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How Does A Blind Person Navigate A Banking App? – Digital Accessibility With HSBC’s Malintha Fernando & Charity Abilitynet’s Robin Christopherson

How Does A Blind Person Navigate A Banking App? - Digital Accessibility With HSBC’s Malintha Fernando & Charity Abilitynet’s Robin Christopherson | Fintech Finance

– Bobby Suman, Fintech Finance

It’s a question I never considered in my life until I attended the PAY360 event and saw Malintha Fernando, HSBC Head of Digital Experience and Accessibility, give a talk about digital accessibility. Since then, I’ve never looked at my apps the same way and needed to know more. Before we ponder digital accessibility in the financial services industry, here is something truly special, as Robin Christopherson, MBE & Head of Digital Inclusion at the Charity Abilitynet, shows how people who are blind or have other disabilities are able to navigate a banking app in a digital world.

Why Is Digital Accessibility so Important?

If you needed more reasons than the video alone then here we go.

“First and foremost, it is unquestionably the right thing to do”, said Malintha Fernando,HSBC Head of Digital Experience and Accessibility. “Organisations should ensure that all users have equal access and are able to enjoy their digital products and services. Over 1.2 billion people identify as being disabled or neuro diverse, so if your digital offering is not accessible that’s a very significant part of society, customers, or employees that you are not serving. Disabled and neuro diverse users, like everyone else, simply want digital that works for them.” 

There is also a commercial opportunity to get this right. With the global disabled spend equating to $1.2 trillion annually, can any organisation really leave that amount of money on the table?

Inclusivity starts within. We always hear of how diversity in the workplace improves the workplace. More ideas enter the sphere and there is much more room for overall growth. From an employment perspective, having accessible recruitment platforms enables anyone irrespective of their ability to apply for a job. 

“And finally”, Fernando continues wisely, “accessibility is rightly becoming a legal obligation in many countries around the world, with countries that have previously not had legislative requirements starting to mandate equal access for all.” If you think about it, it is outrageous that it isn’t already.

The Biggest Challenges In Attempting To Make Our Sector More Digitally Accessible   

The 3 biggest challenges in no particular order are culture, knowledge and procurement. Ensuring that accessibility becomes business as usual and that an organisation has the right culture to make this happen is essential. Win people’s hearts and minds and the tech will follow.

“Accessibility is still a niche area of technology, one that is not being widely focused on in universities, so it is vital that your entire digital workforce, not just the developers, have the right skills to create accessible digital”, said Fernando. 

“We are working with some universities to share our experience, knowledge and training, so that digital or IT graduates of the future are coming out of university with these skills. Accessibility must be built into the procurement process and requirements. Ensuring your digital providers share the same values that you do, and that their products or platforms are fully inclusive should be verified from the outset.”

Are There Differences in Behaviour Between the Disabled Customer and the Non-Disabled?

With nearly 20% of the UK population identifying themselves as having a disability, Robin Christopherson, Head of Digital Inclusion at the Charity Abilitynet, discussed what some of the differences might be between a disabled customer and a non-disabled customer. 

“Whilst disabled users are a tenacious lot, and statistically will try much harder and longer than the average user to successfully complete a task online, they often meet insurmountable barriers”, said Chrisopherson. “In fact, 73% of disabled users experience challenges on more than a quarter of websites they visit. This leads to three quarters of disabled people and their families reporting that they regularly click away from sites because of poor accessibility or customer service, taking with them a combined disposable income of £274bn a year in the UK.” 

Alternatively, by making sites easier for those with more extreme needs, at the same time organisations will make them usable for everyone. The choice is an obvious one.

What Is HSBC Doing?

HSBC has committed to many initiatives, but is it their internal digital accessibility initiatives that interest me here as they look to put their disabled and neurodiverse staff at the heart of their transformation programme to make all our internal systems accessible, while also ensuring they deliver a great experience. 

“We do this by working with a panel of disabled and neuro diverse colleagues as part of our digital design and build process, incorporating their recommendations into our platforms”, said Fernando. For example, HSBC are working with their primary virtual collaboration tool provider to build in safeguards to cater for users who are epileptic. HSBC has also launched a digital accessibility information hub internally, soon to be a public platform for the benefit of other organisations. 

Looking To The Future of Digital Accessibility 

The future for accessibility is very exciting. “Most importantly”, comments Fernando, “there is a growing social awareness that more must be done to drive inclusion for everyone.”

Ultimately, while the tech exists to make just about anything accessible, an organisation must put this at the heart of their digital offering and transformation programmes. We are seeing more organisations take disability inclusion seriously, but even more work needs to be done – still over 98% of the world’s top million websites are inaccessible.


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