Earlier this year, The State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) introduced a policy for the financial inclusion of persons with disabilities (PWDs). The SBP's mandate makes it compulsory for banks to revise and improve their policy frameworks and strategic directions to that ensure people with disabilities receive the assistive services they require in financial literacy. Under the policy, banks will offer products and services tailored to all categories of PWDs, including the physically handicapped, visually impaired and people with hearing and speech disabilities.
“Disability is one of our strategic priority areas as part of our global D&I strategy. Disability inclusion means enabling and empowering people with visible and invisible disabilities to participate fully in the workplace,” explains Muhammad Umer, Head of HR, Standard Chartered Bank Pakistan (SC).
According to Umer, SC has initiated a series of changes to work towards the inclusion of PWDs and this includes, “includes workspace adaptation, provision of assisted devices, changes to work hours, flexible work arrangements, sensitising employees to improve attitudes and behaviours and time off from work for medical care.” These accommodations also include ergonomic adjustments like adjustable chairs, keyboards and footrests and flicker-free lighting (replacing fluorescent lighting with full-spectrum and natural lighting) to support colleagues who have seizures or epilepsy.
The majority (81%) of SC branches in Pakistan have the infrastructure (built-in ramps) to support wheelchairs. “We are currently working on teaching sign language to our front-line staff so that they can better assist customers with a hearing impairment.” Additionally, SC will be working to on-board Boltay Huroof (part of SC Women in Tech Cohort 3) for the financial inclusion of the visually impaired.
Silk Bank and HBL offer infrastructural assistance (built-in wheelchair ramps) – however, SBP have realised that installing a few slopes will not cut it anymore. The recent policy advises all banks to facilitate mentally impaired people by allowing them to open and maintain bank accounts with the help of a court-appointed manager as per the applicable laws related to mental health. Banks are advised to chalk out "well-defined" processes cushioned with assistive technologies at every step to ensure PWDs can open their accounts with ease. The process includes presenting valid identity documents and biometric verification of the person and the court-appointed manager through the National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA).
The Bank of Punjab (BOP) signed an MoU with NOWPDP to facilitate persons with disabilities. The initiative falls under the banner of NOWPDP's campaign 'Bashamool Bankari' (Inclusive Banking). Under the campaign, BOP aims to install an ATM at NOWPDP's facility for PWDs and place solar and RO plants in NOWPDP facilities across the country which would be maintained by PWDs employed there.
Outside the banking sector, the catering segment has been in the limelight for its inclusion of people with disabilities. KFC Pakistan’s branches in Karachi at I.I. Chundrigar Road, Bahadurabad and Ayesha Manzil offer employment opportunities to people with disabilities to further the brand’s 'Bhook Mitao' initiative and customers are encouraged to order their meal in sign language at KFC's I.I. Chundrigar Road restaurant in Karachi. Customers also have the option to write their orders down. KFC Pakistan’s platform provides education to 1,000 aurally impaired students every year at the Dewa KFC Campus. KFC also has 220 deaf employees and nine restaurants across Pakistan that are completely run by persons with disabilities.
A restaurant called Abey Khao in Islamabad’s Mughal Market has been winning hearts locally as well as internationally. The menu is in sign language, with English alphabets painted on the walls along with the signs for “yes”, “no”, and “thank you”. Customers are encouraged to place their orders using sign language. This trailblazing café, which opened in 2016 is believed to be the first and only cafe in Pakistan set up and run by deaf people and has garnered media accolades from across the globe; it was covered by The Guardian in 2019. In 2020, Coffee Wagera introduced a Braille Menu for the visually impaired.
Shell Pakistan is a name that frequently comes up in discussions around the employment of people with disabilities. Shell joined hands with NOWPDP and launched Project Awaz in 2016. This project aimed to provide employment opportunities to people with hearing impairments at Shell sites in Karachi. The training included sensitisation sessions and sign language courses where candidates were taught signs specific to Shell and its daily operations.
To a neutral party, it may seem like businesses with a global footprint are more aggressive about implementing best practices in terms of inclusivity – and the reason why is the fact that diversity and inclusion is a strategic prerequisite if the company wishes to cater to a kaleidoscope of stakeholders and customers from all over the world. Another reason is that multinationals operating on a mammoth scale receive full support from their governments. The SBP’s landmark policy might be the push Pakistan needs to accrue new levels of inclusivity.
Taniya Hasan is a content marketer.