The theme for this year’s International Day of Persons with Disabilities is creating a sustainable and resilient society for all. Kenya’s leading mobile service carrier, Safaricom is walking the talk following the announcement by the company it is launching a new version of M-Pesa for the visually impaired customers.
This service will be the first of its kind mobile money service as it will drive financial inclusion to include not just the unbanked, but also the unbanked who are also visually impaired. Safaricom network subscribers who are visually impaired can now dial 234 on their mobile phone to access the new ‘M-Pesa Services > M-Pesa Balance, and the customer will then enter their PIN, and the balance amount will be read out loud to them.
Joseph Ogutu, the Director of Strategy at Safaricom said, “Tremendous gains lie in being able to enhance the ability of persons with disabilities into every aspect of political, social, economic, and cultural life. Our vision at Safaricom is to Transform Lives, and we hope that this latest innovation will enable more visually impaired customers on our network to have control over their M-Pesa accounts.”
The new service will enable visually impaired customers to query their M-pesa balances, and the telecom says more M-Pesa services are also set to be gradually introduced into the platform over the coming months. This development is a clear indication that visually impaired customers on the Safaricom network will soon be independent when it comes to operating their M-Pesa wallets.
Traditionally, these customers will depend on the aid of an assistant to make the M-Pesa transactions on their behalf. Sometimes, they ended up using an untrustworthy assistant who defrauded them of their money by withdrawing more than what the user requested and pocket the extra. Such acts are committed by collusion between the assistant and the M-Pesa agent serving them; sometimes it is the agent who doubles up as the assistant and defrauds the customer.
The new Voice Response Platform will allow customers access M-Pesa services without the need of using an assistant.
“When I have a basic feature phone, withdrawing or sending money has been quite an issue. I try to work with trust. We are excited by this innovation, which has been long overdue. It gives us independence, and now we go ahead and transact without revealing our PIN,” said Jonah Simba, an IT Program Officer at the Kenya Union of the Blind.
Safaricom recently invested in voice biometric platform, and this new M-Pesa feature is as a result of that investment. The telecom says it is also working on a number of other programs that will enable visually impaired customers to access smartphones at more affordable prices. The users will access mobile services and application using voice prompts and interactions. That means visually impaired users can use more features of both the mobile money technologies and their smartphones.