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MENA region supporting financial inclusion for persons with disabilities through tech

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The Middle East and North Africa region has been supporting major digital inclusion efforts to make financial inclusion for persons with disabilities a possibility, Mastercard said in a statement on Wednesday.

The new Mastercard whitepaper entitled ‘Bridging the Disability Gap: An Opportunity to Make a positive Impact’ also revealed that digital inclusion would contribute greatly to financial inclusion. This is particularly crucial now because the COVID-19 pandemic led to greater technology adoption all over the world, with the latest data suggesting that around 63 percent of the global population is now online.

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As governments adopt and prioritize policies to make services more accessible, 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, using innovative technology that addresses the needs of the most vulnerable.

One billion people, around 15 percent of the world’s population, experience some form of disability, constituting the largest minority group in the world, according to Mastercard. This figure includes visual, hearing, mobility, speech, cognitive, and psycho-social disabilities.

Many persons with disabilities face hurdles in accessing financial institutions and services, preventing them from banking independently. The inability to travel and enter a financial institution, branch, or cash machine, being unable to perceive or decipher what is being communicated (in written or oral form), and not being able to access paper or digital content, are a few examples of the issues faced by persons with disabilities that need to be taken into consideration.

Measures have been taken at government and corporate levels to address financial inclusion for persons with disabilities.

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.

Persons with disabilities said in a 2019 study by the United Nations that they considered 28 percent of banks in developed countries inaccessible.

However, the gap seems to be widening in the MENA region, with 62 percent of adults with disabilities owning mobile phones and 21 percent who own smartphones.

Emerging technologies like artificial intelligence, machine learning, and the Internet of Things, among many others, have the potential to address this gap.

The MENA region has taken a mobile-first approach which has proven to be very effective, Mastercard said in a statement.

Mobile banking has become the new normal since the pandemic’s onset, and so have contactless payments. In addition, AI-powered chatbots, text-to-speech or speech-enabled digital processes have also had a profound effect on making financial services for accessible.

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