INNOVATION

Kenya to create sign language banking app

The solution will be the first of its kind in Africa

In Summary
  • To be developed by Deaf eLimu Plus, the software will aim to support bank employees to learn basic sign language.
  • Kenya Bankers Association (KBA) and Financial Sector Deepening(FSD Kenya) are part of the initiative.
Kenya Bankers Association CEO Habil Olaka, Deaf eLimu Plus founder Hudson Asiema and FSD Kenya CEO Tamara Cook during the partnership agreement signing
Kenya Bankers Association CEO Habil Olaka, Deaf eLimu Plus founder Hudson Asiema and FSD Kenya CEO Tamara Cook during the partnership agreement signing
Image: HANDOUT

Kenya plans to create its first banking Kenya Sign Language(KSL) self-training mobile application.

To be developed by Deaf eLimu Plus, the software will aim to support bank employees to learn basic KSL, facilitating better communication with deaf bank clients.

Deaf eLimu Plus is a deaf-owned startup company that provides innovative educational products and tutorial services in sign languages.

The app will feature at least one hundred words and ten phrases drawn from common bank-environment vocabulary, including video demonstrations on how to sign the words in sign language.

The initiative is in partnership with the Kenya Bankers Association (KBA) and Financial Sector Deepening (FSD Kenya).

It is part of efforts towards implementing the recommendations of the Banking Industry Persons With Disabilities Accessibility Report released jointly by KBA and FSD Kenya last year.

KBA Chief Executive Officer Habil Olaka welcomed the innovation, saying it will enhance the customer experience of deaf bank clients and support financial inclusion of the Persons With Disability community in line with the KBA 2019-2023 Strategic Plan.

“The app will play a huge role in building capacity among bank staff on Kenyan Sign Language, facilitating enhanced interactions among bank staff and the Deaf community,” Olaka said.

There are over 150,000 deaf people in Kenya, according to the 2019 Kenya Population and Housing Census Report.

FSD Kenya Chief Executive Officer Tamara Cook highlighted the need to continue exploring how Clients With Disabilities can get better access to banking services in Kenya.

“I like that we now call them Clients With Disabilities, not just people because these are the clients of banks and they need to have that kind of access and be treated with the respect that they deserve, but also make sure that they have all the information they need to fully utilise those financial services,” she said.

Deaf eLimu Plus founder Hudson Asiema said the partnership is important since the Deaf have always had challenges accessing banking services because of communication challenges.

“This app will support banking staff to learn basic Kenyan Sign Language, easing communication and enabling the Deaf to access banking services,’’ said Asiema.

Findings from the Banking Industry Persons With Disabilities Accessibility pilot study indicated that Deaf customers were the least satisfied group of bank clients, with their main area of dissatisfaction being communication.

Bank staff also expressed dissatisfaction with communication while serving deaf customers.

The report recommends that banks should train at least one staff member at every branch on basic Kenyan Sign Language.

Language. From case studies documented in the report, the customers also highlighted the need for an interpreter or staff who understands sign language to be available at the bank branches to facilitate communication with deaf clients.

Besides KSL training, the report outlines timelines for implementing other recommendations, which include the requirement for banks to develop roadmaps projecting how they will ensure their websites, mobile applications, written or electronic banking documents are accessible in line with internationally recognised best practices accessibility standards.

Over 30 banks have so far developed Persons With DisabilityDigital Accessibility Roadmaps, setting implementation timelines.

In addition, KBA has developed a database of certified KSL trainers for the industry to deliver training on Persons With Disabilities etiquette and Kenyan Sign Language lessons.

The sessions will be conducted both face-to-face and online.

GLOBAL TRENDS

In the United Kingdom, a similar survey conducted on members of the Research Institute for Disabled Consumers in May 2021 to find out how satisfied they are with the banking service they were getting from their main current account provider.

In the survey, 95 per cent of disabled customers said they’re fairly or very satisfied with the service.

By the end of 2021, almost 4,300 UK branches will have closed since 2015, a 44 per cent cut in the network, the survey notes

 41 per cent of the disabled people in the survey said that they’ve suffered because of closures.

Banks should anticipate disabled customers’ needs, yet 14 per cent of disabled customers in the survey rated their banks as fairly poor or very poor at respecting their communication preferences.

The survey recommended Voice-enabled card readers , SignVideo Read, Talking ATMs to support the disabled.

In India, Shah Rukh Khan has developed an Indian Sign Language dictionary

The dictionary was developed and released by the Indian Sign Language Research and Training Centre in DVD form and bulky print version and consists of words and their corresponding signs.

It also consists of various banking trends that can help the disabled as they bank.