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Cash and Disability

Categories : Cash is available to all users, Cash is the first step of financial inclusion, Costs of cash versus costs of electronic payment instruments
November 1, 2023
Tags : accesibility, Card payments, Cash, Digital payments, disabled people, seniors
Many seniors and people living with disabilities find it easier to use cash as opposed to card and digital payments.
Manuel A. Bautista-González

Ph.D. in U.S. History, Columbia University in the City of New York

Post-Doctoral Researcher in Global Correspondent Banking, 1870-2000 – Mexico and South America, University of Oxford

This post is also available in: Spanish

“The accident which deprived my mother of her career and her mobility means that she can no longer care for her disabled husband, cook a meal or babysit for her grandchildren. […] Each time her card is refused, it’s a reminder of the independence she has lost and the powerlessness of disability.” – Anna Timms, The Guardian

Writing for CashEssentials has made me aware that means of payment are not equally accessible. When I returned from New York City to Mexico City during the Covid-19 pandemic, I noticed how my parents and seniors struggled to use payment cards and digital payments. Many find it easier to withdraw cash from ATMs and prefer to use cash in daily transactions.

Once, when using a debit card, my dad entered the wrong PIN three times. The bank froze his card, and he lost access to the funds for weeks. My mom’s visual capacity has diminished: the chances that she will make mistakes when paying with cards are higher than with banknotes and coins. Both get frustrated with banks’ digital customer service channels. They find banking apps challenging and confusing to navigate menus and options by telephone banking.

This happens across countries. In 2022, a Spanish retiree, Carlos San Juan de la Orden, started a campaign that showed how banking’s rampant digitalization increased senior adults’ financial exclusion. The petition reached close to 650,000 signatures.

Digital Payments for Seniors and Disabled People

“53% of 14.3 million adults in the Netherlands cannot perform all payment services independently [including] people with a mild intellectual disability, people with a walking impairment, people who have such poor mobility that they use a scooter or wheelchair, people with limited hand function, people who are hearing-impaired, people who are severely hearing-impaired or deaf, people who are visually impaired, people who are visually impaired or blind, people aged 65 to 74, and people aged 75 and over” (Broekhoff et al. 2023: 5).

In a recent paper, researchers from De Nederlandsche Bank (DNB) explored the obstacles that at-risk groups face when using digital payments. While most people are satisfied with how they can pay, people with low digital skills and wheelchair users are the least satisfied (see Graph 1). The satisfaction of focus groups correlated positively with the independence to perform payment services.

Graph 1. Netherlands: Independence and Satisfaction of Various Groups of People Regarding Payment Services

Source: Broekhoff et al. (2023: 33).

Most interviewees paid using debit cards, preferably without PINs (see Graph 2). Cash was their second most used payment method.

Graph 2. Netherlands: Use of Payment Methods in Retail Payments

Source: Broekhoff et al. (2023: 42).

In-depth interviews found that:

In their conclusions, the researchers issued four recommendations for retailers, banks, ATMs, and payment equipment operators (Broekhoff et al. 2023: 5),

Payment Instruments Are Not Neutral

The digital payments infrastructure is ill-prepared to accommodate the needs of seniors and disabled people. Cash restores and provides agency to disabled and older people. Chart 1 shows how many people find using cash in retail transactions easier than card and digital payments.

Chart 1. Disability and Means of Payment

While I can only talk with first-hand experience regarding neurodiversity as an adult with ADHD, I would encourage readers to provide feedback, mainly as this think tank explores the role of cash as a basic right.

This post is also available in: Spanish