Reducing the Burden of ATM Accessibility

Lawyer Says Network Members Should Consult on Sites to Modify

Lynne B. Barr, a Boston-based lawyer, has an idea to help owners of automated teller machines satisfy the Americans with Disabilities Act, which takes effect in January.

She suggests that instead of making each site accessible to people in wheelchairs or with hearing or sight problems, banks work with others in their ATM networks to make selected machines in the network accessible.

She spoke at a recent meeting of the Electronic Banking Economics Society of New York.

Minimalist Approach

"Design changes to one ATM in a multi-ATM site are considered sufficient" to comply with the Justice Department's access rules, Ms. Barr said, so it stands to reason that one accessible ATM near others in a shared network could bring all network participants into compliance.

The banks could waive fees so not to penalize those who must use a designated machine, she added.

There's just one hitch. "The Justice regulations do not address that sort of cooperative effort," said Ms. Barr, a former Federal Reserve staff lawyer now with the firm of Goodwin, Procter & Hoar.

Justice Department officials have no answer to the question: Is one handicapped-accessible machine in a cluster tantamount to compliance by all in the network? Still, "I think it makes sense" and may even be "pursuable," Ms. Barr said.

The law requires that the disabled have easy access to all public accommodations.

ATMs have attracted considerable attention because most of the 80,000 in the United States pose some kind of obstacle.

Flexibility is built into the access rules. Owners of ATMs and other applicable facilities need not make excessively costly changes, but starting in 1993, all new public accommodations must be accessible.

Telephones for Blind?

Ms. Barr said "readily achievable" alterations to ATMs might include telephones to assist the blind and display screens with bigger type sizes.

Ms. Barr has also concluded that a bank providing services by telephone must offer telecommunications devices for the deaf at a nondiscriminatory price. And a bank that installs an ATM at a drive-up window should also install one "for people who can't drive."

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