Persons with disabilities are financially excluded as they are unbanked. Hence, mainstreaming persons with disability with skills and employment is critical. In the last few years, it has been well-known that disability is not only a cross-cutting human rights issue but also a developmental issue. A person with disability will need to bank his income, provided he has an income.
According to the 2011 census, India has about 2.68 crore people with a disability, that is, 2.21% of the Indian population. On the other hand the conservative estimates of the World Bank and World Health Organization suggests that there are about 70-100 million individuals with a disability in India. This disparity in the statistics suggests that we do not have any clear numbers, which further means that there is no clarity to the number of individuals that are being excluded from mainstream society.
Acts like Persons with Disability Act, 1995 have made provisions for employment in the public sector, and organisations like National Handicapped Finance and Development Corporation give loans for persons with disability but implementation remains very tardy in both areas.
Let’s start with skilling, which can catalyse employment.
In 2015-2016, the Government of India – Department of Empowerment of Persons with a Disability came up with a formal plan of action “The Scheme of Financial Assistance for Skill Training of Persons with Disability” wherein the ultimate goal is to provide a platform for the skilled and educated individuals with disabilities, an employment or create their own business. The Government of India has a target of providing skill training to about 2.5 million persons with disabilities by the year 2022. The detailed scheme is available online. But to outline it, there is a travel allowance of Rs. 1500/- for the trainees and a list of about 200 courses from which an individual with disability can choose.
Employment is made available only for the skilled, hence ignoring the uneducated who have not been provided with the means to study through no fault of their own. The accessibility of the work place and the travel to work is not considered. Nor is the travel allowance sufficient.
Hence, we need massive programmes to skill and make persons with disabilities employable.
India has a Procurement Policy which means that there are certain rules and regulations to govern the process of acquiring goods and services needed by an organization to function properly. All factors such as the size of the organization, size of the business, infrastructure among other things are considered. The needs of the individuals with disabilities are not taken into account when procurement takes place. Banks do the same. And even though the Reserve Bank of India has issued directives for this purpose, they are not heeded.
If an individual with a hearing impairment goes to the bank, the bank staff is not trained to understand what the individual is trying to say. Similarly, a person who is visually impaired has difficulty in handling the documents, currency, and using the machines without any assistance.
There is a lack of infrastructure and awareness about the unique needs of disabled individuals. The bank staff has no proper training or expertise in guiding these individuals. Despite rapid technological advances, no steps have been taken to make use of them.
Only 50 of the over one lakh Automated Teller Machines (ATMs) in India are accessible by individuals with disabilities. All ATMs and banks should be accessible. ATMs should be made more accessible by installing voiceovers and braille keypads. A banking guide should be present in all branches of the bank. Cheque book templates should be introduced for blind patrons. Mobile applications, Internet banking, Telephone banking can be made more disabled-friendly. Instructions can be made clearer for individuals with cognitive disabilities.
Canada, for example, has introduced the system of raised texture tactile features for their currency notes. New Zealand has installed large screens in the ATMs with an audio output, a tactile differentiation in the keys, easy prompts in a clear language. The queues are wide enough for individuals on a wheelchair and special assistance is always available.
Writer Srishti Pandey talks about the problems faced by a visually impaired girl Poonam in the July 2014 issue of the magazine Governance Now. Even though Poonam is a fairly independent woman, she always has to be assisted by trusted friends when she has work in the bank.
Hence, banks need to focus on physical accessibility, technical solutions, and promotion of banking facilities and training and sensitization of the staff. Further, the employment of individuals with disabilities accounts for a considerable section of society and will greatly influence the economy of the country.