”. In a way, accessibility becomes something else that must be done in an organization. For example, if we look at conformance and compliance from the perspective of an organization and what they need to do, there’s so much that must be done nowadays, whether it’s GDPR or environmental concerns. The list of conformance requirements is never-ending these days, not just in the government or public sector, but in private sector businesses. So, being a positive advocate means not just stating there’s a problem, but also emphasizing the benefits of the solution for both you and others. We must be clear about the wins and gains of making services more accessible and removing barriers.


You touch on an interesting point about complacency among VI service users and their reluctance to lodge complaints. Admittedly I have failed to lodge complaints myself on occasions. Perhaps, as VI service users, we all have a responsibility to do our part?

Absolutely, and one thing that springs to mind when you use the word “responsibility” is people constantly talking about their rights and entitlements in various sectors of our society. But what about responsibility? What are the things we should be doing? I think this goes way beyond the issue of disability in the sense that it is a much broader, personal integrity issue. We all need to live in a way that coordinates with our values and is in sync with what we feel is important. If certain things in our society aren’t the way they should be, then we need to fight for those things not in a literal sense, but by standing firm and saying no to something whilst emphasizing how things could be improved. We want to see things turned around in a positive way.


Do you think it’s a good idea to let our banks know when they’re doing something right?

Yes, I think we must appreciate when things are good, and accessibility is one of those things that comes in waves. Sometimes there’s a sudden flurry of interest in accessibility and inclusivity, and we jump on that and ride the crest of that wave. That said, interest can suddenly fall away, so we must make sure we are being supportive and positive when things are good, and interest is high.


By Shauna Humphries.