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The Epidemic of Inaccessible Touch-Screen Point of Sale Devices

Editor's Note: Jeffrey Stark is a member of the Alliance for Equality of Blind Canadians in Kanata, Ontario, and has two decades of experience in advocating for accessible technology for persons with disabilities.

Blind consumers may soon no longer be able to do many tasks and activities that they currently perform. Simple things like going shopping for groceries and clothing, travelling, paying for lodgings etc. may soon be more difficult or even impossible, unless they are willing to put themselves at far greater risk of theft, fraud and financial ruin. This could affect over three million blind, deaf-blind and partially sighted Canadians, not to mention those with other print disabilities.

Touch-screen point of sale (POS) devices are becoming more and more of an issue for blind consumers as more companies and organizations implement them. These smooth-surface systems offer no tactile or auditory access/feedback, with the possible exception of a raised dot on the number five key, which means that blind consumers cannot privately or independently input their PIN (personal identification number) when making a purchase with a bank or credit card. What’s more, they can’t verify for themselves that they are being charged the correct amount. And the fact that these devices’ icons/buttons and text change from screen to screen only makes things more difficult.

This epidemic is hitting everything from hotels and restaurants to grocery, clothing and electronics stores; even Canada Post now uses touch-screen point of sale devices. What this means is that blind persons would not be able to pay for products and services using their credit or debit card at most establishments, since they can’t independently use a POS device. Their only option would be to give their PIN number to a friend, family member or even the sales clerk for them to enter it on their behalf. But that lays them open to the risk of fraud and theft. If blind consumers carry more cash on them than usual, perhaps to make a big-ticket purchase like a TV or computer, since they can’t use a POS device, they are a prime target for robbery. Finally, if blind customers cannot verify the amount they are being charged on a touch-screen POS device, they are still liable for that amount, should there be an error; they have no recourse to the bank or credit card company.

The barrier here is not a technological one; it is a lack of will, oversight or regulation. Code Factory on Windows Mobile and Google’s Android have shown that a touch-screen device can be made accessible using existing technology, as has Apple with its iPhone, iPod and iPad. These Apple products have a built-in, touch-screen interface, as well as the Voiceover screen reader, for non-sighted users that is unobtrusive and can be toggled on and off easily, so that blind and sighted people alike can use a single device.

A working group of blind Canadians has been assembled to advocate for accessible touch-screen point of sale devices. Among its participants is the Alliance for Equality of Blind Canadians. If you are interested in joining, please send an email to accessible-pos-subscribe@blackspheretech.com. To express your concern, you could also contact your bank and local government representatives.

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