The seemingly endless discussions on disability discrimination that has lasted for over decades between disabled persons and the regulatory bodies in social life provide countless lessons for those offering services to public commonly.

In recent years some private companies and banks have introduced disabled-friendly infrastructure in their services and started to train their employees to this purpose. It is well known that prior to such initiatives, disabled people were most likely subject to indirect discrimination and banking services did not have mobility to reach out the disabled customers. Banking Regulation and Supervision Agency (‘BDDK’) of Turkey decided to strengthen the results of those facts and published a regulation on 18 July, 2016 as to be in force on 1 January 2017 aiming to provide ‘most disabled-friendly banking’ which sought to assure equal service standards to disabled customers in banking services.

RABS principally requires banks to consider the usage requirements of disabled customers whilst planning their services and products. To this aim, banks require to offer their services in a disabled convenient manner and adapt the services and services areas to the accessibility standards. This obligation is further strengthened by a clause which requires banks to provide their staff to assist customers with disabilities. Further, staff of the banks whom would be in direct interaction with disabled people requires to be trained on communication skills. In terms of the right to be informed, the access, use and safety information should also be provided to disabled customers considering their disability capacity. In addition, signs and warnings of the banks require to be in adequate size having the opposite colors on background and provide sufficient lighting. Banks should avoid red and green collocation in writing and offer braille where possible. Unless there is a technical impossibility, banks should avoid to use small fonts in texts on their screens and also in the paper, to justify the texts and using big or small capitalization only. Line spacing should be as wide as possible moreover fonts, letters and numbers should be easily recognizable.

The Definition of ‘Disabled Customer’

The scope of Regulation on Accessibility to Banking Services (‘RABS’) defines the ‘disabled customer’  as a disabled person whom has ability to know and to be the customer of the bank and requires them to submit the original or the copy of the document to be approved by the bank demonstrating their disability level as 40% or more. Besides, customers over 70 and having capacity to act are also considered as ‘disabled customer’ without requirement of submission of any disability status report. RABS strictly requires banks to inform their customers about their rights granted to the disabled customer and to maintain the confidentiality of the information it holds relating to disability.  As the requirement of strict liability, such information is prohibited to be shared with anyone and banks should protect it against unauthorized access and provide personnel access to such information on the basis of minimum limits principle.

The Contracts Ahead

The long lasting discussions under consumer protection law on the requirement of negotiating the terms and condition of banking services contracts seems to be somehow extended. In recent years, because in the absence in the law, conventional banking services approach or non-negotiated contractual provisions have been applied to consumers and banks per se extended the liabilities of consumers on basis of non-negotiated contracted clauses. Serious objections to those ex parte applications of banks have been taken to the Turkish Courts and Turkish Courts concluded that non-negotiated clauses in banking services contracts that lowered the benefits of the consumer are null and void. The issue under discussion was basically whether the bank denominated clauses were clearly explained, negotiated and agreed with customer.

Upon a broad interpretation and in light of precedents about effectiveness of ex parte clauses of banking services contracts, RABS seems to impose more obligation to banks as it requires banking service contracts to be accessible in voice and sign language on web-sites of the banks. Further, the information and documents such of contracts, account statements, PIN and passwords, should be provided to disabled customer in Braille alphabet, voice message and sign language video format with a certain level of security if requested. Banks are restricted to charge disabled customers for such facilitator and informative services.

ATM Machines

In addition to signs and documents RABS also requires variety of standards for ATM machines. Accordingly, ATM screens should be selected as visible and not to get dark as the result of factors such as light and image quality. ATM should be lighted adequately therefore lightening should adversely affect the eye of the customer whilst using the ATM.

ATM control keys should be positioned in accordance with the standard phone keys. There should be sufficient distance between the key as not to confuse with each other. The usage of keys should not hassle the disabled customers and to be easily used with a minimum physical movement. Slots should be designed and positioned for easy and safe designed access and use. Even the banks offer the same level of privacy to all customers they are required to take measures to ensure the confidentiality of personal or critical information of the disabled customer. Disabled customers, providing their disability status information is informed to the bank and limited with the transactions of their own account, do not pay any additional costs for using any ATM in the country for checking their balances, withdrawal and depositing money, to inquire about credit card debt and to pay it off.

Access of Orthopedic Disabled and Visually Impaired Customer

RABS sets certain requirements particular to both orthopedic disabled and visually impaired customers. In general, the banks require to ensure the appropriate use of ATM for orthopedic disabled customers. To achieve this; ATMs should conform to the accessibility standards, have sufficient area to maneuver the wheelchair to get back and to front, the height of the ATM keyboard should be eligible to access for wheelchair users, there should be enough space below keyboard position the wheelchair and a suitable ramp in case or a step or level difference in front of the ATM machine. Banks also require to locate sufficient ATM machines considering the number of disable customers and their addresses. The minimum number of ATM to be located for disabled customers’ requirements is 2 out of each 100. This is coordinated by Union of Banks and Union of Participation Banks.

For visually impaired customers, banks require to integrate voice menu functions to ATM machines and the privacy of the voice message services should be provided. An integrated technology of voice menu service which includes accessible headphone jack or telephone handset should be provided and the option of switching the ATM screen off should be offered at any stage in the process or in pre-processing. In voice menu of the ATM, balance check, withdrawal and deposit, inquiry of credit card debt and paying it off options should be provided. Embossed symbols required by the voice menu and touch keys can be distinguished from other keys provided. The activation of a voice menu should be easily discoverable at ATMs and use of it without requiring additional training shall be provided. In case a voice menu is offered with the headset which automatically works by activation of the headset it should terminate with hanging up the headset. Voice menus should have repeat function and allow the customer to adjust the volume.

Access to Services Offered by Branches

RABS requires banks’ branches to provide accessibility standards as to making an organization which would require no need of assistance by another person whilst offering services and offer priority services to a disabled customer.

Visually impaired customers could only exercise their rights in connection with contracts related to banking services following to use their rights of being informed and inquiry about the content. In this context, banks are restricted to apply different procedures unless the disabled customer requests the contrary. Banks should also encourage their branch personnel to learn sign language. In the absence of personnel who knows sign language branches should provide video remote support in sign language.

The amount paid information should be transmitted in the form of short messages to the visually impaired customer that can be read by a screen reader except for payments made through ATMs. This requires advance notice to the bank about disability of the customer.

Monetary transactions made without using voice menus through ATMs should also be text messaged immediately as to be read by the visually impaired customer through screen reader program.

Banks also requires to re-design their POS devices as the control keys are positioned in accordance with the standard telephone and comply to the standards for ATM machines. Further, necessary security of on-time sent password should be provided as to be compatible with screen reader program.

Transactions such as getting or changing the password should be presented in a different methods other than call centers. Banks which are also offering call center services should provide a secure online platform or video remote interpretation services to help hearing impaired customers for their inquiries of lost / stolen card. Banks should set an appropriate mechanism to the customer's disability and the timing for the visually impaired customers to touch the screen should be long enough to allow such customers to be able to dial calls.