Cashpoint machines can be extremely frustrating. Many don't work at all. Some eat your bank card, or present you with a cash withdrawal receipt, but neglect to cough up the money! The automated hole-in-the-wall can be frustrating enough for able-bodied people, but is doubly frustrating for those who often can't see the screen.
Many countries around the world have overcome this problem by installing talking cashpoints. The first country to install a bank machine with speech capability was Canada, back in 1997. Australia and India swiftly followed suit. The United States went one step further by passing a law recently which states that one cashpoint machine in every location must be speech enabled.
Unfortunately though, here in the UK, we're still waiting for that technology to be rolled out countrywide. The best that UK banks have managed to date, is to install a headphone socket to the machine enabling the disabled user to plug in their personal headphones and listen to their personal details as they enter them. Luckily, users' PIN numbers are not repeated out loud by the electronic voice, for security reasons. In 2005, the Northern Bank in Northern Ireland introduced talking cashpoint machines but the UK failed to catch on, and last year there we still only 85 such machines scattered across the country.
In addition to individuals in wheel chairs who may not be eye-level with certain screens, those most severely affected by the lack of speech enabled cash withdrawal facilities are the blind and visually impaired. In 2012, the Royal National Institute of Blind People conducted a survey of 500 of its members, asking for feedback about their banking experiences. The majority of those questioned said that they never use cashpoints and prefer to ask for cash-back services in shops or by visiting their local bank to withdraw funds over the counter. This however is becoming increasingly problematic, as more and more local branches are closing in favor of call centre customer service. Of those who do use cashpoint machines, almost half have said that this is not straightforward, and that in many cases they have to ask friends or even passers-by for assistance, which presents an obvious security risk. At least one person surveyed admitted that money had been stolen from him when he asked for help from a friend. Almost half the respondents said that they would happily use speech enabled cash machines if they were available.
So far, only Barclays Bank have committed to upgrading all of their cash machines with speech enabled technology by the end of this year. Lloyds Banking Group came up second best with a promise to replace all faulty and broken cashpoints with speech enabled ones and upgrading a further 1,500 by the end of this year. They also intend to speech-enable the remaining seven thousand of their cash machines but have thus far failed to commit to a timeframe for this.
In these times when so much is being made of equality for disabled people (it reportedly being at the top of the government's agenda for the UK), it's rather surprising that such a simple and yet very important facility appears to have been thus far overlooked.