A compassionate approach to the financial needs of persons with disabilities, supported by innovative technology solutions, has the potential to address the needs of the most vulnerable members of society across the Middle East and Africa, a recently released white paper from Mastercard has revealed.
The Mastercard study, Bridging the Disability Gap: An Opportunity to Make a Positive Impact, reveals that digital inclusion is the pathway to financial inclusion for persons with disabilities.
As governments adopt and prioritize policies to improve the accessibility of services, this paves the way for public and private sector financial institutions, mobile network operators (MNO), fintech providers, and other organizations to develop and apply solutions.
A combination of physical constraints in accessing financial institutions and services prevents many persons with disabilities from banking independently.
Depending on the type of disability, this includes being unable to travel to and enter a financial institution, branch, or ATM, not perceiving and understanding what is written on paper or electronic devices, being unable to hear, understand, and communicate with banking service providers, and being unable to access paper or digital content.
A 2019 UN report cites data that show persons with disabilities consider 28% of banks in developed countries, and between 8% and 64% banks in some emerging economies, to be inaccessible.
However, measures are being taken to address this, at the government and corporate levels.
The UAE has enforced a federal law concerning the Rights of People with Disabilities. Emirates NBD bank has imparted Disability Equality Training to over 2,100 of its staff and has also taught them American Sign Language.
The bank’s Disability Friendly Branch project, implemented in 2016, aims to facilitate and ease the banking experience. The three-phase transformation integrates infrastructure, technology, and services to enable and enhance accessibility.
According to the Mastercard white paper, in the Middle East and Africa, using digital inclusion as the pathway to financial inclusion for persons with disabilities must involve reducing the gap in smartphone ownership, mobile internet usage, and digital literacy.
Approximately 63 percent of the world’s population is now online since the pandemic. Research in select low- and middle-income countries in the Middle East and Africa shows that, despite a large mobile disability gap, widening at each stage of the user’s journey, 62 percent of adults with disabilities own mobile phones and 21% own smartphones.
The emerging technologies of the Fourth Industrial Revolution – such as artificial intelligence, machine learning, robotics, and the internet of things – have the potential to be delivered through apps and web-enabled services. This makes it possible to address the accessibility gap in financial services.
Since a diverse range of factors contributes to the lack of financial access for persons with disabilities, financial inclusion requires that each form of disability be addressed via innovative solutions, formulated for specific use cases.
While solutions by stakeholders with an international presence, like Mastercard, have the potential to be applied globally, the varied landscape of opportunities and challenges across regions necessitates a localized approach.