Three years ago, from ramparts of the Red Fort Prime Minister Modi had spoken about financial inclusion which has since then successfully made a paradigm shift in banking penetration. Now, after opening new banking accounts for most households, we must move to the next stage where benefits should reach the silent majority of those individuals with disability.
- India, a signatory of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in effect from May 2008, has an obligation to comply to the convention which promotes, defends and reinforces human rights of the disabled.
- As the 10th year of compliance to one of the most comprehensive human right treaty of the 21st century approaches, India needs to take a look at its efforts for the disabled.
What is the status of differently abled?
- Disability refers to an individual who lacks abilities to perform an activity in the manner or within the range considered normal for a human being.
- The country has about 2.7 Crore people categorised as Persons with Disability (PwD).
- This mainly comprises of people with blindness, low vision, hearing impairment, locomotor disability, mental challenges and mental illness.
- Those with locomotor disability account for the largest share (20%) amongst the differently abled followed by those with visual and hearing disability.
- Nearly 69% of PwDs stay in rural areas.
- Only 1/3rd of this differently abled population are working out of which 31% are in agriculture.
- ILO claimed that around 75% of PwDs in India are still outside theworkforce.
- PwDs account for only 0.5% of total workforce in the organised sector.
Financial inclusion till now
- Consequent to the Prime Minister’s Jan Dhan Yojana, nearly 99.9 per cent of households now have a bank account. A bank account implies availability of financial resources, for livelihood purposes, at reasonable rates without being at the mercy of greedy money lenders charging exorbitant interest rates.
- India, though unrecognised, has been a pioneer in financial inclusion starting with nationalisation of commercial banks in 1955, 1969 and 1980, and undertaking various initiatives such as priority sector lending and encouraging microfinance institutions for higher banking penetration.
- However, following continues to restrict financial inclusion of certain sections of society, especially the disabled- Lack of awareness, Poverty, low income, Illiteracy and Inadequate branch network
Who are the disabled in the country?
- The country has, by extremely conservative estimates, about 2.7 crore people categorised as persons with disability (PwD). Census 2011 shows that nearly 69 percent of PwDs stay in rural areas and only one-third of this disabled population are working, out of which 31 per cent are in agriculture. Those with locomotor disability accounted for largest share of 20 per cent amongst the disabled followed by those with visual and hearing disability.
- In fact, though not included, a large number of 11 crore elderly also struggle with similar disabilities impacting their banking activities.
In view of the diversity in the issues faced as well as types of disabilities, necessitate a need for multi-spectral approach to ensure financial inclusion of PwDs.
- To address the issue of financial inclusion of the disabled, global practices vary.
- International guidelines for web accessibility are followed by countries such as Australia, New Zealand and the US. It ensures multiple formats of information like audio, braille documents and larger font size, and images with text description.
- Tactile keypads optimized ATM locations, ramp facilities, larger screens, audio output, low tables, specialized privacy standards during banking operation are features ensured in Australia, Sweden and the US.
How can inclusion be achieved?
- Factors such as lack of awareness, poverty, low income, illiteracy, unemployment and inadequate branch network continue to restrict financial inclusion of certain sections.
- Majority of the financial services including banks do not take a favourable approach in providing financial support to the differently abled.
- Design and Technology – Banking services should be made accessible for the nearly 3 Crore special needs population.
- The RBI guidelines to banks in this regard include directions –
- to provide cheque books, ATM and locker facilities to the visually challenged.
- to provide for ramp facilities and tactile keypad at ATMs.
• to not deny services on grounds of possible risk in operation of banking facilities .
- International practices
Multiple formats of information like audio output, braille documents, larger font size, larger screens, images with text description, low tables, specialised, and privacy standards during banking operation can be adopted.
In view of the diversity in the issues faced as well as types of disabilities, including the elderly people, a multi-spectral approach to ensure financial inclusion is required.
- Government needs to consider providing financial assistance and assistive equipment to PwDs and their families to meet out various expenses.
Government can also consider incentivising private sector to encourage recruitment of PwDs.
- Training the service providers, including banks and sensitising the general population of the special needs of PwDs so as to bridge the cultural gap in employing them would be beneficial.
- Governments and welfare
oriented institutions should share the responsibility of providing the differently abled a dignified life.
Why people with disabilities need special attention in the country?
- As per the 2001 Census, there are around 2.19 crore persons with disabilities in India.
- They constitute 2.13% of the total population of the country. This includes persons with visual, hearing, speech, locomotor and mental disabilities.
- Despite these numbers, there is a lack of understanding of their needs, and people with disabilities face a number of obstacles when it comes to living a normal life, and availing banking facilities is a big part of the problem.
