Address exclusion of PWDs from financial sector

What you need to know:

PWDs in the global south face numerous barriers, including inaccessible banking services, lack of assistive technologies, and pervasive societal stigma 

The financial exclusion of persons with disabilities (PWDs) is a pressing issue, exacerbating poverty and hindering economic growth in East Africa. According to World Bank (2019).

PWDs in the global south face numerous barriers, including inaccessible banking services, lack of assistive technologies, and pervasive societal stigma.

In many countries, banking infrastructures are often not designed to accommodate individuals with physical disabilities. Financial institutions seldom invest in technologies that would make banking more accessible, such as ATMs with audio instructions for the visually impaired. Consequently, many PWDs are left without basic financial services, trapped in a cycle of poverty and exclusion.

As a disability inclusion specialist from Uganda, I have witnessed these challenges firsthand. My professional journey has been both enlightening and challenging, revealing the systemic failures that hinder financial empowerment for PWDs. Engaging with PWDs across various contexts, I have heard countless stories of struggle and resilience, and observed the disheartening gap between policy and practice.

My position within this field has afforded me a unique vantage point. It has become evident that despite the existence of inclusive policies, the implementation is often lackluster. For example, while Kenya’s Disability Act represents progress on paper, its enforcement is weak, leaving many PWDs without access to essential services. Similarly, Uganda’s National Policy on Disability includes financial inclusion as a goal, but actionable steps are missing, resulting in minimal impact on the ground. In contrast, Rwanda has made notable strides with its inclusive policies, demonstrating that with strong political will and accountability, significant progress can be achieved.

There is a glaring disconnect between policy formulation and implementation. Many East African nations have policies intended to promote financial inclusion for PWDs, yet these policies often fail to translate into practice. A significant reason for this failure is the lack of a robust framework for monitoring and evaluating the impact of these policies.

For example, while Uganda’s National Policy on Disability highlights financial inclusion, the lack of concrete, actionable steps means that many PWDs remain underserved. Banks and other financial institutions are not held accountable for failing to provide accessible services, perpetuating a cycle of exclusion.

The role of technology and education

The potential of technology and financial education to enhance inclusion is immense but underutilised. Information and Communication Technology (ICT) can play a transformative role in making financial services more accessible.

However, in East Africa, the digital divide remains a significant hurdle. Many PWDs lack access to the internet and necessary devices, and those who do often find that available technologies are not tailored to their needs.

Financial education is another critical area that is often overlooked. The Employment Situation of People with Disabilities Report from the International Labour Organisation (2021) indicated that many PWDs have not received adequate training to manage their finances or understand the financial products available to them. This lack of education perpetuates a cycle of exclusion and poverty.

Governments must ensure that policies promoting financial inclusion for PWDs are not only enacted but also rigorously enforced. This includes setting up regulatory bodies to monitor compliance and hold financial institutions accountable.

1. Infrastructure development: Banks and financial service providers need to invest in accessible infrastructure. This includes physical accessibility in bank branches and the development of assistive technologies that cater to various disabilities.

2. Digital inclusion: Bridging the digital divide is crucial. Governments and private sector stakeholders should collaborate to provide affordable internet access and digital devices to PWDs. Additionally, digital literacy programmes tailored to the needs of PWDs should be developed and implemented.

3. Financial education: Comprehensive financial education programmes are essential. These programmes should be designed to be accessible to all PWDs, taking into account various disabilities and providing practical knowledge on managing personal finances and utilising financial services.

4. Multi-stakeholder collaboration: Achieving financial inclusion requires a concerted effort from all sectors. Governments, financial institutions, non-governmental organisations, and the private sector must work together to create an inclusive financial ecosystem. The journey towards financial inclusion for PWDs in East Africa is fraught with challenges, but it is not insurmountable.                        

Godfrey Nanyenya, Global Disability Inclusion Specialist