With most organizations and businesses resuming operations this week, I found myself thinking. Its true that the pandemic has paralyzed most businesses, even the most established. But like a disease, Covid exacerbated an already bad economic situation in developing countries majority of whom are in Africa, Kenya included. But while everyone was negatively affected by the turn of events due to the pandemic, the most hit were persons with disabilities and their families as well as dependents. This is because for people with disabilities, economic opportunities are hard to come by due to mostly social and physical barriers that hinder them from being fully engaged in economic development. Social barriers include the attitudes of various economic players toward empowerment of people with disabilities as well as lack of role models for PWDs in their areas of interests in the various economic sectors. The result of such settings is that PWDs feel demoralised to pursue what might be of interest to them. Luckily, with the new approach to business engagements worldwide, organizations are taking 'diversification' seriously and are actively looking to have PWDs in their organizations as employees. Case in point is Microsoft Corporation that has a program to employ people with autism due to their ability to notice patterns easily that other people would. In Kenya, Light for the World leads the charge with its EmployAble Programme where, people with disabilities in Universities have a free hand to choose the career of their liking after going through work readiness skills, unlike other disability empowerment programme in the country that confine PWDs to low level jobs with that are sometimes detrimental to their personal growth.

In 2019, the Kenya Bankers Association, the Union body for banks in Kenya released a report that listed PWDs as the most underserved people with banking services in Kenya alongside women in marginalized areas. Last year, KBA found the deaf to be the most dissatisfied bank customers in Kenya due to poor communication between them and bank attendants. As part of the solution, the Association commissioned the making of an application that would ease communication between bank attendants and those with hearing impairment. There was also the assurance from banks to have their staffs trained in sign language for them to easily communicate with the deaf.

Some years back when the receivership debate on two Kenyan banks was at its peak, it was found out that Kenya was an overbanked country at the time with over 41 finance institutions both at macro and micro level. Am not sure of the situation today given the changes that have occurred in the banking sector in the past 2 years.

In Kenya today, all eligible demographic have banking services for them. The biggest demographic with banking services are women, with recent focus being on youth. Nowadays, banks are combining services for them to appeal to customers with the most popular combination being banking and insurance. Banks have also come up with business training services for them to be part of the growth journey of the businesses of their customers. How come there are no banking services dedicated to people with disabilities? Isn't the PWD demographic too big to ignore? I agree there are banks that provide training to people with disabilities for them to utilise the AGPO initiative by the government but still there's more to be done. With the focus shifting to economic empowerment of people with disabilities as opposed to the charity model, its time banks and other financial institutions made products for PWDs. The biggest market would be the housing market. PwDs require big houses for easy movement within and that comes at a cost. Business loans to people with disabilities while factoring in productivity in relation to disabilities would also be a very viable market especially in the micro, small and medium enterprises.

The effect of such actions would be a spill over effect in other industries. For instance, the uptake of prefabricated technologies in construction would be accelerated since prefab is cost effective lightweight and durable which makes construction of houses for PWDs faster. With capital and non monetary support from the banks, the over reliance on AGPO for business would reduce but at the same time, enhance economic empowerment to PWDS and contribute to their full participation in economic growth.

What other ways can banks and other financial institutions get more involved with people with disabilities?


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