Ambiguity of ADA compliance guidelines poses challenges for deployers

Nov. 20, 2011

The following is an excerpt from chapter 1 of the ATM Compliance Handbook 2012, published by To learn more about how to obtain a copy, click here.

By March 15, 2012, ATMs in the United States must be in compliance with the latest rules under the Americans with Disabilities Act. The rules are intended to ensure equal access for the disabled to public accommodations and technology.

Although the eventual cost to the industry is unknown, ADA compliance may represent a significant investment for ATM owners and operators. Experts say the effort and cost are worthwhile.

"This is actually a really good law, and it helps a lot of people who would have a much harder time in life without it," said Sam M. Ditzion, CEO of Boston-based ATM advisory firm Tremont Capital Group, a recognized expert in ADA regulations for the industry. "I think a lot of people don't put that in perspective and complain about government regulation, but the law has made millions of people's lives a lot better."


The good news is, there are no ADA police. The bad news is, there are no ADA police.

When it comes to regulating ATMs in most areas, businesses are accustomed to certification processes or audits by third parties. Those enforcement tools do not apply for ADA. Instead, manufacturers and deployers will first need to interpret the ADA regulations and then make good-faith efforts to implement them. Violations will not be monitored by the Department of Justice, but alleged by consumers who perceive a machine is not in accordance with the strictures of the law and file a complaint.

Making matters worse, ADA standards may not always be crystal clear to the casual reader. While the Department of Justice provides advisory commentary, some questions may not be addressed until the implementation deadline has passed, leaving ATM operators feeling vulnerable in the meantime.

Lloyd R. Chatham, vice president and general counsel for Payment Alliance International Inc., a Louisville, Ky.-based independent ATM deployer, said the company is working with its customers to manage compliance, but it doesn't have all the answers right now.

"There are some components of the ADA that are subject to interpretation, and we are hoping the industry is unified and addressing these revised standards the same way, but there are some issues that aren't perfectly clear," Chatham said.

For instance, if an ATM location is not ADA compliant, does the actual hardware have to meet the standards?

"If there's not wheelchair access, then does the ATM need to be mounted for wheelchair access?" said James Philips, vice president, sales and marketing for Long Beach, Miss.-based Triton Systems, an ATM manufacturer. "There are a lot of things like that to consider."

Another example: The standards require that transactions can be conducted with audio assistance for the visually impaired. However, the advisory text (non-binding commentary that accompanies the ADA regulations) recommends that the screen have the capability to be blanked to maintain privacy for the user. Philips said it is unclear whether that advisory will eventually become a requirement.

Also, the advisory text can give the impression that things are in fact requirements when they are not, said Rob Evans, product manager for Coppell, Texas-based Nautilus Hyosung America Inc., an ATM manufacturer. He recommends consulting with the Department of Justice directly prior to the deadline on technical issues of compliance.

Because of the ambiguities, prudent deployers and manufacturers may want to consult outside experts.

Given the ambiguity of the requirements, ensuring even one ATM is ADA compliant would be a challenge. But multiply the hurdle by dozens or hundreds, and that challenge requires a herculean mustering of financial and personnel assets.

"Just because someone says an ATM model is compliant doesn't mean yours are," Ditzion said. "You may have a different software configuration. The way you've been installing them could be different."

Most manufacturers offer upgrade paths for many of their machines. In some cases, the upgrade to an ADA-compliant keypad can be accomplished with the change to a PCI-compliant encrypting PIN pad. In other cases, the headphone jack kits required for audio-guided transactions can be added as necessary.

In addition, some manufacturers offer a trade-in program where the ATM owner receives a credit on a new machine. The manufacturer will then upgrade the trade-in or strip it for parts.

"The reality is unless you're an expert in the ADA with respect to ATMs, you're going to get something wrong," Ditzion said. "The consequences of getting something wrong could be nothing, and there's a good chance no one will notice, but if it's a systemic issue in a large portfolio of ATMs there's pretty significant exposure."

For more information on this topic, visit our ADA research center.

Topics: ADA Compliance , Distributors / ISO / IAD , Monitors and Touchscreens , Regulatory Issues

Companies: ATMmarketplace

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