Internet banking increases disabled access: Insider's View

Twenty-two years after the launch of the first full-service, internet-only bank an industry insider and a user reflect on the beginning of a sector-wide transformation that improved disabled people's lives.

The First Internet Bank of Indiana launched on February 22, 1999.

We hear from Paul Smyth, Head of Digital Accessibility at Barclays and AbilityNet’s Head of Digital Inclusion Robin Christopherson.  

Industry perspective: reflections from Barclays’ Paul Smyth

Two headshots of Robin and PaulInternet banking enables customers to the bank where, when and how they want. 

It also brings a new level of convenience. Online banking transforms lives for some of us with disabilities who'd historically struggled to navigate the physical world. 

Barclays’s ambition is to be accessible and inclusive. 

However, the early version of our internet banking website wasn’t born accessible. 

Listening to disabled customers

Early on, I remember many complaints which led to disabled customers invited in and spending time with our Head of Digital, educating them on accessibility. 

This customer feedback helped drive our accessibility programme, as we listened and learned from the disability community. 

It's helped us be proactive and deliver digital services accessible by design to ensure our digital services don't unintentionally exclude anyone. 

Find out how AbilityNet can help your business create an accessible service  


The benefits of digital banking

Digital banking enables Deaf customers to connect via virtual sign language interpreters to communicate with their bank. Those with learning or literacy difficulties can use fingerprint or face recognition to pass security in our mobile banking app. 

A customer struggling to get to a bank branch can take a snapshot of a cheque on their smartphone and have it processed seamlessly.

Meanwhile, a vision-impaired customer using a screen reader can manage their money independently and barrier-free via their computer or mobile device. 

See Robin and Paul in conversation as part of AbilityNet Live!


Accessible digital services also offer greater flexibility, choice and personalisation. 

The investment Barclays has made in accessibility has significantly helped during the Covid-19 pandemic with the rapid acceleration of digital adoption. 

We know there's always more we can do to ensure that our digital services are designed for each of us so that they work for all of us. 

We therefore strongly encourage disabled customers with accessibility feedback or suggestions to get in touch via telephone banking, secure chat, social media [@BarclaysAccess on Twitter] or via our complaints process) so that we can continue to remove barriers.

An individual’s view: reflections from AbilityNet’s Robin Christopherson

Robin Christopherson in a blue shirt leaning over a balcony in a buildingBeing able to manage your finances independently is essential. 

With the advent of online banking (and in particular mobile banking), I no longer had to deal with paper or time-consuming interactions on the phone or in-branch. 

The simplicity of a banking app makes it straightforward to look at different accounts and individual transactions to stay on top of our finances. 

Using biometric authentication such as Touch or Face ID means that the frequent entering account numbers, codes, or passwords are thankfully over.

See AbilityNet Live! to sign up for FREE webinars on technology and disability

Overcoming logistical challenges

Travelling to and navigating around physical branches is often problematic. 

There are far fewer branches - and many that remain are inaccessible for those in a wheelchair or with mobility issues. 

Phone banking is useful but can challenge older customers or those with hearing loss.

Being blind, access to cash used to present multiple challenges. Without talking ATMs like the ones Barclays provides) I had to ask strangers to push the buttons at the hole-in-the-wall on my behalf.

This is not a recommended approach. 

Quick payments using your mobile and tap-to-pay, reduce such barriers. 

This is why ensuring that your bank prioritises accessibility and inclusive design in all their digital services is so vital. 

Without it, you're just as excluded from financial independence as someone in a wheelchair is when faced with steps into a physical branch - or as we all would be without internet banking during this time of Covid-19.

How AbilityNet can support you in your accessibility journey

Further resources