- Making banking accessible for people with disabilities is both a best practice that should be followed, as well as a sound commercial decision.
- There are a large number of people in India with differing levels of disability, who would benefit from using banking services. Additionally, the number of people will only increase with time as India’s young population grows old, since incidence of disability increases with age.
Hurdles for disabled people to access banking services
- Many disabled people, especially in rural India, find it difficult to sign bank documents, and are denied ATM cards, cheque books and Internet banking.
- The majority of commercial banks have archaic rules in their statute books which debar people with disabilities from opening independent accounts.
- Persons with disabilities are compelled to produce witnesses every time they visit banks to make online transactions through real-time gross settlement and national electronic funds transfer.
- Disabled customers are also perceived as dependent on their family members; they are seen as lacking independent agency to make their own decisions.
- In many rural areas, if a visually impaired person or a person with low vision walks into a bank to open an account, most banks don’t comply. Bank officials often insist that the person should open a joint bank account with a person with sight, or open an account with no ATM card/cheque book facility or both.
- The situation is worse for those with hearing impairments and intellectual disabilities. If a person who is deaf visits a bank for availing the benefits of a scheme or service, the branch more often than not lacks the manpower to understand or interpret sign language.
- People with psycho-social disabilities are the worst hit — they require a guardian to sign a contract on their behalf.
- Disabled people are also denied also loan facilities. A majority of banks refrain from offering insurance to people with disabilities.
- Despite the RBI stating that banks have to take necessary steps to provide all existing ATMs/future ATMs with ramps so that wheel chair users/persons with disabilities can easily access them, most ATMs remain inaccessible.
- A person with a learning disability, for example, dyslexia, will face severe difficulty filling out an application form (or any document for that matter) and banks are not disabled friendly in terms of the attitude of the staff towards such difficulties.
- The problem is exacerbated by the fact that around 75% of persons with disabilities live in rural areas, and only around 49% of the disabled population is literate and only 34% is employed. Although one may find some rare cases of disabled-friendly banking options in the metros, in the rural areas, there are neither facilities nor is there any sensitisation towards meeting the needs of the disabled.
What needs to be done?
- There is specific Reserve Bank of India (RBI) notifications that mandate banks to offer banking facilities in a non-discriminatory manner to all customers. The adoption of accessibility features and technologies in Indian banks today is very low, despite there being a legislative as well as executive push for the same. Banks which do not follow these guidelines are not meeting their legal requirements. RBI should ensure that all banks follow these guidelines.
- There are several international guidelines which can be referred to while formulating policy on banking accessibility, such as guidelines on ATM construction and modification (USA) and guidelines on making websites accessible for people with disabilities (the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines), as well as voluntary standards that have been taken up by banking associations in countries like Australia and New Zealand in order to make banking more accessible to people with disabilities and the elderly population.
- RBI should ensure that the bank staff is sensitised to the needs deaf customers, and know of a sign language translator who can be called if a customer requires it. Bank staff should be sensitised to the needs of blind customers, and ensure that there is a customer care executive who is present when a visually impaired customer needs assistance with a particular service.
- Another important step that needs to be taken by different banking institutions is ensuring that their ATMs and branches are accessible through a ramp, so that it is physically possible to reach from the road or other public area. Within the bank, there should be special provisions for people in wheelchairs or crutches, such as a designated queue and teller, so that they do not have to wait in queue for a long period of time.
- State and national governments should encourage opening of bank accounts by the disabled so that any funds or scholarships can be directly transferred into their account as opposed to being given to organisations which may not transfer it to the beneficiaries — this would help curb malpractices.
- Financial service providers should tailor accessibility solutions to address each kind of disability and the range of problems faced by the persons affected by them; they should look at best practices from around the world and implement solutions on their own steam instead of minimum compliance with the government or RBI requirements.
Constitutional Provisions in this regard
Part III of the Constitution of India, which deals with the fundamental rights of citizens, recognizes the principle of equality of all people.
- Article 14 states that the government must accord equal protection of the law to any person within the territory of India. This recognition of the importance of non-discrimination means that the state must ensure that people with disabilities do not suffer disadvantages when it comes to accessing public services.
- Article 15, which deals with prohibition of discrimination on various grounds states that no citizen is to be subject to any disability, liability or restriction with regard to access to shops, public restaurants, and other public places.
- It is evident that this important constitutional protection extends to people with disabilities, and it is their right to gain equal and accessible access to all manner of services, including banking.
- PwDs in India: 2.21% of total population, 26.8 million in number
- Namma Vaani: an interactive voice support system which provides virtual networking for disabled accross Karnataka.
