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Now Imagine the Blind Business Owner...

As a founder, and now retired entrepreneur, I know all too well that growth potential for business depends on the availability of accessible information regarding regulatory and policy changes, and also may be the difference between success and failure. In the beginning, as a person who is blind, the journey of starting and growing a business was a daunting task filled with pitfalls and many information challenges. I encountered more than my fair share of people who could not believe that a blind woman could succeed. I was troubled by the attitude of many people with respect to their consistent belief that blindness prevented me from being successful, which created needless attitudinal barriers.

As many people who know me well will know I have always been a consumer and advocate first. Following the successful sale of my business, which today, continues to provide alternative format services to many of the largest banks throughout North America, I have always been a strong supporter of access to information, which is essential to making informed decisions about tax and investments.

I stumbled across this article, which struck me (http://www.cbc.ca/m/news/politics/revenue-canada-s-call-centres-giving-bad-tax-advice-report-1.2946998). It states that one of every four business callers who ask for tax help from the Canada Revenue Agency’s call centres receives bad information. The communication and promotional strategies are essential for promoting tax policy and regulations and must be correct and support decision making in our plans for corporate expansion and growth.

I knew through personal experience as a woman who is blind that information is power and that those with access, control the environment for services that are desperately needed. In the case of the financial sector, it is essential that blind people have access to financial statements in order to understand the full range of financial service options, the related service fees and any tax implications on personal, corporate, insurance, and investment accounts. This information needs to be reviewed independently in formats that work for blind customers. Failure to provide this type of information in alternative formats puts both the financial service provider and blind customers at risk of fraud and identity theft when a third party intervenes in the review of statements and personal financial affairs.

As bank customers, blind people pay the same service fees as everyone else, but they do not receive the same level of services. Concessions made in the past, whereby blind people receive services as a result of disability, only prolong the systemic barriers and does nothing to remove them and level the playing field in domestic international markets and our communities.

Today, I read an article (with my iPhone, which includes accessibility in every device), about more disclosures in our RRSP account statements (http://www.cbc.ca/news/business/rrsp-season-investors-still-wait-to-see-the-real-fees-1.2944899).

I suggest that if the accessibility of these important disclosures are not made accessible in formats such as braille and large print, people who are blind, deafblind and partially sighted who may not have access to the Internet will be even at a further disadvantaged by organizations who have a legal obligation to inform, just like all levels of government and other regulated organisations.

Not everyone has access to the internet for a variety of reasons such as:

  • Financial resources to purchase accessible devices;
  • Ongoing costs of communications contracts with ISPs;
  • Training on the use of accessible features and functionality;
  • Availability of accessible websites and content;
  • Availability of accessible apps and content;
  • Geographic connectivity and other such considerations.

These and other factors are not adequately considered in the regulatory and implementation of systems relating to the delivery of both online and off line services when dealing with individual and corporate customers. This situation has gone on for the better part of two decades despite the fact that accessibility compliance rules have been in place since 1992 with the passage of Bill C78 Omnibus legislation.

Having said all of this, I would like to acknowledge North American banks for the progress made thus far as they have demonstrated the bulk of the advancements on accessibility of any market sector.

Making it easy for all people who are blind, deafblind and partially sighted to join the mainstream as valued customers, employees or business leaders, and to ensure that information is available and accessible to all of us just makes good business sense. It is possible for many more talented and skilled blind, deafblind and partially sighted people to join the workforce and start successful businesses.

Disclaimer:

This blog is curated by the AEBC, but welcomes contributions from members and non-members alike. The thoughts, views, and opinions expressed in the Blind Canadians Blog are those of the contributing authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the AEBC, its members, or any of its donors and partners.
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