Saying it wants to set a standard for compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, Bank of America Corp. has made plans to blanket the country with talking automated teller machines for people with visual impairments.
The Charlotte, N.C., banking company says it will deploy as many as 2,500 of these machines, mainly in Florida and California, in the next few years. In a project already under way it is installing 15 talking ATMs in nine Florida cities: Cocoa Beach, Coconut Creek, Fort Lauderdale, Jacksonville, Miami, Ocala, Orlando, St. Petersburg, and Tampa.
Talking ATMs provide audible instructions to those who cannot view information on an ATM screen. For privacy, they come with earphone jacks, and banks that install the machines provide earphones for people who do not bring their own.
Advocacy groups lawsuits against Wells Fargo & Co. and Citigroup Inc. in California, and Mellon Bancorp and PNC Financial Corp. in Pennsylvania have led to agreements by the banks to install talking ATMs, and the industry got a warning that this technology might one day be considered standard equipment. Wells Fargo plans to place talking ATMs in 1,500 sites in California by yearend 2003, and other banks, including U.S. Bancorp, have started installing them.
Bank of America acknowledged that another aim of this project is to avoid litigation. Doug Hall, chairman of the Access Committee of the Florida Council of the Blind, in Daytona Beach, said the council considered suing the banking company.
I would imagine theyre going to lure blind people away from other banks, said Mr. Hall, who is blind and says he is considering moving his accounts to Bank of America.
Mr. Hall was critical of banks attempt to appease the blind by putting Braille on ATMs. Only 10% of the blind can read Braille, he said, and Braille letters near ATM buttons do not let people know what information is on the main screen. Reading Braille is useless, he said. I dont know why the banks havent figured it out."