U.S. Panel's Decision Under Disabilities Act Avoids Costly Redesign

Bankers and manufacturers of automated teller machines are claiming victory in a protracted dispute over how high a cash machine may stand and still be considered readily accessible to disabled people.

The dispute began last year when regulations for the Americans with Disabilities Act set 48 inches as the maximum height of the controls of all ATMs installed after Jan. 26, 1992.

The vast majority of ATMs manufactured in the United States have heights between 52 and 54 inches.

Not for Everybody

Bankers argued that 48 inches, while perfect for people in wheelchairs, would limit accessibility for many others, including the vision-impaired and those with severe arthritis.

After nearly a year of debate, the issue was resolved last week when the U.S. Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board agreed to amend its guidelines to permit an ATM height of 54 inches.

However, ATMs may be installed at this height only if the floor space of a facility allows wheelchair-bound individuals to position themselves for a sideward reach to an ATM's keyboard and dispensing slots. In cases where only a forward reach is possible, all ATM controls must be no more than 48 inches from the ground.

Cost Factor for Banks

The Architectural Board's decision pleased bankers and ATM manufacturers, who had been concerned about the increase in cost that a 48-inch requirement would have caused.

Such a requirement "would have increased costs across the board without achieving the desired goal of making machines accessible to the greatest cross-section of the population," said Stephen A. Schutze, senior vice president and director for corporate resources for the disabled at NationsBank Corp.

The nation's largest ATM manufacturers, NCR Corp. and InterBold Inc., estimated that they would incur $10 million in product redesign costs and $80 million in sales losses each if the ADA regulations had remained at 48 inches.

These costs would have certainly been passed along to banks in the form of higher ATM prices, InterBold and NCR executives said.

"We sure weren't going to eat all the cost," an executive at one vendor said.

Publication Is Scheduled

A detailed version of the new height requirements is scheduled to be published in the Federal Register today.

The amendment would take effect after a 30-day comment period.

Some groups rerpresenting the disabled were disappointed by the board's decision, but U.S. officials said the extensive discussions that preceded the decision make a challenge unlikely.

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