ADA, assistive technology and the leading example of ATMs

| by Elliot Maras
ADA, assistive technology and the leading example of ATMs

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While the Americans with Disabilities Act does not specify how access should be provided to the disabled in most situations, proactive companies have for some time been turning to already-available customer-facing "assistive technologies" that meet the need.

In light of recent court settlements on behalf of disabled individuals their use might be evolving from voluntary to mandatory.

Accessibility made affordable

Three years ago, an article on ADA compliance said that it would be virtually impossible to design a totally accessible, fully compliant, affordable kiosk for a public place.

According to industry observers, though, this is changing. 

"Making a kiosk accessible used to be an extremely expensive and time intensive endeavor," said Laura Boniello Miller, director of marketing at KioWare Kiosk Software Analytical Design Solutions Inc. "As it currently stands, accessible kiosks can actually serve to provide assistive technologies for customers and users that improve the customer experience — making a business more accessible through the addition of a kiosk."

"Kiosks can allow deaf individuals to read instructions rather than waiting for a signing attendant to assist with information gathering," she said.

Video conferencing kiosks such as the Starbucks signing attendant can accommodate communication via American Sign Language at the drive in.

The Job Access with Speech screen reader with speech and Braille output is among the better-known technologies for the visually impaired. 

"Kiosks that make use of JAWS technology can service a visually impaired individual," Miller said. "And none of this kiosk integration is extra when done using kiosk system software that supports JAWS, video conferencing or other assistive technologies."

Awareness is key

"Even the most basic and cost effective options are underutilized," said Tom McClelland, president of DynaTouch, a self-service kiosk solutions provider.

"There are very few kiosk manufacturers and integrators who make their clients aware of these technologies," McClelland said. "For some, that may be because they simply aren't aware of all the technologies. For others, it probably has more to do with the added cost. To equip a self-service kiosk with complete and comprehensive assistive technologies requires specialized design, software and hardware."

Touch Information Presentation Software from DynaTouch has a built-in, scriptable text-to-speech engine, as well as user-selectable screen size, contrast and volume settings, McClelland said. The software allows web-enabled content on shared and public access devices — including kiosks, digital displays, multi-user tablets and workstations.

Government kiosks and ATMs lead the way

Specifications for government kiosks and ATMs offer manufacturers guidance to make kiosks more assistive in all use cases.

For example, the U.S. Postal Service Automated Postal Center, for example, features audio prompts and a special keypad that facilitate unassisted access by physically, visually and cognitively impaired users.

"The government leads the way on this both by necessity [legal requirements] and by philosophy," KioWare's Miller said. "According to the law, government agencies must service each and every citizen, and their technologies must do the same. In addition, the government has, in recent years, employed visual- and hearing-impaired individuals as well as physically handicapped or differently abled individuals in record numbers." 

"When you look at the ATM industry, that's to tell us that there is definitely an aspect of ADA that has to do with sound and the actual levels and output of sound," said Ben Wheeler, a kiosk industry consultant. "With ATMs you have an audible output jack."

Most automatic banking machines offer audio guidance when a user plugs in a headphone, according to the National Business & Disability Council at the Viscardi Center. The user can complete transactions easily by following audio cues to find the correct Braille-labeled buttons on the machine.

Barclay's ATMs offer speech output capability through headphone jacks. Visually impaired individuals can simply plug in and have transaction options read to them.

Expect greater enforcement

"You're going to see more enforcement for the hard of hearing — sound volume and perhaps sign languages," said Jegil Dugger, vice president of sales at Juke Slot, a provider of kiosk solutions. The company has been working with the Atlanta Area School for the Deaf to ensure that the ordering interface meets users' needs.

After Juke Slot learned about a hard-of-hearing customer who had trouble ordering a meal at a restaurant using its self-order kiosks, the company developed a device that displays a virtual avatar who communicates in sign language.

"Our sign language software is not just designed for restaurants; it's designed for all industries," Dugger said. "It can be used in banking, it can be used in ATM machines, medical or whatever."

Dugger is not aware of any company being sued over a kiosk that could not be used by a hard-of-hearing consumer. However, Taco Bell was sued in July by a hearing-impaired customer in New Jersey who had trouble placing an order at a drive-thru.

"Additionally, I would argue that the ADA requirements for kiosk accessibility should be considered important, particularly in areas of healthcare, transportation and banking," KioWare's Miller said. "Yes, there are costs, but they are trivial compared to the impact it has on a differently abled individual who cannot conduct a necessary task."

Topics: ADA Compliance, Regulatory Issues

Elliot Maras
Elliot Maras is the editor of and

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