Ironically many blind people were amongst
the first to embrace and begin widely using automatic teller machines (ATMs),
but now it is this very same group who,
more-often-than-not, are unable to use ATMs with a satisfactory degree of
Teller Machines are now a way of life. They are often the only way to conduct
some banking activities for many, due to branch closures and the increases in
face-to-face transaction fees.
70 percent of Australians surveyed by the ABS in 1999 now use ATMs, an increase
of five percent over the previous year. ATMs are now a normal part of daily
report has been prepared on behalf of the Australian Human Rights and Equal
Opportunity Commission (HREOC) as part of their enquiry into the impact of
E-Commerce and new technologies on people who are older or who have a
disability. It explores the accessibility barriers that ATMs present to people
with a variety of disabilities, particularly examining the access barriers
experienced by people who are blind, vision impaired or who have reading, learning
or intellectual disabilities. The
examination recognises the increase in disabling conditions that often
accompany the ageing process, and the impact these disabilities have on ATM
accessibility and use.
related report is also being produced for the Human Rights Commission which
examines ATM accessibility for people with a range of physical disabilities,
which complements this report's focus on the accessibility of ATM information.
are no banks in Australia providing ATMs which are truly accessible to people
who are blind or vision impaired. Some machines contain a raised dot on the 5
key, others have Braille numbers on the numeric keypad, and others still have
no tactile indicators whatsoever. Although the Bank of Queensland provide some
recorded messages, no ATMs in Australia provide voice output for the
information presented on the ATM screen. Token Braille on key-tops is the
extent to which the majority of banks in Australia have gone to, in order to
make ATMs easier to use - and that was predominantly in response to the threat
of Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) action.
The information, recommendations and
conclusions of this report are based upon a variety of recent studies, reports,
press releases, internet postings, discussions with banks, ATM manufacturers
and others. A recent Australian survey conducted by the author and completed by
nearly 20 blind and vision impaired people in Australia, who have used ATMs,
adds up-to-date Australian content to this report.
Other key resources consulted include:
Various RNIB/European Union studies and reports written by Doctor
John Gill including the Saturn project; and
A 1995 audit of accessibility of ATMs in Canada, commissioned by
the Canadian Human Rights Commission.
"I used to use them [ATMs] about
fortnightly until they became increasingly inaccessible, and now I rarely use
them and now, never without assistance".
"I have been trying to use them on
and off from when they were first introduced – I just keep hoping one day I'll
"The newer ones are less complicated,
but here in Queensland they are frequently positioned where the sun shines
directly onto the screen, making it impossible to read ..." – from a Low
"I found the more modern machines
much harder to use" – from a Blind respondent.
"The braille isn't useful until you
know what the key means, and once you know what the key is, braille isn't
" ....I've never actually completed a
transaction independently yet. On a
number of occasions I have had my card 'eaten' by the ATM and I enjoy the
frustration of the staff when they have to open the unit to retrieve my
"I feel as a VIP [vision impaired
person] that if there was a standard format it would be easier to access ... ie
'withdrawal' at the top left hand corner ..."
"I can generally perform the
transaction I need to, the hardest thing is if the machine's out of order/money
or some other problem; often it is hard to distinguish whether it's something
I'm doing wrong, or is it the machine"
"Most of them [ATMs] are not very
logical. There is one type that is very
easy to use. But I have never been able
to walk up to an ATM unassisted ..."
"I used to be able to use them quite
well - once I learned the sequence and where all the buttons were. Now, the keypads and the fact that keys have
different meanings during the transaction, has made using ATMs almost
"I am slower than others in the cue
and struggle, particularly when I use a model that I am not familiar with"
..."I tend to find a couple (usually
older ones [ATMs]) and stick to them.
This can sometimes mean that I go out of my way to access my
"The layout is often not
consistent. For example, it might ask
you a question that requires you to push a yes or a no button. But the next time it asks you to answer yes
or no, the buttons are in a different place ..."
" ...Not getting any feedback from the
machine. This is why I only use the
machines for withdrawing cash ..."
"Why can't voice be attached to the
ATM so you know what buttons you have pushed, except when entering your PIN
intent of this short section is to briefly examine the current ATM environment
and how it might change over the next few years. These possible changes are
likely to have quite significant impacts on accessibility, and the options
available to banks and others.
