Adeola Akinremi writes that disabled people, especially the physically handicapped are facing challenges with Automated Teller Machines (ATMs) across the country, just as banking for them has become a nightmare.
Titilayo Awoniyi, a 36-year-old lawyer hates to go to the ATM near her house in Yaba. The physically handicapped finds it tough to negotiate the few steps that lead to the teller machine and when at the location of the ATM, there is no ramp to lift her to the mouth of the machine for a do-it-yourself financial transaction. Awoniyi needs to rely on someonelse to get money out of the machine.
Like most ATMs at Yaba, several others in Nigeria have been set up without a thought for the physically handicapped.
“People like me often have to take help from strangers. When wheel chair-bound people are unable to reach the ATMs, they are forced to take help from strangers and divulge their ATM PIN,” said Awoniyi, who is also the Treasurer of National Handicap Careers Association of Nigeria (NAHCAN).
Now, 26 years after the first ATM was introduced into Nigeria in 1986 by the defunct Societe Generale Bank and the popularisation of it in October 2003 when InterSwitch ATM system took off, the disabled have had to contend with many difficulties. THISDAY investigation shows that the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) did not give consideration to the disabled in terms of provision for circular that could help banks deal with the disabled.
THISDAY survey shows that all ATMs across the country are not easily accessible to the physically handicapped. For instance there are no ramps that could help people on wheel chairs adjust to the height of the machines. Also the blind people will have to divulge the information on their PIN as no single ATM in Nigeria is installed with braille for the blind.
A top bank executive in Lagos said, “We are trying our best. It’s also very challenging especially that we don’t even have staff specially trained for that purpose, but the main issue is that the CBN has not given any circular to that effect. That is the only thing that can help achieve whatever is intended for the disabled. Once we have the instruction, we will respond.”
But, CBN’s Director of Corporate Comunications, Ugo Okoroafo will not like to admit that CBN failed to consider the disabled in its policies on cashless society and the use of ATMs.
“Everything is by progression,” he said. “We are working towards it. We are thinking along that line. These are things we will address as they come. Caring for the disabled is a challenge. It has infrastructure and resource implication.”
And with eight months into the implementation of the CBN’s cash-less Policy, Adewale Adeyanju, a deaf said, “We were in a bank the other time and we were using sign language to talk to ourselves and the security thought we were armed robbers. They rounded us up and we were embarrassed.”
Adeyanju’s experience is the brutal and perhaps the unfair treatment that the disabled are exposed to nowadays when they go to banks. Okoroafo admitted security issue is also of concerned to banks, though the challenge faced by the disabled. “Of course we are also concerned about security too,” he said.
To be sure, the security doors at local banks are not disabled friendly. Adewale who leads the NAHCAN as its current president said, “the security doors for the banks in Nigeria don’t allow a handicapped supporting himself with a clutch to pass through it. He has to crawl like a baby and some of them cannot crawl at all.”
That’s not all. THISDAY investigations show that banks in Nigeria do not have data forms for the disabled. The disabled have had to rely on bank officials to help them. That way, their private information and financial security are exposed. In most cases these officials are not patient or friendly to deal kindly with their issues.
For instance, most banks in Nigeria do not have designated desk as a help desk for the disabled, just as there are no staff specially trained to deal with the disabled.
About 19 million Nigerians are estimated to be physically challenged and that number may have been financially excluded with the CBN’s lack of support for the disabled in its financial policies.
Of course, to the CBN, its planned policy of one bank to disabled in a city will solve all that. “We have a policy coming on. We are trying to ensure that in every city a bank will have a branch for the physically challenged people. We know that 65 per cent Nigerians do not have access to banking and our policy in the direction of the disabled will help overcome a part of that,” said Okoroafo.
But, Adewale said in a city like Lagos such policy will achieve little. “how can a disabled travel miles from his/her house to a special bank somewhere far away in a large city as Lagos?” he querried. He said: “One special bank will not solve our problems. We need disabled desk in each of the banks and bank officials attending to us must treat us with respect and not there to exploit us.”
The other big piece of this is that, the policy makers responsible for national laws have continued to ignore the plight of the disabled.
“Policymakers don’t remember us. They finish the law before they remember the disabled and anybody can be disabled,” Adewale said. “If we are privileged to live long enough, all of us may eventually have a disability that will require a modification of our environment.”
So far, Sections 15 and 42 of the 1999 Constitution provided for no fewer than five anti-discrimination clauses and expressly prohibits discrimination on the ground of community, ethnicity, place of origin, sex, religion and political opinion, nowhere in the entire Constitution is discrimination expressly prohibited on the ground of disability.
Dr. Tede Olaide, a blind Entrepreneur said, “Handicapped people are not lazy and useless, but the government in Nigeria treats them like dirt.”
This is in contrast with what obtains in other countries. For instance, Section 21 of the Constitution of Uganda provides that: “A person shall not be discriminated against on the ground of sex, race, colour, ethnic origin, tribe, birth, creed, or religion or social or economic standing, political opinion or disability”.
Other African countries such as Uganda too have provision that support the disabled. The preamble to the Cameroonian Constitution, for instance, provides inter alia as follows: the nation… shall protect the women, the young, the elderly and the disabled’.
“It’s unfortunate that most of the banks are not considering the rights of disabled people. It’s unfortunate that most ATMs don’t have facilities for the physically challenged. Many disabled people have their salary accounts in these banks and have to use ATMs,” Olaide added.