UK banks fail blind and partially-sighted customers, says BBC report

 

Blind and partially-sighted customers of some of our biggest High St banks have been “locked out” of accessing their own money – ironically enough, thanks to banks redesigning their websites to be more user-friendly … and in what seems like a very poor joke, when one customer complained they were sent … a video!  The revelations were made recently by a hard-hitting report by BBC Radio 4’s personal finance programme, Money Box [https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b0b0lwgl], whose main presenter, Paul Lewis, pointing out that, “Online banking is a service which everyone should be able to access, but Money Box has been discovering that blind people often can’t.” On the broadcast, BBC reporter Lee Kumutat (@leek005) spoke with a number of such affected customers, who reported a variety of problems but which had the same basic error – their access software and aids couldn’t cope with the changes that had been made … and in the words of one unhappy customer, “They think they've done a good job [but] from the point of view of someone who can't see, it’s an appalling job.”

 

Another commented, “If it had been sighted people who couldn't access the website, I'm blooming sure that Halifax would have done something about it pretty darn quick – whereas it took them at least two months before they did anything about it to make things better for blind or partially sighted people, and that’s totally unacceptable.” “Imagine you sit down at your computer and open your internet browser: you bring up your trusted banking website, log in the same way you have 100 times before, and then your screen goes blank,” said Kumutat.

 

“As a blind person myself, that’s the best way I can think of to describe what it is like to encounter an inaccessible website that used to be accessible.  That’s what happens when a website has been designed or redesigned and built in a way that means the screen reader cannot interact with it.” We then heard from affected users including one who said their latest version of the JAWS screen reader on Windows 10 can’t see his bank’s screen “at all”, and another who said they hadn’t been able to use the HSBC website properly “for over a year” – but who prior to its recent upgrade would have given it “eight to nine out of 10” for usability but, now wouldn't give it higher than “two or three”.

 

“More than two million people in the UK have vision problems that cannot be corrected with spectacles, and more than a third of a million are registered blind or partially sighted,” said the BBC’s Lewis, who added that, “Under the Equality Act, firms must not discriminate against anyone by failing to provide them with a service.” The banks mentioned refused to speak to the programme, which also claimed that UK Finance, the sector’s trade body, “refused to talk to us about the problems blind people face in banking online”.

 

However, one bank. Barclays. did speak to the programme and claims it considers accessibility “as early as possible” as it makes its life “easier and cheaper”, but there does seem to be some big issues here nonetheless. The banks mentioned in the programme were the Halifax Bank, HSBC and Metro Bank.  Banks say they are adhering to Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0, which ensures website are designed to be accessible to everyone but that “some customer journeys need to be improved”.

 

Commenting on the issues, Jeff Mills of UKAAF (www.ukaaf.org) the UK Association for Accessible Formats, an industry association trying to set standards and promoting best practice for quality accessible information based on user needs, notes that, “Millions of pounds are spent by banks communicating with their customers, but many are still failing blind users when developing their websites.

 

“Blind users who utilize screen readers rely heavily on their banks’ websites to have up to date information regarding their accounts.  This means banks need to be concerned not just about accessibility, but the content that is delivered to them.  For instance, if a PDF file or a Word document is embedded within a website, that must be accessible too.”

 

Sound advice, but in the meantime it looks like there will be a lot of really unhappy people out there deprived of something we all depend on now - instant access to their finances. Kumutat – herself a blind person – summed it all up very well: “The banks must take onboard that when upgrades happen, accessibility has to be at the forefront.  If you're blind and can’t access your banking online, then you risk handing a lot of control over to others, which can compromise privacy and security.”