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24 March 2020

Posted by Dr Scott Hollier, Director and Co-founder of the Centre For Accessibility Australia

As a digital access specialist, there are times when issues arise that force people with disability to respond to things that are so completely unnecessary. That there doesn’t seem to be any logic to it. I’ve just had one such instance happened to me, and thought it was a great case study into the challenges of digital access.

ANZ bank sent a letter to me, which in itself is logistically difficult to read as I’m legally blind.  In the letter which my daughter helped read out to me, it stated that due to the bank making errors in its deductions for cash  payments.  It had provided me with a refund of $16.74.  Always happy to receive money that’s unexpected, I assumed that this would naturally be credited back to my account.

However, as my daughter continued to read the letter, it indicated that in the same envelope was a physical bank cheque, which would need to be cashed at an ANZ bank branch. The letter stated that if this cheque was not cashed in a relatively short period of time, the money would be donated to charity.

Under normal circumstances this would be a bit challenging in itself:  Taxi fares for a round trip to my bank alone would cost more than the cheque is worth. And in the digital age, there’s no reason they couldn’t have told me about the payment via the SecureMail facility in my online banking.  Then just credited the amount to my account.

However, this isn’t a normal time:  Due to the Coronavirus when our society is being required to stay away from non-essential travel and self-isolate.  My bank has threatened to take my money away if I don’t physically appear at an ANZ branch.  Which goes against all the messaging currently coming from the Federal and state governments.

So, in essence, ANZ have sent me a letter saying they owe me money for a bank error.  But will also be taking it away from me shortly as I have no mechanism to effectively go to an ANZ branch to bank it.   I tried calling ANZ, but each time the automated voice said that based on my responses my request wasn’t important enough and hung up on me.

This perfectly illustrates why ensuring people with disability have effective access to digital content:  If the letter was provided via an accessible secure portal and the amount added to my account, there would be no issue.  The irony is that ANZ have very accessible banking products, even winning an Award for their digital access.  So if they’d just used the channels available to them, it would have been quite effective for me. The bigger issue though is that people with disability that have respiratory conditions may have also received a similar cheque.  It’s beyond comprehension that vulnerable people should be asked to visit a bank at this time.

I’m not planning to cash my $16.74 now due to the Coronavirus crisis recommendations by the government.  However, if I were in a difficult
financial situation, which many people who have just lost their jobs are.  Then ANZ would have created a whole lot of movement by people at a time when it’s least preferred.  I challenge ANZ and other financial institutions to consider the needs of people with disability when planning these processes.