Australia, there are two predominant brands of ATMs, Dibold/IBM and
ATMs labelled as IBM were made by Dibold in the US, and more recently IBM has
lost the contract to sell and support Dibold ATMs in Australia. But, for all
intents and purposes, Dibold and IBM ATMs are one and the same.
Early IBM machines were installed in the early 80's and are a favourite of
people who are totally blind, due to their keyboards which allocate only a
single function to each key. Because the screen is single line the system
doesn't present dynamic menus which commonly lead to uncertainty for blind
users. Because of the clear operating sequence, the good layout of the keyboard
into different zones for different groups of functions, the loud beeps
acknowledging key-presses, and the minimal reliance on the screen, these early
ATMs heralded an era where blind people could withdraw cash with full
independence – and without the need to find assistance to complete paper
deposit slips, and avoiding the necessity to sign their name.
since the release of newer full-screen ATMs, the wider public have realised
that the original IBM ATMs left a lot to be desired. People with low vision
also found that the newer style machines were a lot easier to read and use.
point demonstrates that one user interface approach does not suit all and that
flexibility and configurability are necessary to meet the differing
requirements of people in our society.
of these early original IBM machines still exist, but are gradually being
replaced by more modern and less accessible (to totally blind people) units.
now manufactures more modern ATM models containing full screens and menu keys.
Some of these newer machines may be upgradeable to 'Voice Guidance' technology
for speaking prompts and menus to the user.
of the Talking ATM trials presently occurring in the United States are based
around Dibold ATM technology.
short period in the 90's NCR was owned by AT&T so some Australian ATMs may
be branded AT&T. More recently,
though, NCR is now trading under its original name. NCR is based in Dundee,
Scotland, and also has a human factors research office in London.
collaboration with the RNIB and others, NCR has developed a variety of
accessibility technologies for their ATM systems. In late 1999, NCR began
advertising a new series of ATMs designed for accessibility and usability by
all. These units have anti-glare screens, positive action keyboards, optional
'Audio Lead Through' and a range of other features.
present in Australia the vast majority of ATMs are owned or leased by banks and
financial institutions. Trends overseas and progressively in Australia are
leading to more low-cost, limited function ATMs being installed by shopping
centres, clubs, public sporting venues and the like. In general terms, the
lower cost ATMs will be more difficult to make accessible for a wide range of
people with disabilities.
present ATMs are not based on internet technologies such as HTML XML and the
like. Existing ATM interaction screens are carefully scripted and are not
simple to change or modify from one user to the next, or when new features are
to be added to the service. The machines conduct part of the transaction using
their local in-built computer and in most cases also contact a mainframe to
obtain details of account, and to process transactions etc.
is a trend for public information kiosks to be based on web technologies, and
there is also a trend for ATMs to provide more than just cash to the user.
These two trends are likely, in time, to result in internet-based machines
which can offer a range of financial services, and which will be more easily
adapted to the specific preferences of the user.
recently, ATM manufacturers see their products as self-service machines, with
the capability of providing other banking or generic services. These might
include providing on-line access to information on banking services, ticket
issuing, bill payment etc. In the future, ATMs may be used to transfer value to
a smart card-based electronic purse, instead of issuing physical cash. The
distinction between ATM's and Information kiosks will continue to blur over
trend which may have an impact on accessibility and consistency of user
interface is the growing use of ATMs for advertising and promotion of goods and
services. Using ATMs for advertising is the key theme of this year's ATM
Industry Association Conference being held this February.
and other unexpected steps in a person's interaction with an ATM may cause
confusion or loss of concentration for some groups of people with disabilities.
For example, some ATMs in the US will unexpectedly ask the user if he/she
wishes to make a donation to a charity, thus changing the flow of interaction.
the United States, ATMs also sell stamps, gift certificates for shopping
centres etc, something which may gradually take hold in Australia.
