The final deadline for ATMs to be compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act is approaching. While many CUs have already taken steps to have their machines ready, others have not, according to industry executives.
The U.S. Justice Department upgraded the regulations in July 2010 with new regulations called the 2010 Standards for Accessible Design that impact ATM designs and functionality. The new rules changed things like the height of walk-up ATMs, audible technologies ATMs need to have available for users with visual disabilities and changes to keyboards to make it easier for visually impaired users to discern one key from another. The new rules come into effect for compliance as of March 15, 2012.
On height, the new rules specify that walk up ATM be no taller than 48 inches, a full four inches lower than the previous standard of 52 inches. On audible technologies, the rules declare that a compliant ATM must use either recorded speech or computer synthesized speech. It also must have either a jack where a pair of earphones can be plugged in or a telephone handset that a user can use. It must also have notices in Braille or large text indicating the jack or handset. In addition, balance inquiry information, error messages and all the other information printed on the receipt must also be available audibly.
Since the rules have been in the works for a number of years, both credit unions and ATM manufacturers have had the time to plan their transition to the new machines, according to executives with organizations that work with credit unions to meet ATM needs.
Kathy Herziger-Snider, vice president of product development for CO-OP Financial Services, credited the push from the major card brands Visa and MasterCard to update ATMs to higher security encryption for also helping CUs meet the new ADA rules. “Most of the machines that were compliant with [the new encryption technology] were also compliant with the ADA,” she said. This was the case particularly when it came to the keyboards that had to meet new encryption standards. The manufacturers made sure the new keyboards largely complied with ADA requirements.
She also noted that there were elements in the new regulation that would help lighten the burden. Under the new rules, if a credit union has more than one ATM in a given location, like a branch, it does not have to make sure all of the ATMs in that location are ADA compliant. It’s acceptable if only one is, Herziger-Snider explained.
In addition, many ATMs that have been built in the last few years have been built more like computers, she explained. That means a credit union doesn't have to buy a single ATM with all of the attachments. Instead it could buy different components, such as a telephone handset or audio jack as needed and that lets CUs position themselves to upgrade to ADA compliant machines less expensively and easily.
But Josh Ettesvold, president of Express Teller Services, a Phoenix-based organization that helps both CUs and independent firms manage ATMs, said that significant numbers of credit unions still have old, noncompliant ATMs and have not yet started the process of changing the height of some machines to make them compliant. This could be changing the floor height under the machine as well as the height of any framing around the machine, he said, making the project more costly. “In many cases, you are talking real construction,” he said.
Both Ettesvold and Herziger-Snider worried a bit about the possibility that credit unions could find themselves facing litigation from ADA-related complaints filed by law firms who were seeking an easy dollar, much in the way that some CUs have been sued over alleged discrepancies in their ATM disclosures.
Herziger-Snider urged that any CUs that may not complete making the transition to full compliance with the ADA in time at least have plans on file to show they are on the way to having it done in the near future. And she agreed with Ettesvold's observation that credit unions should start including ADA compliance checks in their regular ATM maintenance. Including these checks can mean making sure that someone checks that the ATM's Braille or other large text signs were still there, making sure that the audio jack works and that it conveys the needed information.
“I hate to say it, but it’s a little bit like we are having to play defense,” she said, but added that she believed credit union overall were better positioned for the ADA regulations than were other financial institutions.