7,000 ATM Sites for the Disabled?

Seeking to comply with federal legislation mandating increased access for the disabled by early next year, many banks have begun renovating their ATM fleets.

But bank association officials warn that the industry may not be moving quickly enough.

The 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act, which prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in areas of public accommodation, takes effect on Jan. 26. On that date, all automated teller machine sites must be accessible to the disabled if that's "readily achievable."

As industry watchers have interpreted it, compliance with the act won't require most institutions to conduct wholesale renovations. Nevertheless, the total cost to the banking industry will probably run into the millions of dollars, they said.

$4,000 per Site

The American Bankers Association estimates that as many as 7,000 ATM sites will require some alterations. Costs of the renovations will vary widely, but experts placed a per-site average at $4,000.

Banks that have not complied with the requirements of the act face lawsuits that could include fines. Many institutions could be facing court action as early as February of 1992, attorneys for banking organizations said.

Acting on the advice of the ABA and the Bank Administration Institute, many institutions, including Bank South Corp., Atlanta, and NBD Bancorp, Detroit, have begun incorporating the purchase of wheelchair-accessible teller machines in their ATM replacement cycle policies.

"A number of our oldest machines were due to be replaced, and it only made sense to buy the machines that would allow the most people access to our facilities," said Calvin Johnson, vice president in electronic banking at the $5.2 billion-asset Bank South.

According to ATM vendors, many other institutions are following similar strategies. At North Canton, Ohio-based InterBold - a leading shipper of ATMs - a full 40% of cash machines ordered in the last few months have included a facade that makes them accessible to customers in wheelchairs.

While these changes meet some of the compliance rules of the Act, some of its most pressing requirements must still be addressed.

Specially, representatives of the banking associations fear their constituencies will have a hard time meeting the January deadline for the renovations that will make ATMs accessible to the visually impaired.

"We initially had thought that the existing machines were going to be grandfathered by the act, and subsequently, bankers didn't do much by way of advance preparation," said said Charles Raphael, a first vice president at the NBD Bancorp and a member of the American Bankers Association's retail payment services committee.

"We've really got to move now if we are going to hit this deadline," Mr. Raphael said.

To help sort out the issues, the Bank Administration Institute and the ABA will run seminars in coming months. Since ordering and installing equipment takes an average of about 90 days, industry officials are advising action now.

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