Tolerance: Ability not Inability – Breaking the Bank

Hello again. The last three blogs you have read on the Jigsaw website have been about the Tolerance project and the background behind it. Over the next few weeks and months we will look at some of themes of the Tolerance film in more detail in a series of blogs called Jigsaw Pieces. These Jigsaw Pieces will cover employment, relationships, transport, social life, and other related areas.

‘Breaking the Bank’ was originally intended as a newspaper article and written in 2001. I have decided to revisit the piece after watching the Tolerance video. The film features a sequence where Robert has to go into town to get a card and a present for his girlfriend’s birthday but he struggles to get money from the cash machine. The article has been updated looking at new banking services, like telephone and internet banking and how they help or hinder disabled people.

Picture the scene – it’s after midnight; it’s dark; the Mission Impossible music is playing in the background; you go into a room; there is table and on it is a tape recorder; you press play ‘Good morning Jim. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to get the money you lovingly saved week after week from the bank. This tape will self-destruct in 5 seconds’. He looks down at his wheelchair, ‘what in this thing? You must be joking. Goldfinger has a better chance of getting into Fort Knox than I do.’

It might be easy for an abled-bodied person to open an account. You go into any bank; you talk with the cashier, who goes through your options, incuding any needs you might have, and choose the account for you. After filling out all the forms where they want to know everything apart from your shoe size, you put in some money and you are away. But for a disabled person the story is totally different.

First you need to find a bank that is disabled friendly. This is no easy task, as a lot have steps or one high step up to the door, which makes entering the building impossible. Then there are the narrow doorways, which means you have to shrink or lose a pound or two to get through the door. I know of disabled people who have had to wait outside until a person can see them (if they can catch their attention), and then their business is dealt with outside. But this is not right, as banking should be dealt with confidentiality; noone wants all and sundry know your banking details.

Even when you get through the door there is still no guarantee that you can deposit your money. This is because when you get to the front of the queue you then have to deal with those high counters. The height of those counters means you are not often seen by the cashier behind the desk. You know the old joke about the little man going to the bar and asking for a drink, where all you can see of the man is his hat or his hand, as he gives you the money? Then the cashier might ask you to sign something, but you can’t, as the pen is chained to the desk and the chain itself is not long enough to reach the paper you have to sign. I have visions of one day pulling the desk away from the wall leaving the poor woman with just the chair to sit on.

The staff often have no idea of disability awareness training. I went into a bank with my mum once to draw out some money and the assistant spent the entire time talking over me to my mum. They seem to think that because my legs don’t work, I am brain dead as well.

So you have your money deposited in the bank, but now you want to get some money out. Cash machines are a great idea – easy as pie, you might say. But no! Again there are a lot of cash machines that like counters in the bank, are just too high. You need the arms of a gorilla to reach them. Yes, there are cash machines at a lower level, but there are not enough of them and if you can find one they usually have a step up to them which makes the machine useless if I want money from an ATM. I give Mum my number and she does it for me. I once suggested that I would go to town with my Mum to the cash machine; I would tell her the number and she would key it, but she rightly said that people would overhear my number, meaning my account could potentially be at their mercy, if they got hold of my card. Not ideal is it?

With all these problems with banks, is it any wonder why people like myself and the elderly keep large amounts in the house hidden because there is no way to keep it safe?

In 2001, when the original article was written, there was only one disabled friendly bank in Huddersfield, which was the Nat West bank in the Market Place. The other big four banks, which were then Halifax, Barclays, Lloyds and Abbey National, did not seem to want or welcome disabled customers. I closed my article by asking if internet and telephone banking was the way to go, but that security issues bothered me. Is that now the case in 2012? I asked a good friend about her experiences with internet banking – the good and the bad points and this is what she had to say.

Since the launch of Internet Banking, it has meant that I have been able to be in charge of my own bank account, making my own payments, and paying bills etc, which is a good thing, and there is no denying that the majority of organisations prefer to be paid by internet banking, However, it is Ok knowing how much money is in your bank, but until the banks and cash points themselves become more user friendly, disabled people will never have full control over their own money. Coincidentally, I have just moved banks to Nat West in Huddersfield, because they remain the most accessible and user-friendly.

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