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Europe's First Talking Cash Dispenser

Editor's Note: The following item originally appeared in Access, the magazine of the Royal National Institute of the Blind (RNIB), Northern Ireland. It is reproduced here from RNIB's website: http://www.rnib.org.uk

Getting cash from bank machines has always been difficult for blind and partially sighted people because the information is displayed visually. Now a cash dispenser has been unveiled with revolutionary speaking software, designed specifically for people with sight problems.

Northern Bank, together with its former sister bank, Clydesdale, are the first banks in Europe to use the new software, which will help transform thousands of people's lives. This pilot project, running in Belfast and Glasgow, was launched in May.

Using the Cash Dispenser

The cash dispenser is used by plugging a set of headphones into a jack, which is fitted to the front of the ATM (automated teller machine). The machine uses an automated voice to give instructions about the exact location of items such as the numbers on the keypad, the cash dispenser and all other devices on the machine. It also talks through each stage of the process, whether a user wants to check a balance or withdraw cash. Sighted users can also use the machine following instructions displayed on screen.

RNIB's campaigns officer, David Mann, said: "ATM's are really difficult to use for blind or partially sighted people. I have learned to use my own bank's machines by memorizing the sequence of instructions. But that still doesn't help me if anything goes wrong--if there are insufficient funds in my account or if the machine is not dispensing ten-pound notes etc. And I can't use the ATM's for any other bank.

"This is great news for people with sight difficulties--a real breakthrough. I'd call on all the other banks to follow suit. The service is great--there's a very thorough guide, which leads you through all the functions, but after a while you are able to skip through the process very quickly."

Rosamond Bennett, marketing director of Northern Bank, said: "We're really proud of this new facility and delighted to be the first in Europe to be rolling it out. We've planned it very carefully and consulted with blind and partially sighted customers and staff before going live with it."

Pilot Scheme in Belfast and Glasgow

To date, three ATM's have been fitted with the new technology. The pilot scheme will run for six months and if successful the banks will consider extending the service. The technology was developed whilst Northern Bank was still part of the National Australia Group, so the project is also being piloted by its former sister bank, Clydesdale, in Glasgow.

The Technology

The technology, known as Text to Speech, was provided by Canadian software company, Phoenix Interactive.

"Phoenix Interactive is extremely proud to celebrate Europe's first Text to Speech implementation," said Ms. Kyle MacDonald, CEO of Phoenix Interactive. "This enhanced functionality will open the door to new ATM users and ensure that everyone has equal and easy access to their accounts.

"As this is the first audio ATM implementation in Europe, we're certain everyone will see the tremendous benefit it offers to all banking customers. Phoenix has already worked with many of our other clients around the world in introducing this technology in various languages. Our Text to Speech technology is currently running in the United States, Australia and now Europe. As Phoenix firmly supports ATM access for all, we will continue to work with our clients around the world to support audio-enabled ATM's."