Part 1: Barriers to Financial Inclusion for People with Disabilities

By Sarah Martin, Policy & Advocacy Intern for Heartland Alliance

In Illinois 1 in 5 households is not engaged with the financial system. These families are either completely unbanked, meaning they have no traditional checking or savings accounts at a bank or credit union, or underbanked, meaning they have a traditional account but still rely on alternative financial services such as pawnshops or currency exchanges. For people living with disabilities, that number is estimated to double, at 2 in 5 households.

This reveals the unique challenges individuals with disabilities face when it comes to accessing banking services. We believe that everyone should have access to safe and affordable financial products that help them build financial security. Given the unique barriers faced by individuals with disabilities, financial institutions and other stakeholders should make efforts to provide safe and affordable services that meet the needs of people with disabilities.

In this first part of a 2-part blog series, we’ll highlight the barriers individuals with disabilities face in the banking system.

Unique Barriers Facing Individuals with a Disability

In Person and Online Access to Banking

People living with a disability experience challenges accessing banks and credit unions both in person and online. People with a disability may have mobility limitations, which can be worsened when someone doesn’t have a car or reliable public transportation. What’s more, low-income individuals are more than twice as likely to live in a banking desert where there is no physical bank branch within 10 miles. Combine that with potential mobility limitations, and many are left with no options.

While online banking can eliminate the physical barriers to banking, there are hurdles to accessing services online as well. First, only 61% of people with a disability report even owning a computer and 58% report owning a smartphone. That leaves a substantial portion of people without easy access to online services.

Those who do have access to the internet may encounter banking websites that do not meet ADA guidelines. People with disabilities have a range of auditory, cognitive, physical, speech, and visual abilities, which may not be accounted for in all sections of a website or are lost in website updates. Even with assistive technology such as screen readers, a poorly designed website can make it difficult or impossible to successfully use online financial services.

Financial System ≠ Financial Reality

The existing financial system does not support the financial reality of many people living with a disability. People living with a disability may have limited and unstable income due to the low benefit levels of assistance programs, high medical expenses, and jobs that are low-wage or temporary. Having limited or unstable income can make maintaining a checking account challenging because banks or credit unions often require you set up a direct deposit or maintain a minimum balance.

People with disabilities may also experience barriers to saving or participating in asset building programs. For example, many matched savings programs require earned income, which individuals with disabilities may not have. As a further restriction on savings, people who receive Social Security Income may be subject to an asset limit – meaning they will lose their benefits if their assets exceed a certain amount.

Learn More

While these barriers are substantial, there are steps that can be taken today to change this. In the next part of this series, we’ll outline steps that financial institutions can take to make financial services more accessible for people with disabilities.

For more in-depth information about financial inclusion for people with disabilities, read our memo to the Financial Advisory Council for the Empowerment of People with Disabilities (FACED).

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