DARE TO ASK: How useful is braille at an ATM?
By PHILLIP MILANO, The Times-Union
Why do drive-through ATM machines have braille on the buttons?
Nick, Moscow, Idaho
Haven't you ever backed up to an ATM so your passenger could use it?
Cindy, Lansing, Mich.
A better question would be why they don't have instructions posted in braille
or aren't required to speak instructions. Each ATM has a different button
arrangement, and some of the buttons are not brailled because they serve
multiple uses. I used to have a blind significant other, and this made him
angry. The people who try to "adopt" these things need to do a much better job
of consulting the blind.
My wife is blind. It's simply cost-effective to make all of the panels the
same, whether they are for "drive-up" ATMs or not.
Mark, 35, Boca Raton
Please take your information below. Thank you for using Dare to Ask. Have A
Chris Kuell, blind writer, second-vice president of the National Federation
of the Blind of Connecticut:
Banks put the braille on all ATMs to try to comply with the Americans with
Disabilities Act of 1990, which required that the machines be "independently
usable by people with vision impairments."
"It was done to show they were being good citizens, when in fact it didn't
help a blind person because we can't read the digital display," Kuell said.
Rob Evans, director of industry marketing for ATM -maker NCR:
"Why do drive-up ATMs have braille? Good question. It's almost as if we're
saying, 'If you made it that far, by golly that's the least we could do.' That's
a flip answer, but the real reason is there are distinct differences among
visually impaired people ... a small segment are active in the workforce, say,
and may drive to work in taxis [sitting behind the driver] and don't want to
give their debit card and secret code to someone else."
These braille ATMs aren't really accessible, however, unless a blind user
knows what each button does - which eventually led to ATMs with headphone jacks
and speech output software. Those came along earlier this decade from makers
like NCR and Diebold. Users just plug in their headphone set and they're in
Julie Davis, spokeswoman for Bank of America:
The company operates more than 7,000 "Talking ATMs," with 61 in Jacksonville.
It expects at least 80 percent of its locations to have voice-guided ATMs by the
end of next year.
Why go through all this for a small group of people? According to Kuell,
"There's also a spillover benefit: maybe the guys who design microwaves, or home
heating, etc., will see that a bank or Publix thought about this, and think,
'Maybe I ought to think about this the next time I design my product.'
"It's a cue to everybody else: the ADA guidelines work. You just don't know
when a person might need them, just as you don't know when you install it if a
blind person might need to use a drive-through ATM."
Phillip Milano, author of I Can't Believe You Asked That! (Perigee),
moderates cross-cultural dialogue at Y? The National Forum on People's
Differences. Visit www.yforum.com to submit questions and answers, or mail to
Phillip Milano, c/o The Florida Times-Union, P.O. Box 1949, Jacksonville, FL
32231. Include contact information.