Paytm operations get easier for visually impaired

The six-member Balance Tech team has joined Paytm product and design team and is working on further enhancing Paytm's user/merchant interfaces: File photo

Over the last two years, Paytm has emerged as one of the leading mobile wallets in India. The digital payments platform is used by consumers extensively these days, be it for ordering food, buying groceries, making online payments, or booking a cab. However, many blind and visually impaired people had major issues using Paytm, though it promises a hassle-free experience to users across the board.

Although once accessible, visually impaired users have been facing issues with the app all the while. While adding new payees, it was noticed that there were no specific buttons for 'Pay' or 'Passbook' which could be read by the screen-reading app. Several other buttons on the user interface of the app remained inaccessible as well.

Now, finally, Paytm seems to have taken note of the complaints. It has come out with an updated 8.1 version that specifically addresses the issues faced by people with visual disabilities. This is thanks to the efforts Mumbai lawyer Amar Jain, who persisted in the face of constant stonewalling from the company.

Jain, who is visually impaired, did not give up, going to the extent of approaching the Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) and Masayoshi Son, founder-CEO, Softbank, which has invested in Paytm.

The 8.1 version has taken away many bugs that had made the app a nightmare for people who are blind or have low vision. This was especially evident in the aftermath of demonetisation as there was a huge shortage of cash for months.

Apart from his inputs, Paytm also relied on an access audit report done on the app by Dr Sam Taraporevala, Director, Xavier's Resource Centre for the Visually Challenged in Mumbai. Based on this feedback, both the Android and the iOS versions were upgraded. While the main bugs have been fixed, there is still a long way to go before the app becomes fully accessible.

Well-known disability rights activist George Abraham, who was among those who had raised the issue of Paytm's growing inaccessibility for blind users, is satisfied with the 8.1 version. "Adding money and paying people is much easier now. And you can also find the people you pay regularly in an orderly fashion," he reportedly said.

However, disability activists are concerned that future upgrades will ignore accessibility issues just as a few popular sites, which made access easier after complaints, quietly took away such helpful features in later improvements. It is a fair concern given that companies remain oblivious to the fact that people with disabilities are digital stakeholders, despite there being a national policy on electronic accessibility from as far back as 2009. The Accessible India Campaign too has provisions to make major websites accessible. However, the ambitious goals of the programme does not seem have materialised, although there was a lot of pomp and fanfare when it was being launched.

An estimated 285 million people worldwide are visually impaired; 39 million are blind and 246 million have low vision. Mobile wallets can hope to capture the largest market possible only if they build for the largest range of abilities possible, which includes the visually impaired community as well.

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