With some 15 million visually impaired citizens, India has the highest number of blind people in the world.
Yet, they have been largely ignored in the demonetisation drive on in the country aimed at curbing black money in the economy. Generally, hard cash, whether its currency notes or coins, have features for the blind to use. Depending on their make, ATMs have braille on buttons and some can talk as well.
Now, imagine how a blind person, pushed by the government, transitions to digital wallets and netbanking apps. Some modern phones have limited accessibility features like bigger fonts, contrast, talkback etc for the partially blind or for the elderly population.
It’s important for apps to have built-in features to talk to users in a language preferred by the user. Apps also need to have simplified user interface settings for the visually challenged
But, they are limited to English, and apps have to be coded in a way to enhance or extend this for the blind. On basic or semi-smartphones, there is negligible or no support.
I have not seen any of our banking apps supporting — I checked the apps of State Bank of India (SBI) and ICICI, the two largest banks in India — or talking about supporting the visually impaired. They don’t have any voice features in local languages; in fact, they have very little local language.
I think it’s important for apps to have built-in features to talk to users in a language preferred by the user. Apps also need to have simplified user interface (UI) settings for the visually challenged. A setting that will enable simple action-oriented UI.
This would, in fact, be a bare minimum — it is a whole area where innovation needs to happen. Think: a voice chat or talking AI bots in local languages, for instance.
USSD — short for unstructured supplementary service data — which is targeted at basic phones, make for a sub-optimal solution as most basic phones have no screen reading support.
If there was a simple IVR to do transfers using mobile number and password, that would be great for the blind. If that’s via a toll-free number run by UPI/VPA infrastructure, that would be great
One way of supporting the blind could be through voice phone banking using IVR, as interactive voice response systems are popularly referred to. But the bank IVRs that I have accessed have complicated IVR and don’t have money transfer features. Paytm has introduced IVR transfer recently, but this too supports only English and Hindi.
If there was a simple IVR to do transfers using mobile number and password, that would be great for the blind. If that’s via a toll-free number run by UPI/VPA infrastructure, that would be great. (UPI/VPA stands for unified payment interface or virtual payment)
The Indian government’s 2013 National Policy on Universal Electronic Accessibility mandates equality of access for persons with disabilities in all government electronic infrastructure. Not much was done in the years since, but the problem has been compounded after November 8 when demonetisation was announced.
With pressure on citizens to go cashless, it is important to implement guidelines related to accessibility, especially those related to mobile banking. Fifteen million makes for a sizeable market and there is a need to support innovation in this area.
Read how the visually impaired access (or don’t access) technology:
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