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 standards for accessible design.
And, according to court documents filed by attorney R. Bruce Carlson, the lack of compliance is widespread despite a March 15 deadline to comply with the 2010 rules. Carlson cited in court documents a March 7 Wall Street Journal article that said at least 50% of all ATMs in the U.S. are inaccessible to blind individuals.
Credit unions sued by Carlson are 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 March 15.
The American Heritage suit, filed Sept. 27, is the most recent. American Heritage was one of the first credit unions to make use of video teller machines and has implemented the units into its branching strategy.
The Century Heritage suit was dismissed in June, with court documents stating that the parties “have entered into a proposed consent decree calculated to ensure that defendant Century Heritage FCU maintains its ATM network so that the ATMs are readily accessible to and independently usable by blind and visually impaired individuals.”
The USXFCU suit was referred to mediation on July 12. The remaining suits are still pending.
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 he did say that small institutions and free-standing ATMs not affiliated with a depository institution are more frequent violators.
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 the suit the ADA requires that blind consumers be able to conduct transactions independently, without having to share sensitive account information with a third party, like an employee offering assistance.
The 2010 regs also state that an industry standard connector or telephone handset are minimum delivery requirements for speech interaction, and speech sources must be a recorded or digitized human, or from a synthesized source.
Further, the regs state that where receipts are provided, speech output must also provide audible balance inquiry information and all other information printed on the receipt necessary to complete or verify the transactions.
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.
The 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 had resulted in delays.