By Sarah Martin, Policy & Advocacy Intern for Heartland Alliance
Nationwide, the poverty rate for adults with disabilities is more than twice as high as those without disabilities. If we hope to address this disparity and enhance financial stability for people with disabilities, it is crucial that they have access to banks and financial services that meet their needs.
Part one of this series outlines some of the barriers people with disabilities face when trying to access financial services. In this post, we’ll share steps banks, credit unions, and organizations can take to make financial services more accessible for people with disabilities.
Reduce Physical & Online Barriers
Reducing barriers may seem like an obvious suggestion, but there are many buildings that do not comply with the 2010 ADA accessible design standards. A building may be constructed to meet accessible design standards, but can still become inaccessible due to poor furniture placement, audio/visual systems that don’t work, or ramps that need repairs. Websites and mobile apps also regularly fail to meet the ADA and Web Content Accessibility Guidelines. The initial website or app may be tested for accessibility, but updates, new features, or technology bugs may mean that people with disabilities are no longer able to use the website or app to access financial services.
Financial education is not a standalone solution to increasing access and inclusion for people with disabilities, but it is an important component. Financial education for people with disabilities may involve one-on-one coaching or interactive online courses, and ideally should be tailored to work with each person’s abilities. The employees of financial institutions also need to receive targeted education and training focusing on disability benefit rules, relevant financial products, available accommodations, and customer service.
Inclusive Financial Products
People with disabilities comprise over 12% of the adult population in the United States and are estimated to hold over $645 billion in disposable income. However, existing financial products are not fully meeting the needs of individuals with disabilities. There are some excellent products, such as ABLE accounts, that are specifically meant to help people with disabilities build savings. Unfortunately, many people with disabilities do not benefit from these products because they do not know they exist. Financial institutions, governmental agencies, and community organizations need to promote existing products and dedicate resources to developing new financial products and services for people with disabilities. New financial products may include loans to help people purchase assistive technology or expanding the SMS platform to allow mobile banking via text.
Creating financial products for people with disabilities is only the first step. Collaboration between the government, financial institutions, and organizations that provide support for people with disabilities is needed to ensure that products work with federal disability programs, people know about the products, and they know how to participate. This collaborative work must involve the direct input and support from people with disabilities in order to be effective and ensure that solutions are actually meeting people’s needs.
These are just a few of many recommendations to improve banking access for people with disabilities. To learn more, read our memo to the Financial Advisory Council for the Empowerment of People with Disabilities (FACED).