It is a truism that many of our greatest technological innovations have come as a result of trying to empower people challenged with physical limitations. Whether the circumstances are sensory, mobility-oriented, or cognitive, the role of technology for many of us is to make the phrase “differently-abled” something more than a politically-correct euphemism.
The rise of mobile banking itself has been a tremendous boon for many disabled customers, rendering unnecessary those often-expensive, time-consuming, and potentially dangerous regular visits to physical bank branches. Technologies that turn text-into-speech or that enable speech to drive digital processes have revolutionized access to financial services for those with sensory limitations. Even more modest innovations that enable seamless debit card spending controls and transaction monitoring are valuable tools not just for small business owners, but for caretakers of adults with limited cognitive capacity, as well.
In financial services, there have been even more focused efforts to serve the adults with disabilities. One is to build institutions that are dedicated to serving populations that have been overlooked in general because of “able-ism.” Purple is a challenger bank that was launched over the summer by a company called youBelong, who built the first social network for “people with special needs.” The bank is the evolution of youBelong’s mobile bank for families with special need children, youBelong Cash, and emphasizes financial literacy and education as a strategy for helping people with disabilities enjoy security and independence.
Founded by CEO John Ciocca, Purple offers a digital savings account with no hidden fees and no minimum balance. Account holders can set up their accounts to receive any Social Security Insurance and Disability payments they are eligible for. Access to PFM features such as money transfers and transaction tracking are included in Purple’s banking app. The accounts come with a Purple Mastercard Debit card, and Purple donates a portion of its revenues to the Special Olympics with every card transaction.
Among fintechs, True Link Financial is a company that has dedicated itself to improving the financial well-being of people with disabilities as well as vulnerable older adults. Payment cards that can be administered by a responsible family member or guardian on behalf of an intellectually-challenged adult, for example, are among True Link’s offerings. The company announced a $35 million Series B round over the summer and its founder and CEO, Kai Stinchcombe, highlighted the way the platform can serve people with disabilities.
“When we launched the True Link Card, it quickly became clear that its features could protect a wider range of people who weren’t being served by traditional financial institutions,” Stinchcombe wrote. “We found that people with disabilities and individuals in recovery from addiction could use our product to meet their unique needs and circumstances.”
Other Finovate alums – from Best of Show winner Golden to Eversafe – also have platforms geared toward helping vulnerable seniors that can be similarly leveraged to benefit members of the disabled community and their families.
Still there are significant challenges. According to a Pew Research Center study from 2017, the rate of technology adoption among the disabled across age groups lags behind those without disabilities – and significantly so in some areas. The home broadband gap between seniors with disabilities and seniors without disabilities is more than 20%. The smartphone gap between non-seniors (ages 18 to 64) with disabilities and non-seniors without disabilities is 17%. If anything, the research suggests that an emphasis on not just the disabled, but disabled seniors in particular – where smartphone and home broadband adoption rates are below 40% – would go a long way toward helping the neediest among those with disabilities.