Between the lines: Banks in lead on accessibility

The Bank of England (BOE) in London. Picture: AFP/Getty Images

The Bank of England (BOE) in London. Picture: AFP/Getty Images

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Last month, the Bank of England revealed the imminent introduction of its accessible bank notes, which incorporate tactile features to allow blind and partially sighted people to distinguish between denominations – developed with advice from RNIB.

A welcome introduction, considering the UK’s blind and partially sighted population stands at two million, a number forecast to nearly double by 2050. In general, while there is a greater need for products and services to be accessible, and inclusive, few companies are properly investing in adapting their offerings.

As there are no set legal requirements for businesses to follow, changes tend to be token. However, the financial services sector is proving the exception, and seems to be leading the innovation race towards developing more accessible products and services.

RBS was the first bank to introduce accessible bank cards with tactile features to help blind and partially sighted people better use them – while Barclays has made strides with its accessible ATMs.

Clearly, banks are realising the importance of making products and services accessible to all, and recognising a potentially untapped market. And for organisations thinking about following suit, it would be wise to first consider the main challenges that blind and partially sighted consumers often face when it comes to accessing financial services.

Banks might look at optimising the physical build of their stores – ensuring there are handrails on either side of stairs, voice announcements are installed in lifts, in-store signage in braille, and customer routes are clear of obstructions.

They might also consider how printed and online information is presented, as using different colours, fonts, and typefaces can make a huge difference. There are a number of consultation points for organisations to refer to, such as the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines.

In addition, it will probably become increasingly common for staff to be trained in recognising and being able to deal with disabilities – not just in the finance world, but across various sectors. Banks should ensure all employees are trained to recognise and provide assistance to those that might need help navigating a bank and its services. This might include anything from help walking around the store and reading information leaflets, to help using ATMs.

As the population living with sight loss and other disabilities continues to grow, making products and services accessible to all will become even more crucial. Not only in the finance sector, but across the board.

The businesses that recognise this and take steps towards improving accessibility and promoting inclusion will be the winners in the long run.

• Terry Hawkins is head of business to business solutions at RNIB (Royal National Institute of Blind People) and RNIB Approved, the quality mark for accessible products and services.

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