Canada and the United States there are now several banks employing or
developing ATMs with voice output. These machines have an earphone jack and can
"talk" the user through the ATM transaction, prompting for user
responses and reading screen messages as required.
approaches are taken when making an ATM voice enabled – either adding voice to
the existing screen layouts, or developing Telephone Banking-style menus for
ATM interaction, so the user can use the ATM numeric keypad to conduct the
bank has installed talking ATMs over the last couple of years in Canada and
several banks in the United States are now developing talking ATMs as a result
of law suits from prominent organizations of people who are blind and vision
impaired. As the wider benefits of talking ATMs are realised by other groups
who have difficulty reading, it is quite possible that ATMs with speech output
will become the norm.
of the future are likely to work with smart cards, and these cards could
contain a set of user preferences instructing the machine to present
information, either in large print, in audio or pictorially.
cards and biometric techniques are starting to be used more frequently for ATM
recognition, thumb and finger printing,
iris recognition and voice print analysis have all been trialled and are being
considered for ATM identification as a replacement to use of PINs. For people with disabilities, who may not be
able to provide sufficient biometric information, disability researchers in the
UK advocate that PINs be retained as an alternative to the more futuristic
approaches to accommodate the wide range of people with disabilities.
A futuristic ATM which is being prototyped in
Canada doesn't require a card at all. Nor does it have a keyboard or screen.
The ATM identifies the customer by his or her iris (unique patterns found in
the human eye). It welcomes the
customer and the transaction is conducted through a spoken dialogue between the
ATM and the customer.
with disabilities experience a range of access issues when attempting to
interact with automatic teller machines. These may vary depending upon the
nature of the disability, but the overall outcome is lack of comfortable and
effective use of ATM facilities. This may lead to over-the-counter surcharges
or even denial of access to funds.
general trend which occurs in the literature and our survey is that people don't
like taking long to use an ATM – particularly if people are queuing behind
them. This is a particular issue if
they aren't confident in the transaction steps. As a result we don't know how many people with disabilities leave
without completing their transaction, and how many have given up on trying to
use such facilities.
section of the report will briefly mention some issues of accessibility for a
variety of groups of people with disabilities, but is not intended to be
comprehensive. The accessibility needs
of people who are blind and vision impaired are discussed in greater detail in
subsequent sections of this report.
brief, the crux of accessibility to ATMs for people who are blind is that the
screen cannot be read and some or all of the keyboard functions are unclear or
unlabelled. Older machines are better
suited to people who are totally blind.
an ATM, and being sure it accepts the users card is another common barrier.
better understand how difficult it is for a blind person to independently use
an ATM, you might imagine yourself approaching an ATM which has a broken screen
and faded or meaningless key labels. If you tried to get some money out, you
would most likely get lost or confused with all the steps involved, because you
would not be getting any feedback about your progress.
you had a really good memory, maybe you would be successful, but you would be
very uncertain about whether you would be able to get the funds without
survey found that memorising the full sequence to withdraw cash was the main
strategy employed by blind ATM users.
brief, for people with low vision, the problem is the difficulty encountered
reading the ATM signage, screen, key labels and receipts. Glare, poor lighting
and the all-to-often small and low contrast print combine to make access
difficult. Newer ATMs with larger
clearer screens are preferred by people with some residual vision.
glare and screen positioning don't only cause problems for people with severe
vision loss, many people wearing bifocals also encounter problems, and sunlight
shining on ATM screens causes difficulties for many people.
survey found that most people with low vision learn the basic sequence required
for ATM transactions and their residual vision is often sufficient for them to
carry out the transaction assuming everything goes as planned.
people who are deaf or hearing impaired, use of ATMs in many cases doesn't
present major problems, but if the machine uses beeps to indicate errors or
key-presses, then these probably won't be heard. Because (for many people who
are deaf or hard of hearing) English is not a first language, it is important
that the messages and instructions appearing on ATM screens are in clear,
easy-to-read language. A study in Canada has found that the average reading age
for people who are deaf is equivalent to year five.
to ATMs for people who are both deaf and blind is particularly difficult. There
are often subtle audio cues used by blind ATM users (such as beeps, clicks,
thermal printer and so on) which partially compensates for not being able to
read the ATM screen. People who are both deaf and blind would have no such cues
to assist them.
output for important screen information would be the only option available to
can cause difficulties for people with cognitive or learning disabilities when
the steps in the transaction are not consistent, logical and focused on the
result. This group needs consistency of steps in transactions, without
distractions and a limited number of potentially distracting choices.
