Braille Monitor                         November 2020

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Braille Bank Statements: What Should We Do to Get Them?

by Curtis Chong

Curtis ChongFrom the Editor: Curtis Chong is a man approached with many questions, and the reason for that is that he usually has the answer or a thought that will lead to one. Recently he has been pressed for an answer as to whether banks must make their statements available in Braille. Though he offers no answer, he does provide some perspectives and asks for help from others. Here is what he says:

I have been reading and writing Braille ever since I learned it at the tender age of five while in the first grade. There are many things I can do with Braille: proofread somebody else’s writing, read a good book in the middle of the night without disturbing anyone, deliver a speech, review a long list of financial transactions, or play cards with family and friends.

Despite my lifelong use of and success with Braille, it has never occurred to me to ask my bank to provide me with a statement in it. I suppose I just assumed that my request would be denied or that producing a Braille statement would take too long. Thinking about this, I rarely if ever refer to a bank statement after I have successfully reconciled it against my accounts. A bank statement is, for me, a document which, at most, requires an hour of my attention each month. Downloading an accessible PDF version of my bank statement is, for me, the most convenient option, and I am fortunate that I possess the technical wherewithal which makes all of this possible.

Some of my colleagues in the National Federation of the Blind who are excellent Braille readers but who have trouble navigating the complex website layouts which are often used in today’s online systems have asked me whether the law requires their banks to provide Braille statements. Apparently, their banks believe that offering electronic copies of statements fulfill the requirements of the law and that, therefore, they are not legally required to provide Braille statements to customers who ask for them.

Wells Fargo and the Bank of America offer Braille statements to their blind customers at no charge. But what about smaller banks and credit unions? The credit union I patronize in Colorado would not know how to go about arranging to have my statements Brailled, and since, for me, this is not a big issue, I have never raised the question. But what about blind customers who, through no fault of their own, cannot find, download, let alone read electronic versions of a bank statement—even a statement that is fully accessible? What if navigating complicated web pages, finding and downloading specific files, and managing usernames and passwords are tasks which are beyond their ability? If these customers go to their banks and ask for statements in Braille and are then denied, what should they do? Does the law require banks to provide Braille statements to customers who ask for them? If there is a legal requirement to provide Braille statements, how long would it take a person to go through the judicial process?

Today, technology and services are available to produce bank statements in Braille. Banks can contract with third-party organizations to convert what is already an electronic document into hard copy Braille, and the process of conversion does not take as much time as it would if the statement had to be transcribed by hand. Gone are the days when financial institutions had to send out printed versions of their statements to be copied by hand.

According to my favorite search engine, at least two companies claim to produce Braille bank statements. Banks who are willing to provide Braille statements can simply enter into an agreement with one of these companies and provide them with electronic copies of monthly statements to be converted into hardcopy Braille. Thus, it would seem to be a relatively simple and cost-effective matter for individual banks to provide Braille statements to their customers.
To reiterate my question from above, can a bank maintain that, because it provides accessible electronic statements, there is no legal reason for it to provide Braille statements? While I personally believe that we should stand on our right to obtain and receive a Braille statement from our bank, I believe that the legal process would be so time-consuming that in the end, the victory would hardly be worth the effort. We could take this issue to the legal limit, but how much time will have passed before victory is achieved?

Then there is this: When is it incumbent upon us to increase our technological competence to deal with an unstoppable reality, which is that, like it or not, our world is forcing everyone to bone up on technology or risk being relegated to the backwaters of society? In this vain, I submit that too many blind people are the victims of inadequate if not incompetent technology training. This is made even worse by insufficient funding for training programs for the blind and less-than-adequate training of the people who actually teach technology. Historically, blind people who are experts in the teaching, support, and use of nonvisual access technology have learned the hard way, by teaching themselves. I have not yet met a blind person who learned how to teach or support nonvisual access technology by attending a formalized training program. So, while the need to master our technology is greater than ever, there simply aren’t enough good training programs and trainers to meet this need.

Most blind people who really want Braille bank statements will probably move their funds to a financial institution that routinely provides them. Those of us who can will avoid the Braille question, download electronic statements from our banks’ websites, and complain only if the websites or the statements are not accessible to us with our nonvisual access technology.
If anyone reading this article understands the law better than I do, please let me know if, in fact, Braille bank statements are something which the law requires banks and other financial institutions to provide. I would love to hear from you. I can be reached by email at [email protected].

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