Doubts that Citicorp could adapt its automated teller machines for use by the visually impaired were put to rest this week, advocates for the disabled said.

New software will let the visually impaired use the proprietary teller machines that Citicorp, the nation's largest financial institution, has used since the late 1970s to differentiate itself.

The software was developed during a three-year, multi-million-dollar effort to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act, the company said.

The act took effect in January.

Citicorp, like many other banks, adapted itself well to the parts requiring that ramps be installed and the machines lowered to make them accessible to people in wheelchairs.

"It's been a priority for a number of years to offer the best possible service to customers with disabilities," said James L. Bailey, executive vice president for Citicorp's North American consumer bank.

A Major Hurdle

Experts believed, however, that Citicorp would have a tougher time accommodating the blind and the visually impaired.

The company's nearly 2,000 ATMs are all equipped with touch-sensitive screens instead of keypads, which most such machines use. Citicorp's machines lack function keys that can be located by touch.

The software devised to solve the problem is to be installed in all Citicorp teller machines by March 31.

It divides the touch screen into four quadrants, which users can locate by feeling for the corners of the screen.

How it Works

A user would tap the touch screen twice to summon the vision-impaired application. After an ATM card is inserted, a tone will sound to indicate that the screen has changed and the machine is awaiting a personal identification number.

To input the personal identification number, the customer taps the lower right-hand corner -- five taps for number seven -- hitting "enter" on the lower left side of the screen between digits.

When the PIN is accepted, a different tone sounds to denote a screen change. The lower right quadrant is then used to key in the desired withdrawal amount.

Cash is then dispensed in $10 bills only.

Representatives of disabled organizations hailed the software as the first major ATM initiative by a U.S. bank to address the needs of the vision impaired.

Several institutions are working on approaches using voice synthesizers. "The concerns at this point are mainly ones of security," said Roxane Offner, a disabilities consultant with the Lighthouse Inc. in New York. "A scenario where you have to say out loud |My [personal identification] number is 4-3-2-1' is out of the question."

Subscribe Now

Access to authoritative analysis and perspective and our data-driven report series.

14-Day Free Trial

No credit card required. Complete access to articles, breaking news and industry data.