English is also important for screen output.
the plethora of machine models and bank chains in common use, there is little
consistency across models and across banking establishments. Some banks require
cents to be entered, with and without the decimal point, others don't,
altogether creating a very confusing – and difficult to learn – process.
additional advertising messages or unexpected questions are inserted into the
already complicated and differing sequences, this situation will become worse.
spoken audio equivalent of the ATM screen information (through speaker or
headphones) would most likely assist some people in this group through
reinforcement, and also accommodate those who cannot read effectively.
more iconic (pictorial) set of screen prompts may be better suited to some
people since it relies less on a good knowledge of English and reading ability.
However, if this were offered as an alternative user interface, it would be
necessary to identify which users wish to use the pictorial version and which
users preferred text or audio modes of interaction. Web-based ATM technologies would lend themselves better to such
alternatives, and the use of alt-text could make such screens more accessible
to people with vision impairments.
people who are dyslexic (for whom letters and numbers regularly get transposed
or out of order) a voice enabled ATM would result in less confusing and
error-prone ATM interactions.
from a non English speaking background (NESB) would similarly benefit from
voice guidance in addition to the screen display, particularly when many can
speak simple English, but have difficulties reading it comfortably.
percentage of Australians who are unable to read is substantial, so voice
output for ATMs would also benefit this segment of the community.
It is commonly recognised that everyone has a
preference for either audio, visual or tactile modes of learning and
communication. Voice output for ATMs
would accommodate the significant proportion of our society which is
a strong emphasis on the ATM access barriers for people who are blind or vision
impaired, this section looks at a variety of aspects of ATM usage that present
For people with disabilities, selecting a bank or ATM
is far more involved than just choosing the bank with the cheapest fees.
people with disabilities don't independently drive or are unable to walk even
short distances – so finding branches and ATMs nearby is a major necessity.
With the current spate of branch closures, this problem is compounded.
on the bank, and depending on the branch, ATM facilities are either impossible,
or difficult for people with a range of disabilities to access. Some employ
touch screen technology (Westpac is a case in point) and virtually none provide
any audible feedback to the user regarding the next step of the transaction or
the results of actions. People with physical disabilities may not be able to
access the ATM keypad, card reader screen or cash dispenser, due to its height
from the ground, steps leading to the machine, or due to other physical
alternative is to find ATMs that are nearby which are more accessible to the
person, however, customers are financially penalised if they opt to use an ATM
which isn't owned by the establishment they bank with – even though this
alternative machine might be more accessible and nearby.
survey found that blind and many low vision users only use one or two
well-known machines – rarely do they grab cash from a machine they haven't been
to before. This is not so much from
choice, but from not knowing where other ATMs are, not knowing whether those
ATMs will accept their card, and not knowing the specific sequence of steps and
the physical layout of machines they haven't used before. Having no screen feedback, using an
unfamiliar ATM is almost guaranteed to lead to problems or loss of the
access ATMs in bank foyers, door entry card readers need to be located in a
consistent position so a blind person can find the reader in order to gain
access to the ATM facilities.
signs and other obstructions also make finding ATMs difficult and potentially
research has found that people who are blind or have low vision need to find
someone to help them locate an ATM and also have that person show them how to
common for blind people to use ATMs with sighted assistance, particularly more
recently when the operating steps and procedures are less consistent and more
difficult to remember.
though there are some blind and vision impaired people who are able to use ATMs
to some degree, a large proportion of people who are blind or vision impaired
have never learned how to use an ATM because they believe this would be
pointless due to the absence of adequate feedback on the progress of their
blind people only know how to withdraw cash, and many only know how to withdraw
a set amount of cash – other advanced features are usually not worth the effort
of learning because they are even more reliant on being able to read the
significant number of people with disabilities are unsuccessful in using ATMs
and EFTPOS terminals and thus have to resort to handing their card (and PIN)
over to a friend or even someone they don't know, in order to pay for goods or
to obtain cash. This is in contravention
of conditions of use for the card, and is a major reason why more accessible
and useable ATM and EFTPOS facilities need to be provided.
don't know what proportion of people with various disabilities can or do independently use ATMs, but it's a little
like the question of how many people who use wheelchairs access inaccessible
buildings. If ATMs remain inaccessible,
then their usage by people with disabilities will stay alarmingly low.
the United States the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) specified that for
an ATM to be compliant with the ADA, that tape, braille and large print
documentation should be available describing the machine's operation. We are
not aware of any bank-endorsed accessible materials on ATM usage in Australia.
