In Lebanese society, the visually impaired face a host of problems in their daily lives, including dealing with money. On top of being cheated in daily transactions, banks provide no clear mechanisms for blind people to open and manage accounts independently.
Sanaa hailed a taxi and asked the driver to take her to her house for 5,000 Lebanese lira ($3.31). When she arrived at her destination, she gave him a 20,000 lira bill ($13.24). In return, he gave her a wad of cash that she was unable to count. Later, she realized shehad received only LL5,000 in change. He was able to easily swindle her even though she is not fully blind, just visually impaired.
Some blind people memorize the order in which money is placed in their wallets and organize bills in a way that facilitates transactions. “I try to pay with the bill closest to the price I was given so I won’t be cheated as much, in case the person I’m dealing with is a swindler,” Fatima blurts out laughing.
Milad on the other hand can tell the difference between the different denominations of paper currency based on their size. In time, he was able to commit these differences to memory, even though some bills are the same size, like the 1,000 and 5,000 lira notes, and the 10,000 and 20,000 notes.
Gilbert was able to benefit from the technology provided by iPhones. There are two programs that determine the value of the currency as soon as it is photographed.
Many visually impaired people believe banks could partially ease their situation if they provided ATMs with electronic sounds. Yet there are many obstacles to such a development, including the complicated conditions imposed by Lebanese banks on visually impaired people who wish to open personal bank accounts. Though these conditions are enforced under the pretext of preventing them from fraud, they are often a hindrance.
A number of visually impaired people say that these terms were established by the Association of Banks after an unfortunate incident involving a visually impaired man. The blind man said the bank made him sign a form whereby he withdrew all his money and lost his savings.
As such, blind people are now subject to the same rule that prevents illiterate people from opening bank accounts, except in two cases: having two eyewitnesses present during deposits and withdrawals, or authorizing a person to take their place. Educated blind people might think this rule is offensive because it equates them with illiterate people. Several bankers who were questioned by Al-Akhbar argued that these conditions protect the blind against fraud.
The problem lies with the chaos and the discrepancy in the conditions imposed by different banks. For example, each bank whimsically determines the conditions that eyewitnesses have to meet. Some banks allow bank employees to be witnesses or any two random clients that happen to be at the bank to play this role. Other banks require that the witnesses be relatives of the client.
One visually impaired woman recounts how when she went to open a bank account, the employee told her that she needs to give someone the authority to take her place during bank transactions. Because she desperately needed a bank account, she went to a notary public and gave her father power of attorney. When she returned to the bank, the employee chastised her for the idea explaining that she could have opened a joint account from the beginning.
Ibrahim Abdallah, a disability rights activist, has been trying for some time to find a solution to this problem. He is now in contact with the Association of Banks and the Central Bank of Lebanon, who expressed their willingness to help as long as they find the optimum mechanism for both parties.