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Talking ATMs

It’s almost 50 years to the day since Barclays launched the first ATM at their Enfield branch. Half a century later, an estimated 3 million ‘Automated Teller Machines’ are in operation worldwide. A fantastic rate of implementation for the average consumer, but, as with most developments, it takes extra time for progress to be inclusive.

The Disability Discrimination Act 1995 led to a whole host of accessibility based improvements within the banking sector, ranging from induction loops, ramped entrances, and paperwork in different formats such as large print or braille for those sight impaired. Yet despite the mass move from counter service to self-service that has taken place since the nineties, ATMs have remained inaccessible for many…until now.

According to the World Health Organisation in 2010, across the globe there were 285 million people categorised as ‘visually impaired’, of which 39 million people are categorised as blind. In 2011, as the result of a degenerative eye condition, I was classified as one of these ‘blind’ people. It led to me having to adapt my life, and has gradually made me more reliant on ‘voices’; from the use of screen readers on my laptop, phone and tablet, to audio books and talking clocks and watches. Thankfully, in the last decade, these ‘voices’ have slowly become more affordable. But for me and the millions like me, the banks have been slow to follow suit.

Earlier this decade, the Royal National Institute for the Blind (RNIB) launched a campaign calling for the banking sector to make its ATMs ‘talk’. The campaign was a success in getting the accessibility message across. By the end of 2012, Barclays had taken the lead on talking cash machines and had audio technology installed in three quarters of their ATMs, plus they ran a reasonably high profile ad campaign promoting this which included well known visually impaired comedian Chris McCausland. Other banks have gradually followed suit. Of the banks that provided feedback for this article, Halifax now have 483 talking ATMs out of a total of 626 and Lloyds Bank state that 1,586 of their 2,477 ATMs have the inbuilt audio.

Very recently, my local branch of HSBC brought in the audio and I got to use a talking cash point for the first time. What a difference it makes! After years of squinting at the blur on the screen, or joining the queues at the counter, I simply attached my own headphones and was talked through the menu options by the inbuilt audio. I could also choose whether to have all the menus displayed as usual or a completely blank screen – ideal if you have concerns about someone peering over your shoulder. This feature will definitely make banking easier and more accessible for anyone who has trouble with reading print, whether that be through vision loss or dyslexia.

However, I have three pieces of advice to feed back to the banking sector. The first is ‘keep going-aim for 100% accessibility.’ Guide Dog owner Charlotte, who’s based in Coventry, says, ‘We don’t have any [talking ATMs] in my city. Have to go to bank if need cash as find most cash machines don’t even have tactile buttons.’ The banks have made fantastic progress, but to continue this they need to keep up with the roll-outs and keep seeking the advice of clients whom will benefit.

Secondly, the banking industry needs to be focusing on international steps forward so that disabled clients in all nations get an equal level of service. For example, whilst the talking ATM roll-out continues in the UK, comparatively in Australia according to Canberra based Scott Grimley the process is almost complete, ‘Major bank ATMs in Australia have headphone jack for #blind #visually impaired . Third party ATMs doing the same. Use them often with ease.’

And thirdly, banks need to let their customers know of accessible developments. Yorkshire based Ian Beverley says’…have never used one [talking ATM] in my life before…it’s firstly because of habit, I’m so use to getting money…in a particular way. However it’s also partly down to my lack of awareness of the availability of accessible cash machines in the areas that I use and also an unawareness of what sources of help are available to access them.’ Even the world’s best most accessible technology will go to waste if the people it is aimed at are not aware of its existence, availability or how to use it.

By Sam Heaton

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