If there were versions in the past, they are most likely out of date and not
applicable to modern ATMs.
with disabilities in the United States generally agree that accessible
documentation alone is nowhere near adequate enough for a blind person to be
able to use ATMs with confidence and efficiency. This has led to several law suits in recent times and the
up-coming availability of talking ATMs.
are several issues relating to ATM cards which can cause problems for people
with disabilities. These include the following:
Orientation of the card – how do you know
which way to insert the card into the machine? This changes from brand to brand and model to model. There is
only a one in four chance that a blind person will insert the card correctly
unless they have memorised which way round the card must go for that specific
machine. Machines should generate an
error tone when the card is inserted in the wrong orientation, or ideally,
shouldn't accept the card the wrong way.
Card gobbling – all too often cards are
gobbled by machines. Sometimes this is because the person got their PIN wrong,
due to keyboard difficulties, other times its because they take too long to
respond. What ever the reason, the result is too often inconvenience in not
having the card, often having to get to a branch to obtain the card etc. For
people with intellectual disabilities the loss of a card could be very
disconcerting and alarming – as can the blunt messages that such incidents
often result in.
PIN issues - Some people experience
severe problems with remembering or entering PINs, and would be assisted by
biometric methods of identification.
Our survey found that some blind and
vision impaired ATM users are particularly concerned about bystanders observing
their PIN entry, and in fact are
concerned about the general level of safety surrounding cash withdrawal from
ATMs move over to smart card adoption, it will be possible to use the card to
store a user's preferences for screen layout, voice output, and increased input
times for PINs etc, - once these features are available on ATMs.
keyboards are an important part of an ATM, from an accessibility perspective
they really are secondary to the screen output of the machine. Many ATMs in
Australia now have some braille on the keypad keys which is of assistance to a
number of people who are blind.
However, braille on keys is not nearly as important nor of nearly as
much benefit as the general public and even most banking staff have been led to
the words of one of our respondents – "The braille isn't useful until you
know what the key means, and once you know what the key is, braille isn't
A lot of discussion in the area of ATM
accessibility makes reference to the relatively small number of blind and
vision impaired people who can read braille, but for those who can, the
reinforcement of braille on the keys is a minor advantage, but only once the
complete operation of the ATM transaction is understood.
it is usually only the numeric keys (1 through 0) which are braille-labelled,
the more important function keys for selecting accounts, selecting whether to
deposit or withdraw funds, or request a balance aren't labelled, as their
function usually changes from screen to screen during the transaction.
talking ATM can avoid the problem of unlabelled keyboard buttons by providing
voice menus which only employ the standard numeric keypad on the machine.
real challenge for a blind person in using an ATM is being able to
"read" what the screen displays, and to be able to identify which of
the multi-function buttons is associated with which function.
when a sequence of button-presses is memorised by a blind user, this approach
falls down when the person needs to perform an infrequently used task, when
they move to another model of machine, when they use an ATM from another bank,
and when software upgrades are carried out by the bank to add new services or
reported that they like to hear a clear beep for each button-press, and prefer
keys that have a positive action when pressed.
short, ATM accessibility in Australia needs to go a great deal further than
token brailing of the numeric keypad before the machines can be used with
independence and confidence by anyone who has difficulty reading the ATM
Glare, and the size and contrast of print
on ATM screens are the main problems that people with low vision face when
conducting an ATM transaction. Lack of contrast and poor definition labelling
on the machine and difficult to read receipts are also a barrier.
Although many newer ATMs have clearer
screens, there are still many new ATMs which are very difficult to read,
particularly when sunlight creates glare.
Glare compensating screen technology has been developed by NCR, but is
not yet in very wide use in Australia.
