The Kenya Bankers Association (KBA) has partnered with Financial Sector Deepening Trust (FSD Kenya) and software engineering firm Deaf eLimu Plus to create the first bank environment Kenyan Sign Language (KSL) self-training mobile Application.
The solution will be the first of its kind in Africa.
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. The initiative 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.
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 KSL.
In his remarks during a forum convened to sign the partnership agreement, KBA Chief Executive Officer Dr Habil Olaka welcomed the collaboration, saying the innovation will enhance the customer experience of deaf bank clients and support financial inclusion of the persons with disabilities 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,’’ Dr 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 be called ‘Deaf eLimu Banking’. It will support banking staff to learn basic Kenyan Sign Language, easing communication and enabling the Deaf to access banking services,’’ said Mr Asiema.
Findings from the Banking Industry Persons With Disabilities Accessibility pilot study conducted by KBA and FSD Kenya last year 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. 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 Disability Digital 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.