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

By 2050, the UK’s blind and partially-sighted population is forecast to double to almost four million. An aging population is contributing to the number of people living with sight loss and is showing no signs of slowing down. As a result, it’s never been as important to ensure products and services are accessible and inclusive to all users.

While there is now a greater need for accessible goods and services, few companies are properly investing into adapting their offerings. However, there is one industry that is racing ahead of the others: the financial services sector, which is leading the innovation race in developing more accessible products and services.

How the banking sector is leading the accessibility revolution…

Last year, RBS was the first bank to introduce accessible bank cards – cards with tactile features to help blind and partially sighted people better use them – accredited by RNIB. Barclays has also made strides with its accessible ATMs – thousands of its ATMs across the UK now have speech output. And whilst Barclays lead the way on this, all high street banks are now following suit. Like Barclays, Nationwide also has nearly 100% coverage across the UK now. The Bank of England also joined the revolution last month, with the introduction of accessible bank notes, developed with advice from RNIB.

Seeing things from a different perspective

Clearly, organisations in the sector are recognising the importance of addressing the accessibility issues that have long presented barriers to disabled users. 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 products and services. So, we’ve collated some of the issues our customers most often face, and advised how businesses might go about tackling them:

  • The vast majority of complaints we receive are about bank statements and other routine financial information not being transcribed into accessible formats – something covered by The Equality Act, yet which many banks still consistently get wrong. Poor colour contrast and small font sizes can often cause issues for people living with sight loss. Printed and online information should be adapted for these audiences, and can be done pretty easily. WCAG (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines) are a good starting point for businesses wanting to ensure their websites have sufficient colour contrast, while printed materials should be created with a clear structure and layout and using a clear typeface. While eye catching designs are often tempting, overdesign and use of different typefaces and colours can often be difficult to read for those living with sight loss. Specialist advisors and charities such as RNIB can help advise businesses on what works best for different audiences.
  • The physical build of a store can be crucial to how it is navigated.   Banks could introduce induction loops – tools which send electromagnetic signals to hearing aid users to relay information – and also should ensure that voice announcements are used in lifts, with sufficient volume levels. Banks should also ensure their stores incorporate simple design factors, such as having handrails on both sides of stairs, making sure customer circulation routes are clear of obstruction, and lifts are big enough for wheelchair users. In-store signage should also be easy to locate and incorporate braille where possible.
  • Products and services offered in-store and online should also be considered. While things like ATM’s and bank cards are a basic necessity, and should be easy to use by all consumers – regardless of whether they have a disability or not – they’re sometimes not. The introduction of bank cards containing tactile features, such as indents in one end to identify which way it goes into an ATM, and ATMs which use audio to communicate with users are good starting points. Indeed, many banks are already doing this, which will hopefully encourage the rest to follow suit.
  • Staff training shouldn’t be overlooked, as it can play a crucial role. It’s not uncommon for staff to be poorly trained and unsure how to communicate properly with disabled customers. Organisations 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.

Become accessible or be left behind…

Considering the above points is a good starting point for banks wanting to brush up on accessibility. As consumers are given access to a wide range of products and services, making them accessible to all will become even more crucial in an increasingly competitive marketplace. Blind and partially sighted customers should be able to access and exchange money easily, in a safer manner, just like anyone else could, and the banks that recognise this will be the ones that come out on top.

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