BOSTON - FleetBoston Financial Corp. and the Disability Law Center of Boston announced on Wednesday plans to install 1,420 talking automated teller machines in the Northeast to help visually impaired customers.
Robert Hedges, senior vice president and managing director of retail distribution at Fleet, said it is the first banking company to equip ATMs with voice-guided technology in the Northeast, where there are more than five million visually impaired people.
"We all take for granted how easy it is to use an ATM," Mr. Hedges said. "For someone who is visually impaired, it is not. This is a very profound thing for that segment of the population."
About 16 talking ATMs are already operating in the metropolitan Boston area. By yearend Fleet hopes to have unveiled more than 1,000 of the machines, primarily in Massachusetts and the metropolitan New York area.
In addition, the $179 billion-asset company is to provide account statements and brochures in braille and large-print format and will redesign its Web site to include features - such as voice prompts - that will better serve the visually impaired.
"The independence that is going to be gained by consumers who have access to these tools is a very big thing," Mr. Hedges said.
Several other banking companies - most notably Bank of America Corp., Citigroup Inc., Wells Fargo & Co., and U.S. Bancorp - have rolled out talking ATMs that guide the blind through transactions. Last week Mellon Financial Corp. installed talking ATMs at 11 branches in Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, and Harrisburg, Pa.