Mon | Sep 28, 2020

Blind outrage

Published:Sunday | May 12, 2019 | 12:00 AMNadine Wilson - Staff Reporter
David Noel, president of the Jamaica Bankers Association and head of Scotia Group Jamaica.
Daemion McLean, chairman of the Jamaica Society for the Blind.

The reluctance of representatives at one of the country’s leading financial institutions to give blind and visually impaired individuals debit cards, and accessibility problems at ABMs locally, have led the Jamaica Society for the Blind (JSB) to appeal to the primary banking lobby for help.

Executive director of the JSB, Conrad Harris, said that anecdotal accounts indicated that access to ABMs was actually decreasing for persons who are blind and visually impaired in Jamaica.

“They are bringing in more and more touch-screen machines which do not have buttons, so these are not accessible to persons who are blind,” he said.

Chairman of the JSB, Daemion McLean, said that the inability to access ABMs was restricting the independence of his members.

“You have to bring other persons with you because you cannot read the screen. The options that are on the screen, you cannot read them, so unless you remember the sequence in your head, you cannot do anything else, you cannot do any transaction on your own,” he said.

He said that a few of the machines are Brailled, but such technology is rarely available, forcing blind customers to develop a dependency syndrome.

“What I know is that it is not comfortable, because is not everybody you want in your business, and sometimes is only your family and the closest person to you that you can trust, and sometimes you don’t want them in your business either, so it is really an inconvenience,” he said.


Harris cried outrage that several members of the JSB have been refused debit cards by representatives of the National Commercial Bank (NCB). A letter was sent in March this year to the managing director of NCB, Patrick Hylton, outlining that grouse and other issues.

“We wish to bring to your attention the challenges faced by many of our members who are blind or visually impaired in using your automated banking machines. Several of your customers have reported that they have been refused ABM cards because they are blind,” Harris wrote.

However, Nadeen Matthews Blair, chief digital and marketing officer and chief executive officer at NCB Foundation, said that the bank does not have a policy restricting blind customers from accessing debit cards.

“Our terms and conditions for a debit card require that our customers agree to be the sole custodian of their debit cards and that their PIN cannot be shared. This is for the protection of our customers, as many are defrauded by loved ones who have access to their debit cards and PINs. We recognise, however, that this presents a specific challenge for our visually impaired customers and, as such, are exploring alternatives and reviewing our procedures in this regard,” she said.

But Matthews Blair’s statement was unclear as to whether NCB policy barred outright the acquisition of debit cards by blind customers or if bank reps had gone rogue instead of facilitating the disabled.

In a letter addressed to then president of the Jamaica Bankers Association (JBA), Nigel Holness, last year, Harris appealed for support in ensuring that ABMs can be used independently by persons who are blind and visually impaired. The letter was dated June 2018.

“In recent times, we have been receiving complaints of a bank disabling audio tones in their automatic banking machines. This has ensured that blind persons, who previously memorised the sequence of key presses and used the audio tones for confirmation that their commands had been entered are no longer able to use these machines,” he said.

When contacted, the current president of the JBA, David Noel, said that the letter was sent just as Holness was demitting office and assured that several banks do have ABMs that are accessible to blind and visually impaired persons.

“I think all the members of the JBA are committed to ensuring that we provide widespread access to banking services to all Jamaicans, including those who are blind or visually impaired,” he said.

The association currently represents seven banks. Of this, five currently have ABMs across the island. Noel noted that some of the older machines have been around for a long time and that their manufacture had been discontinued, hence the need for more technologically advanced machines.

“Some of the newer machines have enhanced features, and so what we will be doing is trying to see whether with those new machines, we can enable things such as the voice or audio prompts to help facilitate the use of the machines by the visually impaired,” he said.

The JBA president said that the association is open to having dialogue with the representatives from the Jamaica Society for the Blind.