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Cash is still sometimes king. But only if you can access it easily.

01 February 2017

In this opinion piece, Vision Australia Principal Digital Inclusion Consultant Leona Zumbo considers what she learned during a recent review of accessible ATMs and also looks at what we can expect for banking accessibility in the future.

Self-service banking is increasingly a way of modern life and a convenience that many of us take for granted.

I normally grab my morning coffee on the way to work. I stop at a café that does not accept EFTPOS transactions of less than $10 and I don’t always have cash in my wallet. But it’s not an issue because I can easily make my way to the nearest ATM to withdraw cash.

Now, however, if I was one of the 4.3 million Australians with disability this scenario may prove more challenging. I might find myself at a standard ATM versus an ATM that has been optimised for accessibility. It’s great if I do find an accessible ATM as it will be set at wheelchair height. It will also have braille decals to identify the different components of the ATM and an audio facility which allows a person to complete a transaction using audible menu prompts and a keypad.

If I don’t find myself at an accessible ATM I either don’t get my coffee or if the café will let me, I pay a charge for making a transaction under the minimum value. As a last resort, I wait till the bank opens.

Even then, banking is changing and self service branches which no longer hold cash drawers are being opened across Australia. Gone are the conventional tellers and in their place are a few banking staff and self-service machines which enable withdrawal and deposit transactions. Tehe movement towards self-service banking and rapid changes in technology are creating further accessibility challenges, particularly for the blindness and low vision community, due to the proliferation of touchscreen technology.

So, how accessible are ATM facilities from a practical perspective and how can banks improve them so everyone in the community can conveniently and confidently withdraw cash?

Vision Australia’s Digital Access team has completed a number of research engagements with banks and through conversations with people with disability we have come to learn that many of the current accessibility features on ATMs are simply not useable and need to be developed further.

Privacy and security are important to everybody and even more so for people who are vulnerable or have a disability.

If you are blind or have low vision it may be difficult to sense when people are behind you. We hope that we live in a safe community however the thought of someone who has less than honest intention, and is lined up behind you, is a reality that does cross peoples’ minds.

We can’t stop this for happening however we can add another layer of security by giving people who use the audio feature the option to blank the screen whilst they complete their transaction.

If you are a wheelchair user you may be forced to park your wheelchair side on to the ATM. In this position you cannot use your body to hide the display screen and so, it is very difficult to hide the keypad when you are entering your personal PIN.

ATMs which provide knee and toe clearance allow users to interact with the machine front on using their body to hide these elements of the ATM.

Audio that is not loud enough in high traffic areas or does not allow the user to repeat prompts is not easy to operate. Many users will identify the numbers on a keypad by locating the raised dot on the number 5 key. If the audio does not confirm important digit entries such as the withdrawal amount or credit card number the user will not feel confident using the system.

By taking a set of ear phones to an ATM and completing a transaction using the audio feature you can get some basic insights into how to make the audio script more usable to people who rely on this assistive technology to transact independently. This includes people who have low vision, blindness or dyslexia.

But do the current accessible ATMs go far enough or do we need to turn to technology to get us across the line?

eATMs are being introduced in Australia and are available in over 1500 bank branches in the United States. These machines allow access through a mobile phone and remove the need to carry a debit card to withdraw cash. Using a bank app, customers request an access code they then enter on the eATM.[1]. Or, NCF (near field communication) technology allows customers to hold their phone up to a reader, and the two devices communicate. A thumbprint verifies the customer’s ID on the mobile device and enables access to the eATM[2]. This reduces the transaction time at an ATM and increases the sense of security.

In partnership with ATM maker Diebold, Citibank is currently testing an ATM called the Irving at its innovation lab in New York. The NFC-enabled ATM will confirm a person’s identity by scanning their eyes[3].

These are great steps forward but what cannot be ignored, regardless of the solution, is that accessible functionality must always be considered from the initial stages of development. How will people with disability use this service? If we develop an app is it accessible? What is the equivalent and accessible alternative if your iris or thumbprints are damaged?

The quest to provide equal access to ATMs as technology improves must remain a priority for the banking sector.  With full access to banking facilities the disability community will no longer be at risk of being left out of a range of important life activities that demand cash payment.

That’s something I’ll definitely raise my coffee cup to. 


[1] Amber Murakami-Fester, 2016, This Is What the ATM of the Future Will Look Like, viewed 9th December 2016, https://www.nerdwallet.com/blog/banking/this-is-the-atm-of-the-future/

[2] Amber Murakami-Fester, 2016, This Is What the ATM of the Future Will Look Like, viewed 9th December 2016, https://www.nerdwallet.com/blog/banking/this-is-the-atm-of-the-future/

[3] Keith Nelson Jr., 2016, Citibank is testing an ATM you can use with only your eyes and phone, viewed 16th December 2016, http://www.digitaltrends.com/cool-tech/citibank-atm-eyes-cell-phone/

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