Seven CUs Sued by Blind Plaintiffs, Alleging ADA Violations
A Pittsburgh attorney, on behalf of three blind clients, has sued seven credit unions and several more banks, claiming their ATMs don’t comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act’s 2010 Standards for Accessible Design adopted by the United States Department of Justice.
And, according to court documents filed by attorney R. Bruce Carlson, the lack of compliance is widespread: at least 50% of all ATMs in the U.S. are inaccessible to blind individuals.
Credit unions sued by Carlson include the $131 million Century Heritage FCU of Pittsburgh, the $203 million USX FCU of Cranberry Township, Pa., the $1.2 billion American Heritage FCU of Philadelphia, the $415 million Primeway FCU of Houston, the $1.6 billion JSC Federal Credit Union of Houston, the $412 million Members Choice CU of Houston and the $1.5 billion Premier America CU of Chatsworth, Calif.
All suits were filed after a March 15, 2012, deadline to comply with the 2010 rules.
Christopher Danielsen, director of public relations for the National Federation of the Blind, confirmed that ATM accessibility is, indeed, a problem for blind consumers.
He did not have data that supported the claim that half of all ATMs aren’t ADA compliant, but said small institutions and free-standing ATMs not affiliated with a depository institution are more frequent violators of the ADA when it comes to the blind.
Braille displays and buttons aren’t enough, Danielsen said, because the screen is dynamic, changing according to the transaction. And, the NFB estimates that only 10% of blind Americans are literate in Braille.
Danielsen said online banking is also a problem for blind consumers, especially as financial services trends toward electronic access. Online banking software must be compatible with screen access technology used by the blind, which outputs text to speech or Braille display. Captchas used for security purposes can also be difficult for the blind to overcome, he added.
According to the Department of Justice, which updated ADA regulations in 2010, ATMs “shall provide the opportunity for the same degree of privacy of input and output available to all individuals.”
Additionally, Section 707.5 of the regulations state that “machines shall be speech enabled”, which includes “operating instructions and orientation, visible transaction prompts, user input verification, error messages, and all displayed information” accessible to those with vision impairments for independent use.
Accessibility doesn’t just mean the consumer can use the ATM; Carlson said in court documents that the ADA requires that blind consumers be able to conduct transactions independently, without having to share sensitive account information with a third party, such as an employee offering assistance.
Kim Hester, executive vice president, customer care and financial solutions for CO-OP Financial Services, is well aware of the ADA requirements, having led the network’s efforts to ensure compliance among its 30,000 ATMs.
Hester said CO-OP member credit unions must comply with all regulations, including the ADA, as part of network operating rules.
She said CO-OP helps credit unions achieve compliance, providing assistance and support installing required software and hardware when needed. Three of the credit unions sued are members of the CO-OP network: USX, American Heritage and Premier America.
Hester said she couldn’t confirm all CO-OP affiliated ATMs were compliant, saying a backlog in hardware production by ATM manufacturers had resulted in delays.