ATM's A pain in the knee?

I have been doing a survey of ATM’s and their accessibility to disabled people.

This arises from a request from a bank’s head office, for whom I did an audit and assessment of their premises in Johannesburg a couple of years ago.

I’m sure it was not only my audit that alerted them to the fact that the ATMs are hardly ever anywhere near accessible to wheelchair users especially. QASA agreed to circulate the six questions, so the answers came from quads and paras. I must thank the members for being so responsive.

The outcome of the survey was very interesting as one can imagine. One wheelchair user replied suggesting that he have his legs amputated so it would be easier to reach! Another said in an email that she had just found an ATM with sufficient leg space. The footer at the end of her mail included the phrase “EXPECT A MIRACLE TODAY”.

I know that having an accessible ATM is the least of your worries when you are a wheelchair user, but it all adds up. Most quads keep it in perspective, as there are many ways of drawing cash, but it’s irritating that your options are reduced for no good reason.

A brief summary of the survey follows.
Of the 45 questionnaires I handed out, 30 respondents said YES, they did use ATM’s. 15 did not, saying their wives did the banking, and I counted these as ‘no’.

Asked whether the ATM machine was too high, 41 said YES. However, even the wheelchair users that didn’t use ATMs also said yes! They had obviously tried to use an ATM and found it impossible.

The same non-ATM-user group also gave answers for questions aimed at regular ATM users. In summary, the screen was at too much of an angle for the buttons to correctly line up to the screen text; the screen text was too small. Only 3 said the lack of knee room did not bother them.


Essentially, it is a combination of these factors that decided them not to use an ATM again, and if so, only in dire need.

The whole group agreed that using an ATM with the wheelchair side-on made them feel insecure or vulnerable, since the ATM keypad (and their PIN) and cash slot was plainly visible to bystanders. What about tilting screens like those used on overseas passenger flights?

The factor that concerns me the most is that the area around the ATM is not suitable for wheelchair users. This is so easy to get right that it is clear the problem has not been a major factor in the design.

Sometimes even the positioning of the machine right beside a really crowded area like a fast food outlet can be a major accessibility and security problem.

ATM’s located in shopping malls appear to be the most suitable solution, but I have seen some (here’s a pic of one) that are obviously just for show.

I didn’t ask the question about the rubbish bin, but it’s apparent that the positioning of it is mostly very obstructive, whereas it could be used to advantage as a screen or divider between two machines.An issue which has become apparent now is the fact that it can be difficult to remove your card from the machine after the transaction. One of the most common disabilities which is often overlooked is arthritis. An arthritis sufferer’s hands and fingers are the most badly affected, and I think a large percentage of people afflicted with this dexterity impairment would find it difficult too. I shall be disappointed if at least some of these ATM accessibility problems are not attended to. (This particular one was highlighted by a wheelchair paraplegic who has strong upper body strength. Perhaps the ATM card slot is at the wrong angle for a wheelchair user to remove easily.)

This whole exercise has made me realise how vulnerable impaired (and therefore ignored) people actually are. Mostly the whole problem is only a series of small things, but they all add up to make the sector feel very marginalised. There are many ways to draw cash, which is mostly what ATMs are used for.

There are now some innovative ideas. Pick ‘n Pay has introduced cash withdrawals at their user-friendly counters and cashiers, and they are open early till late. I have had a thought that, with the new scourge of ATM’s being blown up, and banks’ concerns regarding the safety of ALL their clients, perhaps ATM’s will go out of fashion, like typewriters!

As the bank manager said when being interviewed on radio about five years ago about security at ATMs: ”If we really want to get rid of the problem, let’s not have ATM’s”.

It is the test of one’s freedom when one has many options.

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