Bank accounts for the visually impaired

Adam Rust

Blind people are less likely to have a bank account than almost any other group of people in the US. More than one in three blind or visually impaired persons lives without a bank account – a higher share than among any ethnic, racial, or geographic cohort.

Some banks have made an effort to reach this segment of consumers. The first step is to modify the background javascript on their website. With some modest coding work, a bank can change how screen reading software reads its site. While screen reading capabilities will not help a person who is 100 percent blind, many visually impaired people still have some sight. In fact, the term “visually impaired” is extended to anyone whose vision after the most robust possible correction is no higher than 20/200. With a screen reader to enhance readability, near-blind individuals can benefit from digital media.

The blind or visually impaired make up a large market of consumers. According to the National Federation of the Blind, 2.3 percent of Americans have a significant visual impairment. However, the likelihood of having an impairment increases as a person ages. Among those older than 65, approximately 6 percent are considered to be impaired. Native Americans experience a visual disability at a rate almost twice higher than the national average.

Picture of card
Blind person banking

Technology is helping. The ability for a phone to speak a message extends the number of environments where a blind person can participate.

Visually –impaired consumers living in rural areas face some of the most significant challenges. Rural areas tend to have fewer transit alternatives. Most urban regions offer some transit network, most often a system of buses but sometimes under a multi-modal scenario that provides accessibility in most neighborhoods. In rural areas, the opposite is true: federal funding pays for some service, but it might be through small vans that operate on a very infrequent schedule. Mobility in rural America begins and ends with the automobile. If you can’t drive, you struggle to get around.

Banking for the Blind

Mobile technologies will make it easier for visually impaired individuals to manage their finances. Think about the set of options today for the distribution of account-specific information, especially if it hard to get to a branch. Paper statements are out. Even ATMs can be a stretch, as braille keypads are not enough. If the information is expressed only on a screen, then a blind person will not be able to understand. The gold standard is an ATM that can recognize speech and then respond in kind. According to the American Foundation for the Blind, there are already more than 100,000 talking ATMs.  Still,  only about 22 percent of US ATMs can talk

The big banks are updating their ATM networks to have capabilities for serving the visually impaired, but that’s not usually the case at smaller banks, according to AFB.

To use a talking ATM, a person inserts a standard set of headphones in a jack in the ATM. That lets the ATM know that it must incorporate speech for this customer. Using headphones instead of a speaker protects the privacy of the transaction.

Biometric sign-in and identity verification will reduce some of the friction of managing an account with a mobile device. Online bill payment – both for desktop and mobile - can respond to screen reading systems.

Visually-impaired individuals should consider going to the American Printing House to purchase MoneyTalks, a program that makes it easier to manage a bank account. With MoneyTalks, it is easier to check account balances, request printed checks, and create expense budgets.

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