A good study of what screen attributes are
needed by people with vision impairments is reported in Silver J H, Gill J M
& Wolffsohn J S W Text Display Preferences on Self-Service Terminals by
Visually Disabled People. November 1994, online at
An extract from this report follows:
"The preferences of the control group
[people without vision impairment] may have included an aesthetic as well as
discrimination characteristics as an important criterion for their preferred
colour combination choice, but the colour does not appear to reduce legibility
to a great extent. However for the others, [subjects exhibiting a variety of
vision deficits) the colour and contrast did have considerable significance,
88% of the visually disabled subjects selected one of the four alternatives
where there are light figures against a strong dark background. Of the 100
visually disabled subjects, 88 never used an ATM. It could be that more of them
would use an ATM if the displays had dark background with light figures, and
there was a choice of character size."
Note that different visual conditions mean
that a standard set of large print screens is impractical, so several user-selectable
settings are very desirable. These and other details could be encoded on a
customer's smart card if these become standard issue for ATM access in
Australia. Alternatively, the user could select from a menu of screen options.
A test ATM installed in London offered the
following screen options:
size of characters (a choice of three
colour of foreground/background (black on
white, white on black, white on red, and white on blue).
has been discussed in other sections, the use of touch screens and
multi-function buttons to either side of the ATM screen, which are used for
selecting accounts, transaction type and cash denominations presents huge
challenges for people who are blind.
This is because the keys vary depending on the stage of the
transaction. Touch-screen ATMs are even
more difficult because there isn't even a physical button to press in order to
to withdraw cash can be particularly problematic because of the differing ways
options for amount of funds and denominations are presented to the user, so
many people are restricted to only taking a set amount from the machine in
order to keep the number of steps at a minimum. This may lead to extra trips to the ATM, resulting in
inconvenience and excessive transaction penalty charges.
people surveyed didn't conduct advanced ATM transactions, as is probably the
case for the majority of ATM users.
Cash withdrawal was the main function carried out via ATM, with
telephone banking and branches being used for more demanding requirements.
The following summary of user preferences
is taken from Gill J M Making Cash Dispensers Easier to Use. September 1996,
"The initial results of the [Saturn]
field trial at RNIB indicate that:
Blind users would like to use private voice messages
Partially sighted users would like large print (white print on a
black background) messages on the screen
Blind and partially sighted users would like to use a contactless
Blind and partially sighted users would like to have the
opportunity to extend the time permitted to respond to the terminal
Blind users would prefer to use the keypad for selecting options
rather than using a touch screen
Blind and partially sighted users would like to use a cash
dispenser in a safe environment."
Interestingly, In our Australian survey we
found that very few people actually used ATMs in bank foyers, preferring to use
ATMs which they already knew the location of. Also, the older (and more
accessible) IBM ATMs tend not to be located in foyers, as much as modern ATMs
The Saturn Project also found that many users would like a notch
in the ATM facia so their cane or walking stick would not fall over
- Our recent Australian survey identified
some extra things users find helpful or would like to be available.
Users want increased consistency of transaction steps both across
ATM models and between different financial institutions.
Users would like all banks to agree on the format for entering
withdrawal amounts i.e. omitting the decimal point and the two zeros signifying
They want improved consistency of the physical ATM in terms of
location of card, money and envelope slots and consistent card orientation.
Users want key layouts and function key assignments to be
consistent and logical
Users want the option of clearer or large print receipts.
Users want reduction of glare from sunlight
Deaf, intellectually and learning disabled people need plain
English instructions on the ATM screen.
Users want accessible instructions for the ATM machine in braille,
cassette tape and large print – particularly because an improved understanding
of the steps in the transaction sequence was reported to be very important to
effective use of ATMs when the screen is inaccessible.
People want increased use of error tones and confirmation beeps
Users also want tactual and bold print diagrams of the ATM layout.
Tactile ground indicators identifying the presence of ATMs were
Users would like the ability for the ATM to speak an overview of
its button layout as well as a facility for having each button speak its
function prior to use.
Users would like banks to provide free call numbers from which
they could obtain details on ATM locations and details of operation.
In the absence of voice output, users would like audible tones
signifying successful or unsuccessful completion of transaction.
However, more than anything else, users repeatedly requested the
provision of voice output from ATMs so that they could have confidence and
independence in conducting personal financial transactions.