Mobile payment tech adapts to serve the visually impaired

Register now

Because he is blind, Chris Danielsen assumed he’d need a friend to help him deposit a check remotely. But he did it on his own using USAA's mobile app.

With voice technology, the app directed Danielsen to move the check to get an optimal camera shot. It also told him when to flip the check over. Thanks to these instructions, he got a clear image on both sides and completed his task.

“I didn’t need, and I won’t need, a friend or a colleague to help me with this in the future,” says Danielsen, director of public relations at the National Federation of the Blind.

Mobile banking and payments are often difficult for blind or visually impaired people to navigate. Although a blind person could use any app that’s properly configured to work with a screen reader, banking and payments apps tend to vary in how user-friendly they are for people with visual impairments.

Within the past year or so, a handful of financial services companies, including USAA, U.K.-based NatWest and Thailand-based Kasikornbank have announced apps to address some of the common issues the visually impaired face when trying to use mobile banking. The NatWest app, for instance, has been redesigned with support from the Royal National Institute of Blind People to read out the name of the landing page when customers navigate to it, so they can decide what to do next.

Rapid changes in technology mean increasing opportunities for banks and payments companies to better serve their blind or visually impaired customers. Voice control mechanisms like Alexa or Siri, for example, have significant potential to make payments easier. With the Capital One Skill for Amazon Alexa, for instance, users can manage their accounts using only their voice. They can track spending, check their balance and pay bills this way.

“This type of functionality will become increasingly prevalent and will help people with disabilities,” predicts Gustavo Zavaleta, a developer engineer at Argentina-based Belatrix Software, which develops applications for fintech and other industries.

Certainly, voice-activated technology is still buggy today as words are prone to misinterpretation. However, as the technology improves, industry watchers expect to see additional opportunities to help visually impaired consumers perform routine banking and payments functions. Voice-activated payments using chatbots, for example, are likely to become more prevalent.

“Improvements in accessibility made by bot, and messaging platforms like Facebook Messenger, and rapidly improving device accessibility features like [Apple’s] VoiceOver and Google TalkBack, will mean significantly improved payments experience as soon as early 2018 or even earlier,” says Rajesh Kamath, head of financial services solutions and incubation at Incedo, a technology services and outsourcing company based in Santa Clara, Calif.

Lately, banks and payments companies have additional incentive to ensure their digital offerings are broadly accessible. A number of banks have been threatened with expensive lawsuits claiming customers are being denied access to online goods and services in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

There is no express language in the ADA that covers digital access, although courts have upheld that it does. The Department of Justice, which enforces the ADA, has promised to come out with guidelines to help companies better understand their obligations, but significant delays have pushed out publication until at least 2018. In the interim, the American Bankers Association has recommended banks review their websites and mobile apps for accessibility.

Web and app developers have to consider a wide range of disabilities in their designs. Specifically with respect to the vision-impaired, they have to consider blind, low-vision and color-blind users, says Cristopher Broyles, chief accessibility officer of Mphasis, an IT services company.

“There are a lot of considerations that need to be made so dynamic content is accessible,” he says.

Legality aside, it makes good business sense for banks and payments providers to embrace available new technologies, according to Danielsen of the NFB. “Banks and payment providers have blind customers and it’s just not right for those customers not to be able to use their products.”

For reprint and licensing requests for this article, click here.
Mobile payments Mobile banking USAA