Palestinian Bank Pioneers Sign-Language Banking

Gaza's Palestine Islamic Bank is the first Palestinian retail bank to launch sign-language services.

al-monitor A hearing impaired employee uses sign language to communicate with a co-worker in the kitchen of Atfaluna restaurant in Gaza City, Oct. 17, 2012.  Photo by REUTERS/Suhaib Salem.

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palestinian, palestine, gaza, finance, banking

Aug 22, 2013

Since the Gaza Strip branch of the Palestine Islamic Bank launched a service in June to provide direct transactions via sign language, it has become easier for people with special needs to bank without a mediator.

Amina Ziyara, who suffers from a hearing impairment and works at the Atfaluna Society for Deaf Children, previously had to have a friend interpret for her at the bank whenever she wanted to withdraw or deposit money, or even to receive her monthly salary. This situation has changed, however. The Palestine Islamic Bank now offers a service for people with special needs and has trained its staff to use sign language in their direct dealings with the disabled without needing a mediator to interpret for them.

In the same context, Amina expressed her gratitude for the service that will enable her to directly deal with the bank's employees.

A Palestinian first

The direct sign language banking service launched by the Palestine Islamic Bank is the first of its kind in the Palestinian territories, according to bank officials.

Aziz Hammad, manager of the bank’s Gaza branch, told Al-Monitor, “We have trained more than 50 of the bank's employees on the use of sign language, and all our branches in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip can now operate in it.”

“This service will make it easier for people with disabilities to deal with the banks, giving them access to the operations carried out by ordinary people.” He explained that people with disabilities will be able to withdraw loans and make internal and external transfers upon their direct request.

In addition to this service, the bank issued a CD that translates banking terms into sign language in a bid to increase banking awareness among the disabled. The bank intends to launch a new service for people with visual disabilities right after Eid al-Fitr.

With this new service, blind people will deal with Braille printers that allow them to deposit and withdraw money and open accounts.

Astounding statistics

Ihab al-Madhoun, a sign language interpreter at Atfaluna Society for Deaf Children, told Al-Monitor, “Many deaf people have expressed their happiness that sign language services have been adopted by the banks,” adding, “We support and welcome the idea that goes hand in hand with our goal of deploying sign language in all public and private facilities of the community.”

Madhoun is also in charge of spreading knowledge of sign language among Gaza Strip associations. He added that about 50% of the society’s staff deal with various Palestinian banks. The Palestine Islamic Bank, however, was the only bank to adopt the service. 

According to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, the number of disabled people in the Palestinian territories totaled about 113,000 in 2011. In the Gaza Strip, this amounted to 39,877 individuals, which is 2.6% of the population, 21,000 males and 18,000 females, according to the census of disabled people in the Gaza Strip in 2012.

The number of people with special needs aged 18 and above is 27,750, while the number of individuals under 18 with disabilities amounted to about 12,096 in the Gaza Strip. People with special needs in the Gaza Strip are divided into five major types: visual, physical, hearing, memory and concentration, and slow learning.

Calls to expand service

The director general of the General Union of People With Disability in the Gaza Strip, Awni Matar, stressed to Al-Monitor the need to expand the application of the service in all Palestinian banks operating in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

“Using this language in banks is a sign of progress, but the fact remains that people with disabilities carry out financial transactions outside of banks as well. Thus, there is a need for more efforts to deploy sign language in Palestinian society,” he said.

Matar noted that the proportion of disabled people to the total population in Palestine is the highest across the Middle East, if not the world, amounting to 7% of the total population. This is due to repeat Israeli attacks against Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, as well as genetic factors caused by the high proportion of marriages within the same family, Matar added.

Spreading the idea

Khaled al-Bohaisi, an economic researcher and professor of banking studies at the Islamic University of Gaza, expects other Palestinian banks to make haste in introducing this service based on the principle of competition.

“Banking is a competitive market in which banks rush to offer better services to all segments of the society,” he told Al-Monitor, pointing out that there are no provisions that deal with the transactions of people with special needs in the Banking Act related to the founding conditions of the Palestinian Monetary Authority (PMA).

But officials in the Palestinian Islamic Bank clarified that the bank is equipped to receive people with special needs, according to the licensing terms for banks set out by the PMA. Al-Monitor tried to reach the PMA concerning its role in facilitating banking operations for people with special needs and the possibility of applying the service in other banks, but its staff refrained from commenting on the subject.

It should be noted that the PMA takes on the role of the central bank by protecting the banking business. It does not, however, practice the power of using monetary and fiscal policies, as per the Paris Protocol, which is an economic supplement to the Oslo Agreement.

Hana Salah is a Palestinian financial journalist based in Gaza, and has previously worked with Palestinian newspapers and Turkey's Anadolu News Agency.

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