ATMs for the Visually Impaired

Blind people, and people with visual impairments, can go into any bank in the United States and use an automatic teller machine unassisted. In fact, the Americans with Disabilities Act makes it a requirement that financial institutions be equipped with ATMs for the visually impaired. That’s because, under the law, having to wait in line to speak to a teller and ask for assistance with an ATM machine places an undue burden on visually impaired people. Not to mention, getting a teller’s assistance with an ATM requires customers to say all of their personal banking information out loud. And doing makes the customer vulnerable to thieves and skimmers.

How Are the Visually Impaired Guided Through an ATM Transaction?

ATMs for the Visually Impaired

ATMs for the visually impaired include Braille, both on the keys and Braille instructions. The keys of an ATM are designed in a certain way to assist the blind. Keys are raise, not flat against the keypad. The numbers are set up in a way that makes them easy to find, too. They’re arranged in order – either ascending order or descending order – and the number five has a tiny raised piece on it to help those with visual impairments orient themselves.

Most important, these ATMs “talk”, they deliver through voice recordings all the information that seeing customers read. These pieces of info include:

  • instructions for making transactions
  • error messages
  • the date
  • the time

Visually-impaired people listen to ATM voices through headphones. Banks provide headphones, but in order to avoid germs, customers can bring their own headphones to the bank. (These machines work with most standard versions of headphones and earbuds.) That way, these customers can keep private their personal information, items such as:

  • their monthly bank statements
  • the balances in their various accounts

What’s more, these ATM voices are not simply recordings that are played back at the touch of the button. They are more sophisticated than that. For example, customers can ask that the voice repeat a certain sentence. And some ATMs speak in voices that sound human, as opposed to the emotionless, non-modulated voices of many computers. Customers can adjust the volume of an ATM voice.

How are these ATMs Helpful to Others Not Visually Impaired?

Senior citizens who are not legally blind but who have issues with their eyesight can derive benefit from talking ATMs. That’s because these machines employ contrasting colors to make various keys stand out, making them easier to spot. In fact, everyone is allowed to use a talking ATM. Therefore, you can use one of these machines if you have 20/20 eyesight but you simply do not like to use touchscreens for whatever reason. These machines also provide assistance to people who are illiterate or who have reading disabilities.

History of the Talking ATM

The talking ATM made its public debut at San Francisco City Hall on October 1, 1999. Today, there are more than 100,000 of these machines in operation in the United States, with more coming all the time, and they can be found in nations all over the world. Indeed, they are more affordable now for banks than ever. Some companies that make ATMs even offer trade-in programs, whereby a bank can swap an existing ATM for a talking ATM, and thereby obtain the talking ATM at a reduced rate. Or banks can simply purchase conversion kits for the ATMs they already have; these kits include the voice software that makes the ATMs talk. Banks also have the option of setting up talking ATMs that speak languages in addition to English. Bank of America, to take one example, has owned and operated thousands of bilingual ATMs for almost a decade.

As a final warning, realize that many standalone ATMs – the kind of ATM you find on street corners and inside or outside non-financial institutions like convenience stores – do not talk. But as these ATMs age and are replaced, the financial institutions that operate these machines often replace them with ATMs that do have voice capabilities.

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