My Money My Choice: Financial Independence for Saudis with Disabilities

My Money My Choice: Financial Independence for Saudis with Disabilities

Ay Abdullah Jibreal
Aya Abdullah Jibreal |  02.12.21
Senior Inclusive Design Consultant, Qaderoon Business Disability Network

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has made numerous efforts across its various economic sectors in pursuit of providing livelihoods to all citizens of various genders and spectrums. The aim is to ensure Persons with Disabilities can secure a decent life and be on an equal footing with other individuals without the slightest physical or psychological discrimination, respecting them and supporting their autonomy. 

Perhaps one of the most prominent of these efforts is the issuance earlier this year of the Saudi Central Bank "SAMA", a set of instructions on services provided to Persons of with Disabilities in financial institutions of all kinds, stressing the importance of providing easily accessible premises and digital environment. 

With the technology world steeped in our financial dealings, the time has passed for keeping money under the "mattress", which is an equation that applies to Persons of Disabilities as well. Many face several daily challenges while using banking or technical services such as accessing banking websites and electronic applications that do not support screen readers, the absence of text description, or lack of sign language translation for posted videos. 

The challenges facing Persons of with Disabilities to carry out business with their financial institution goes beyond the limits of the home and accessing information online.  This also includes ATMs not supporting voice-activated features or using touch screens instead of buttons, making them essentially useless for visually impaired and blind customers. 

Many customers who use wheelchairs or those with limited physical abilities face other challenges such as accessing and moving within the bank branches, lack of designated parking spaces, including appropriate ramps to navigate across various elevations, or waiting areas inside the branches specially prepared for them. These issues are compounded by a lack of staff training on ways to communicate with People with Disabilities and how to serve them successfully. This is especially important when working with clients with speech and hearing impairments and individuals with cognitive disabilities who face difficulties in interacting with bank employees. 

Financial institutions are facing an urgent need to bring about many changes and developments in the technologies provided, as well as promoting their premises as accessible to both clients with disabilities and their families. For example, and by referring to the information issued by the American Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), it confirms that more than (18%) of families headed by persons with disabilities refrain from dealing with banks. In addition, there are (28%) others who do not depend on banking transactions despite high monthly income. This information may help us to understand the urgent need to work on adjustments and the development of banking and financial services provided to customers with disabilities. 

Sustainability First 

Despite the multiplicity of tools and guidelines activated, or under development, in most financial institutions that enhance the chances of achieving access to technical and architectural solutions, the employees of these institutions often lack ongoing guidance and training., This greatly affects the quality and effectiveness of the services provided long-term and the sustainability of the accessible programs in place. 

Perhaps the most prominent reason that leads us to the poor sustainability of accessibility is the endless endeavors of banks to adhere to the strict requirements instead of focusing on the user experience. This is in addition to the failure to incorporate accessibility standards into the establishment's policies and procedures, or by issuing separate procedures for People of Determination that may be forgotten or neglected over time. 

The fate of poor sustainability has become a reality, due to reliance on temporary initiatives or projects, the absence of mechanisms for measuring the success of projects, and including successful outcomes in their policies and strategy. Ensuring compliance of accessibility protocols is often reliant on individual efforts that end as soon as this individual leaves the bank or moves to another department. It is also affected by misconceptions among the bank’s employees and not understanding the impact of various types of disability on the customer’s journey. It can also be impacted by the absence of maintenance procedures and periodic checks of the effectiveness of accessing the bank’s branches, website, and applications. 

Therefore, everyone is required to realize that digital accessibility is not a one-time project. The digital world is dynamic, with continuous change affecting websites and electronic pages. This requires the provision of a mechanism to ensure a continuous client journey and to maintain the ease of access as one of the characteristics and advantages it enjoys. Institutions, while measuring the accessibility of bank websites, can seek help from a competent professional in Accessibility or periodically seeking feedback from customers with disabilities. 

Training and Know-How 

It can be said that training is the keyword, now! Training front-line employees have become an important matter in order to help clients with disabilities. Perhaps we do not need to teach sign language to all but provide tools and training to engage with Persons with Disabilities when they visit financial institutions. 

As for the behind-the-scenes employees, it is imperative to train them on how to best deal with the needs of Persons of Disabilities when developing policies, products, services, and communications, whether by providing large-print hard copies of documents, developing comprehensive communication tools, or amending a policy or procedure. Staff can also be trained to ensure that third-party contracts ensure the suppliers' compliance with the bank's accessibility policies and procedures. 

Finally, serving customers with disabilities isn't just fixing technology or spaces. There are many effective methods such as employing Persons with Disabilities, offering low-cost or free bank accounts, and providing small, affordable loans that help them with education or professional stability. These are all important attempts to help them overcome barriers to knowledge and employment. 

About the Blogger

Aya Abdullah Jibreal

Senior Inclusive Design Consultant at Qaderoon Business Disability Network. Aya became interested in accessibility since taking a “Human Factors” course back in university in 2007. This interest grew over the time until she decided to gain more knowledge as a professional and got her first certification as a disability case manager in 2016.

In 2019, Aya got her CPACC certification as the first professional to take it in Saudi Arabia. Aya is currently working on completing her Masters in Inclusive Design from OCAD University, Toronto, Canada.

Aya gained lots of experience working as a consultant or trainer with many major entities and businesses around the kingdom and explored how accessibility can be successfully adopted in different business environments.

Aya also sits on an internal committee for IAAP Strategic Leader in Accessibility (SLiA) initiative.

As part of their investigations and taskforce initiatives to explore the potential of this certification, IAAP has opened a Community of Practice through its IAAP Connections platform to further the discussion and receive direct feedback from its membership. In order to take part in the Community of Practice individuals must be either a professional or organizational member of IAAP. Please visit the IAAP membership/benefits page to review membership options or contact IAAP directly at membership@accessibilityassociation.org.

 

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