A ruling that could require modifications to 80% of the nation's automated teller machines has been delayed for several weeks.

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The U.S. Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board had been expected to publish its opinion this week on the how high people in wheelchairs should have to reach to use the machines.

However, officials at the American Bankers Association said the board now wants more time to review comment letters from bankers, disabled groups, and teller machine manufacturers.

The Department of Justice will use the board's opinion as the basis for regulations implementing the Americans with Disabilities Act.

"It's an important decision, and we feel that a postponement is a sign that the board is treating it as such," said Nessa Feddis, a senior federal counsel at the American Bankers Association in Washington.

The ABA has been working with NCR Corp. and InterBold for more than six months to convince the board that the machines are easily accessible to the largest cross section of the population when the highest button or dispensing slot is 54 inches from the floor.

Disagreement on Height

Disabled groups and several members of the board believe that wheelchair-bound users need a 48-inch maximum.

Though the 54-inch standard satisfies Americans with Disabilities Act requirements for paper-towel dispensers and vending machines, the board said the unusual range of motion needed to operate an automatic teller machine warrants more specific guidelines.

NCR and InterBold, based respectively in Dayton and North Canton, Ohio, account for more than 80% of the machines in operation in the United States.

The vast majority of these are geared to the 54-inch maximum, but the manufacturers contend that someone in a wheelchair can easily operate most of them if there is room to pull the chair alongside.

Though ABA officials are hopeful that any new regulation would only apply to new installations, members of the architectural board have not ruled out requiring renovations on existing machines.

Cost of Compliance

According to the American Banker's 1992 annual technology survey, the cost of compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act for the banking industry's technology and operations departments is about $430 million.

This figure would probably increase dramatically, if the Justice Department regulations require renovations.

Since the board does not convene again until September, the vote on this issue will be by mail. ABA officials expect a decision in the first week of August.

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