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Page last updated at 13:46 GMT, Saturday, 5 April 2008 14:46 UK

Bank upgrade is excluding blind

By Bob Howard
BBC Radio 4's Money Box

Hugh Huddy of the RNIB
The RNIB's Hugh Huddy using a screen reader

Visually impaired customers of American Express say they can no longer read their credit card statements online.

In December Amex changed its format for UK statements from HTML to Portable Document Format or PDF.

However, it failed to encode the new PDF documents so they could be read by "screen readers," special software used by blind or partially sighted people.

American Express has apologized to customers and says it is working to fix the problem.

Customer frustration

Customer Richard Godfrey-McKay contacted the company at the end of December to tell them about the issue.

He is frustrated it still has not been fixed, as he told BBC Radio 4's Money Box programme:

"There is no reason why we should not have exactly the same net access as other customers of American Express do have now."

"Information is unreliable, it might not be accurate or they just might not be able to make sense of it"
Hugh Huddy, RNIB

Richard is not alone in experiencing this sort of problem.

The Royal National Institute of Blind People says others are also struggling to use their screen readers to make sense of some forms of PDF documents from a number of financial firms.

Hugh Huddy, the RNIB's development officer for digital accessibility, says sometimes no data can be read at all:

"We have had complaints about financial statements, insurance certificates and government documents.

"It means that information is unreliable, it might not be accurate or they just might not be able to make sense of it."

The Disability Discrimination Act says any company which provides a service must make "reasonable adjustments" to ensure they are accessible to everyone.

Accessible formats

"We have reached out already to American Express to see what is going on with this issue and to see if we can help"
Andrew Kirkpatrick, Adobe

The company behind the PDF format is the US based computer company Adobe.

It told Money Box it believes the general PDF format is accessible to all, and it is up to individual companies to ensure they encode PDF files correctly, so they can be accessed by people with screen readers like Richard.

Andrew Kirkpatrick is a senior product manager in Adobe's accessibility department.

"What we have done is make sure, when we have been defining the PDF format, that we include accessibility support within this."

He added: "We have reached out already to American Express to see what is going on with this issue and to see if we can help."

American Express says it now expects to fix the problem within the next few days.

In the interim, it is offering to send out hard copies by post of large print and Braille statements.


BBC Radio 4's Money Box was broadcast on Saturday,
5 April 2008 at 1204 BST.


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SEE ALSO
IBM helps blind 'see' web video
30 Mar 07 |  Technology
GPS navigation plan to help blind
20 Mar 07 |  Technology
'Most websites' failing disabled
05 Dec 06 |  Technology
External internet links
04 Apr 08 |  Moneybox


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