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Accessible Automated Banking Machines, Increasing Independence and Freedom of Choice

Editor's Note: Editor's Note: Marcia Cummings is the National Secretary of NFB:AE. Image: NFB:AE President John Rae poses in front of an accessible Royal Bank ATM

I have been using Automated Banking Machines (ABM's) for about 20 years. In fact, the only reason I would go into a bank these days is to purchase foreign currency. If I could do that through the ABM, I would!

There are many people who wonder how in the world a print-disabled person would be able to use an ABM without some sort of special adaptation and, for the most part, I can understand their skepticism. After all, there are several problems inherent in the use of a device which provides information / feedback in print to a customer for whom this format is inaccessible:

  1. Each bank has a different keyboard layout on its machines, and some banks have several layouts in use, due to varied technology having been developed throughout the years.

  2. Along with different keyboard layouts, each bank's machines have different process flows--the order of operations is not standard.

  3. Nothing stays the same forever--new processes are constantly being added to existing machines, thus causing changes in the order of operations one must follow.

  4. The denominations dispensed often change depending on the amount requested, and since few denominations of Canadian currency are recognizable by touch, this can take away the blind person's right to privacy at the end of an otherwise private transaction.

How, then, did someone like me cope with the machines before the advent of audio assistance?

  1. I only used my own bank's machines, unless I was with someone I trusted. Thus, I could be assured that the order of operations and keyboard layout were going to be reasonably similar.

  2. I just happened to pick a bank whose ABM's only dispense 20 dollar bills--something I found annoying at first, but which I learned to appreciate, as it took the guesswork out of withdrawing cash. The only exception to the rule, and there is always an exception, it seems, was the denominations one received when requesting $200. This amount caused the machine to hand out two 50 dollar bills and five 20 dollar bills, in an order as yet undetermined. However, even this dilemma could be resolved simply by requesting $100 twice, which resulted in ten 20 dollar bills.

Although I had solved most of the problems, I was still at a disadvantage, as I could not access all machines with total privacy.

There are now two banks in Canada, the RBC Royal Bank and the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce, with audio-enabled bank machines. "We're always looking for new ways to provide more value to all of our customers, and to make certain our machines can be used by everyone," said Greg Bright, senior vice-president, Physical Channels, RBC Royal Bank. "Since we first introduced talking bank machines in 1997, RBC has continued to make further enhancements to these machines, giving our clients more privacy and financial independence."

"Installing Audio Access ABMs at all of our branches is a key part of our plans to help virtually all Canadians do their banking at ABMs conveniently and with confidence," said Christina Kramer, vice-president, ABM channel and card management services, CIBC.

I have personal experience with both the Royal Bank and CIBC machines. These bank machines talk to the customers via a personal headset, dispensing information along with cash, and therefore open up the world of the Automated Banking Machine to people who previously had not felt confident in using something which could not provide them with proper information / feedback. Through the addition of the audio component on the ABM, the following problems are resolved:

  1. Since the audio-enabled machine includes instructional information, the keyboard layout differences are no longer an issue--the machine's instructions clearly explain what the required keys are and where to find them.

  2. The process flow is verbalized, thus eliminating any need to memorize it or worry that it may have been altered.

  3. The two positive outcomes listed above contribute to an increase in choice for the print-disabled user--he/she no longer needs to stay within his/her own bank's network to maintain privacy, since the audio-enabled bank machine explains the process flow and keyboard layout, regardless of whether it is a machine of the person's own bank or of the competition.

The ultimate result of this technological advance in the banking world for print-disabled people is more financial independence and freedom from reliance on others, a situation which will continue to improve as more banks join the move to audio-enabled bank machines. Those banks that choose not to upgrade their machines may soon find their customers leaving for other, more progressive institutions.