December 3rd marks the annual International Day of People with Disabilities, that has been celebrated since 1992 after its proclamation by a UN general assembly resolution. Over the years, great strides have been made towards ensuring participation of people with disability in all aspects of life. However, financial inclusion still lags behind, a 2005 study by Handicap International, found that from microfinance institutions dedicated to serving the world’s financially excluded people-less than 1 percent of the clients were persons with disabilities (PWDs).
Bridging the gap
Financial inclusion is listed as a target paramount to the achievement of 8 out 17 global sustainable development goals including eradicating poverty, ending hunger and food security. Generally, financial inclusion supports economic growth and achievement of development goals across sectors. For instance, a study on the impact of mobile money found that mobile money uplifted 194,000 households in Kenya, a significant portion of the population.
This year’s theme for the international day of people living with disabilities is; transformation towards sustainable and resilient society for all. In line with this, Safaricom, Kenya’s leading telco has launched a feature that will open up mobile money (M-Pesa) to the visually impaired. Previously, the M-Pesa experience for people with visual impairment involved getting the assistance of a trusted second party in transacting. Sometimes, they would have to reveal their pin number, hoping people won’t defraud them. In cases where a person with visual impairment has to travel away from their trusted confidant, they would have to settle for help from strangers (a scary thing to imagine).
The new service enables customers to securely check their mobile money balance through an interactive voice platform by dialing 234, then selecting the “M-Pesa Services” option, followed by the “M-Pesa Balance” option. This will then allow customers to enter their PIN and have their balances read out to them. Customers can now ascertain their balances before and after a transaction and no longer have to rely on the word of the people assisting them.
“Tremendous gains lie in being able to enhance the ability to integrate persons with disabilities into every aspect of political, social, economic and cultural life. Our vision at Safaricom is to Transform Lives, and we hope that this latest innovation will enable more visually impaired customers on our network to have control over their M-Pesa accounts,” said Joseph Ogutu, Director – Strategy, Safaricom.
Human Centered Design
Safaricom developed the service from the perspective of visually impaired customers using focus groups to get insight and feedback. “When I have a basic feature phone, withdrawing or sending money has been quite an issue. I try to work with trust. We are excited by this innovation, which has been long overdue. It gives us independence and now we go ahead and transact without revealing our PIN,” said Jonah Simba, IT Program Officer, Kenya Union of the Blind.
The service is made possible by use of a voice recognition (voice biometric) system that can change voice to text and vice versa. The technology is traditionally used in security, language translations etc. In the future, the new platform will allow the firm to innovate around a number of its services, features that will enable customers to use their voice to access the services.
As the world celebrates the international day of people with disabilities, Kenya has more reasons to celebrate, as a ‘world-first’ innovation opens up the path towards financial inclusion for people living with visual impairments.