<p>BURLINGTON, Vt. – Almost a year after the National Federation of the Blind filed suit against several banks and one credit union in Vermont for not providing accessible automated teller machines for the visually impaired, nearly all sides have settled. Banknorth Vermont, Chittenden Bank, Northfield Savings Bank and Vermont State Employees Credit Union (VSECU) were named in the complaint filed by the federation last March. Staggered over several timelines and taking into consideration software compatibility, all the financial institutions will provide audio ATMs that contain jacks so a customer can plug in an earphone to hear instructions and prompts. Over the next six months, VSECU plans to add at least three more ATMs to its network that will be compatible with the audio component but the configuration also needs to be supported by the credit union's processor, said Steven Post, president/CEO. VSECU currently has three ATMs. "Our position has always been that the enhancement is the appropriate thing to do," Post said. "At this point, our processor doesn't support the audio ATM capability." Banknorth Vermont has agreed to install 400 talking ATMs in Vermont, Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut and New York by 2007, said B. J. Patterson, president of the Vermont chapter of the National Federation of the Blind, citing the settlement agreement. Banknorth will install a pilot ATM by October 31 in Burlington and is scheduled to roll out the first batch of machines by the end of the year. Northfield Savings Bank has already installed two accessible ATMs and will modify the remaining eight machines by 2010. Chittenden Bank is "still in negotiations" but currently has one audio ATM in place at its Burlington branch, Patterson said. "We're very happy with the outcome," said Patterson who filed the complaint with the state's Human Rights Commission along with three other visually impaired persons last March. "Just like everybody else, we run into situations when we really need cash quickly but the logistics of getting to the ATM, having someone help you, travel time – it can be a bit nerve-wracking." Jean Shiner, a VSECU member and one of the persons filing the complaint, shared Patterson's elation. "I'm ecstatic," she said. "If I need money on the weekend, I can go to the ATM just like everybody else. It certainly makes me more independent. " Shiner has accounts with Banknorth but uses the credit union for most of her financial needs including her mortgage. " This was something that we had been looking to do, but the NFB certainly got us to focus on it and accelerate everything we were thinking," Banknorth spokesman Brian Arsenault told the Associated Press. Calls to Northfield Savings Bank and Chittenden Bank were not returned by press time. -</p> <p>[email protected]</p>

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