Access to microfinance services by persons with disabilities in Uganda : the case of BRAC and Pride Microfinance Institutions
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The purpose of the current study was to examine the nature and level of access to microfinance services by Persons with Disabilities (PWDs) in Uganda taking BRAC and Pride as case studies. Specifically, the study examined the perception of microfinance providers towards serving PWDs, the categories of PWDs accessing microfinance services and the interventions microfinance services providers have put in place to enhance access to their services by PWDs. The study adopted a qualitative approach and in-depth interviews and observation were the main methods used to collect data from staff of microfinance institutions as the primary participants and their clients with disabilities. A total of nineteen (19) participants were purposively selected to participate in the study. Data was thematically analysed and presented descriptively with the support of field voices. Results of the study suggest that, depending on the category and degree of the disability, microfinance providers perceive PWDs as any other client without disability, or as people who deserve charity or as risky clients who lack the ability to effectively run business. Thus, Persons with physical disability are perceived to be like any other persons without disability whereas the deaf, blind and dumb are considered to be risky clients who cannot use services like credit productively and be able to pay back. Such a category of PWDs is not looked at as potential clients of Microfinance institutions and therefore deserve to get charity from voluntary organisations. It is evident from the study findings that only persons with mild physical disability and the partially blind had access to microfinance services. This is attributed to the business management ability envisaged in them by microfinance providers and the ability to meet criteria as opposed to dumb, deaf and totally blind who are looked at as having no ability to effectively run business and also because of communication barriers find it extremely difficult to meet the criteria set by MFIs. The study findings confirm the generality of microfinance institutions’ interventions to serve the poor. Notably: Mobile phone banking, Community Banking and small-size loans which address the general concerns of the poor and not deliberately the special needs of PWDs. This explains the limited participation of PWDs in the microfinance industry in Uganda. Hence MFIs are hereby recommended to formulate and implement policies that accommodate the special needs of PWDs to ensure fair access to microfinance services and to enable them unleash their economic potentials like their counterparts without disabilities.