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Many ATMs and Fare Vending Machines "Shortchange" the Blind


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Consumer World Tests 200+ Machines

Citizens Bank ATM (BOSTON, April 24) -- Many ATMs and MBTA fare vending machines in the Boston area are not accessible to visually-impaired customers according to results of a test by Consumer World.

U.S. Department of Justice rules promulgated in 2010 under the Americans with Disabilities Act require at least one automated teller and one fare machine at each location to be speech-enabled by no later than March 15, 2012, so they can provide step-by-step instructions when earphones are plugged in.

Consumer World tested over 200 ATMs and fare machines at dozens of banks and T stations, and found many at two prominent entities that did not provide proper audio: Citizens Bank and the MBTA.

At Citizens, the second largest bank in Massachusetts, nearly half (47%) of the ATMs checked were either not producing audible speech or had yet to be outfitted with speech-enabling technology. At the MBTA, 60% of fare vending machines checked either produced no voice when earphones were attached or breached the customer's privacy by simultaneously announcing details of purchases and card balances over built-in loudspeakers for anyone nearby to hear. All MBTA fare machines had the required sound output connections present, but many simply did not work right.

According to Department of Justice spokesperson Xochitl Hinojosa, however, ATMs and fare machines that are made accessible but no longer work properly are not technically in violation as long as at least one machine at each location still functions correctly.

"Visually-impaired individuals shouldn't have to go from machine to machine just to find one that works," commented founder Edgar Dworsky. "It is really ironic in the case of Citizens Bank -- the bank that advertises that 'good citizenship is good business' -- that so many of their ATMs are not accessible and appear to violate the law."

One bank going the extra mile for customers is the often criticized Bank of America, which is the largest bank in Massachusetts. All three dozen of their ATMs checked at 16 different locations were sound-enabled and operating. A spokesperson for the bank said that all its ATMs in the state are speech-enabled although they are not required to be.

Contrast that with Citizens Bank where three dozen machines were also tested. At the 25 different locations visited, 17 ATMs did not produce speech. Most of the failing machines were silent when earphones were plugged in despite bearing a "Talking ATM" sign, while a half dozen other machines had not yet been converted for sound.

When asked to comment on Consumer World's findings, in a statement, Citizens Bank spokesperson Jim Hughes said, "We believe we are compliant with the statute... [but] we investigate any customer reports of machines that are not working properly."

For this test, Consumer World checked a total of 212 ATM and fare machines -- 136 ATMs at 84 locations of 22 different banks and convenience stores, and 76 MBTA fare machines at 15 different locations -- between April 8 and 16.

Overall, one-in-four ATMs checked did not provide sound. Non-accessible ATMs were found at several convenience stores, and at least one was found at one or more locations of each of these other financial institutions: Middlesex Federal, Century Bank, Brookline Bank, US Alliance Federal Credit Union, City of Boston Credit Union, Citibank, and Eastern Bank. The latter two banks, however, did meet the law's minimum requirement of having at least one audio-enabled ATM per location checked. Besides Bank of America, all ATMs were properly functioning at locations checked of: East Boston Savings Bank, Members Plus Credit Union, TD Bank, Peoples United Bank, Central Bank, Sovereign Bank, Winter Hill Bank, Webster Bank, and Salem Five. [See chart for details.]

At the MBTA, a total of 76 fare machines were tested at 15 different locations. Despite all machines being labeled "press 5 for audio," more than one-third did not utter a sound through the provided audio jacks. In addition, over a dozen machines announced details of the transaction through loudspeakers despite having a headset plugged in, seemingly contrary to federal rules that require machines to provide privacy for their users.

Fortunately, though, most visually-impaired individuals can avoid using fare machines altogether by getting a special fare-free Charlie Card. Visitors and others who do not qualify for free passes, however, could well be disadvantaged by the malfunctioning machines.

Under Department of Justice regulations, ATM and fare machine operators are required to make at least one of their machines speech-enabled at each "location" by March 15, 2012. At bank branches, outdoor ATMs are considered a separate location from those in the bank lobby, so such a bank would need to provide at least two "Talking ATMs."

Among other requirements, ATMs and fare machines must be equipped with either a telephone receiver or an audio output jack into which headphones can be connected to allow the customer to hear instructions, follow the progress of their transaction in private, and get an audio receipt of their transaction.

Violation of the federal rules carries a civil penalty of up to $55,000 for the first violation, and up to $110,000 for subsequent ones.

Complete charts with test results at:

  • Many ATMs and MBTA Fare Machines Shortchange the Blind

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