Being hard of hearing in Kazakhstan is enough in at least one major credit company to ensure you will be denied a loan.
News website Nur.kz has reported on the recent case of a woman with a hearing impairment in the southern city of Kyzylorda who tried, and almost failed, to raise the money to buy a tablet computer worth 55,000 tenge ($164). The woman’s plan was to take out credit and pay the debt off out of her disability benefits.
She was turned down by one bank, so she went instead with a relative, who could communicate through sign language, to a branch of Bank Home Credit, which is one of Kazakhstan’s largest household credit institutions.
While processing the forms, the Bank Home Credit employee hid the fact that the applicant had a disability. The bank worker warned that if a manager from a head office called the customer for further questions, she should avoid mentioning the disability as it could result in a disqualification. In the event, no information about the disability was disclosed and the loan was granted.
Following the furor caused by the story, Bank Home Credit on May 30 had to issue a statement defending its policy of denying loans to disabled customers. The lender said that in order to establish the creditworthiness of an individual, they have to be able to communicate fully with the person, which they said was rendered impossible by impairments in vision, hearing and speech.
The woman in Kyzylorda confessed to being shocked by the bank’s policy. Her loan would have required monthly repayments of 7,000 tenge ($21), a sum that she said even benefit recipients could manage.
As bizarre as it may seem, this kind of discrimination is not unique.
According to Kazakhstan’s Labor Ministry, there were 626,700 people living with disabilities in the country at the start of 2014.
In Kazakhstan, as in Russia, the classification of disability is a holdover from Soviet times and organized into three categories that evaluate a person’s ability to work. Those falling into the first group are people requiring constant care and attention, while the second group comprises people requiring less care but still unable to work. The third group, meanwhile, is composed of people that have certain physical impairments but that are nonetheless able to acquit tasks in most workplaces and can live independently given a suitable environment.
While there are theoretically laws in place to protect the interests of the disabled, those regulations are routinely flouted. Labor market consulting company Moya Zarplata estimates that one in five companies in Kazakhstan actively discriminates against disabled people.
But demanding equality in the workplace is probably a stretch when basic public infrastructure is so poorly designed for the interests of anybody with limited mobility or vision. For those in wheelchairs, even navigating the streets of Kazakhstan’s largest cities unaccompanied is often impossible in real terms. Beyond urban centers evenly (or even completely) built sidewalks, well-positioned ramps and other similar infrastructure are virtually unheard of.
Public attitudes are part of the problem. Dariga Nazarbayeva, the deputy prime minister and oldest daughter of the president, caused consternation in 2013 with her deeply offensive remarks about disabled children.
“From time to time, we should send young people on excursions to institutions for invalid children so they can see for themselves the result of engaging in ill-advised sexual activity. We can show the children these freaks, let them see for themselves. That will be more effective that spending hours in conversations and lectures,” Nazarbayeva said with a smirk.
Nazarbayeva was forced to retract her remarks, but her obsession with sorting the strong from the weak has not faded with time. Speaking about the need to develop sports in January, she again suggested how it might be possible to promote healthy behavior.
“Being healthy and physically powerful should become fashionable in Kazakhstan,” Nazarbayeva said.
As the incident over the bank loans has shown, it is not as though some people have much choice in the matter.