Causes of exclusion
- Exclusive policies
- Framework for monitoring
- Disability: state subject, education: concurrent subject
- Education of differently abled children is the responsibility of two ministries: MoHRD and Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment.
- No provision for early childhood inclusion of children with special needs in India.
- Need for complete and valid data.
National education Policy 2015: Inclusion of PwDs
Stand Up IndiaComponent for the Disabled.
Special Needs of PwDs in Skill training
- Include attitude and life skills development
- Parent Development
- Peer-to-peer training
- Need for counsellor and psychiatrist to skill people with psychological disabilities
- National Skill Policy: provision for skiling people with disability
- Department of Empowerment of Persons with Disability(DePWD) created in Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment. It has in initiated new programs like:
- Accessible India Campaign
- National Action Plan for PwDs
- Skill council for PwDs
- low mobility
- physical barriers
- low level of education about financial products
- scattered population
National Handicapped Finance and Development Corporation(NHFDC) which supports both credit( Self- employment loans, educational loans, MFI) and non credit based activity( skill training and scholarships)
Inefficient steps till now
- As in advanced countries, the Government needs to consider providing financial assistance and assistive equipment to PwDs and their families to enhance probability of livelihood or directly provide jobs to PwDs.
- The Government, given its mandate, could also consider incentivizing private sector to encourage recruitment of PwDs.
- In 1977, nominal reservation of 1 per cent for specific disabilities in government jobs was introduced and extended in 1995 to 3 per cent. However, the Government and public sector institutions have achieved limited success.
Poor workforce participation
- Several studies show that on an average, PwDs account for nearly 0.5 per cent of total workforce in the organised sector. ILO claimed that 73.6 per cent of PwDs in India are still outside the workforce.
- To tap the potential of demographic dividend, it is imperative to equip and enable the youth amongst PwDs to be at par with the rest of the cohort.
Entrepreneurial ventures facing financial hurdles
- Entrepreneurial ventures are one of the means for the disabled to be financially independent, free from discriminatory and sometimes stringent requirements of mainstream employment. But unfortunately, PwDs face multiple societal hurdles. Majority of the financial services including banks do not take a benign approach in providing financial support to the disabled.
- The RBI guidelines must be taken seriously. The guidelines to banks includes providing cheque books, ATM and locker facilities to the visually challenged, ramp facilities and tactile keypad at ATMs and to not deny services on grounds of possible risk in operation of banking facilities.
- There is also an issue in terms of identifying the magnitude of disability leading to preconceived notions on capacity of the individual. Hence, cultural brokering can be an effective means of training the service providers, including banks and sensitising the general population of special needs of PwDs so as to bridge the cultural gap.
- In this age of technology, banks have embarked on a slew of innovative strategies to woo the general public. We have been witnessing a lot of tailor-made financial products and services for general customers.
- However, there is a common perception among bank officials that disabled people do not require banking products and services.
- The call for financial inclusion is a distant dream for disabled people who face harassment from financial institutions across the country.
- Banks and companies that offer insurance policies are not yet ready to accept disabled people as respected clients.
- India is a signatory to both the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, 2006 and Biwako Millennium Framework towards an Inclusive, Barrier-free and Rights-based Society for PWDs in Asia and the Pacific, 2002 and thus has an international obligation to ensure equal access to all members of the population.
- This obligation extends to giving people with disabilities the right to conduct banking services. This has been recognised by several Reserve Bank of India (RBI) directives as well, although these guidelines have not been fully implemented so far.
- In an emerging economy like ours, it is very important that government and welfare-oriented institutions play an important role and share the responsibility of providing the disabled a dignified life.
- It also makes economic sense, as according to World Bank, ensuring employment to the disabled can help in enhancing economic growth.
- Banking services should be accessible, in terms of design and technology, for the nearly three crore special needs population.
- Accessibility should not be treated as a corporate social responsibility measure by the large banks and financial corporations, but as a responsibility to be fulfilled regardless of anything else.
- The RBI and the government need to take punitive action against those errant officials and banks that contravene the RBI’s guidelines for providing banking facilities to disabled people. We must uphold the spirit of Article 41 of the Constitution (Right to public assistance for the disabled).
- The journey for financial inclusion in India has been interesting one. But it’s time we take it to next level and ensure inclusion for differently abled. Discuss.
General Studies 2
- Issues relating to development and management of Social Sector/Services relating to Health
- Development processes and the development industry the role of NGOs, SHGs, various groups and associations, donors, charities, institutional and other stakeholders
General Studies 3
- Inclusive growth and issues arising from it.
- Indian Economy and issues relating to planning, mobilization of resources, growth, development and employment.