May 27, 2016

CPD Finds that Banks in RM Discriminate against Blind Persons

The Helsinki Committee, together with the members of the Network for Protection against Discrimination, the National Union of Blind Persons of the Republic of Macedonia, and the Macedonian National Union of Civilian Victims of the War, applauds the Commission for Protection against Discrimination’s positive decision which pinpoints direct and prolonged discrimination on the basis of bodily disability exerted by the banks in the Republic of Macedonia against the blind persons.

The complaint was filed on 24 October 2013 against all banks in the Republic of Macedonia, with the aim to pinpoint the discrimination exerted against these people. The unequal treatment refers to the utilization of banking services and products which, in order to be accessed, require the user’s signature. Now, the crux of the matter lies in the fact that the banks do not recognize as valid the blind persons’ signature, do not allow usage of facsimile and subsequently force the blind persons to authorize a third person who would sign their name on their behalf. Blind persons are also facing problems in the course of using e-banking, on account of the banks’ internal regulations (usage of tokens, codes and similar security tools which are out of the blind persons’ reach). Furthermore, the banks do not provide usage of assisting technology, as, e.g., voice activated ATM, Braille printers, software solutions for access to e-banking services, etc., would be.

Due to these reasons, CPD recommends that the banks should not demand an authorized person who would act on behalf of the blind persons and persons with impaired vision, and recommends that the banks should create conditions for personal signature and facsimile. CPD recommends that each bank should introduce reasonable adjustments in order to accommodate the needs of the aforementioned persons, both in their branches and on the Internet. With regard to supervision of the banks’ operations, CPD recommends that the National Bank of the Republic of Macedonia, as the institution in charge of supervision of banks, should strengthen the control in the area of achieving equal access to banking services and products for blind persons and persons with impaired vision.

To date, only Komercijalna Bank A.D. Skopje showed good will to discontinue the unequal treatment. Komercijalna Banka amended its internal regulations and made it possible for blind persons to perform banking transactions of receiving and sending financial assets as well as to use other services on their own, both directly and with the bank’s employees assistance, and without needing the presence of any authorized person. For this reason, the Bank has trained some of its employees, who are already operating in the area of e-banking, opening of current accounts and deposit accounts.

Furthermore, the Banks has already trained numerous blind persons and persons with impaired vision to use e-banking services and products (Internet, e-applications, etc.). The Bank also adjusted the procedure of renting safes by blind persons and persons with impaired vision, in such a way that they are now free to rent a safe in the presence of two employees of the Bank.

We hold that it is necessary for the other banks to also change their discriminatory practice as soon as possible, following the positive example of Komercijalna Bank, which considerably contributed to overcoming the problems troubling the blind persons and persons with impaired vision.

At the same time, we would like to underline that in this case as well, CPD failed to pass the decision within 90 days, which is the time-frame envisaged by law, wherefore we appeal to the Commission to respect this time-frame in the future, and thus to protect the citizens’ rights in a timely fashion.