For a number of years, the Association has been quietly working with the banking industry to push them towards introducing talking ATMs. ATMs, or automatic teller machines, often called cash machines, bank machines etc, are all over the place so people must use them.

For a number of years, the Association has been quietly working with the banking industry to push them towards introducing talking ATMs. ATMs, or automatic teller machines, often called cash machines, bank machines etc, are all over the place so people must use them.

Sighted people, that is. Blind people have not been able to use them because even though we can at least on some models learn which button is which, we can’t actually interact with these machines because we can’t read what is on the screen. Sure it’s possible on some machines to learn a series of actions that might result in getting a certain amount of money, but there is always the risk that something might go wrong, and ultimately the machine is likely to take your card if you persevere and as a blind person you wouldn’t know the reason why. We just think that access to ATMs is a human right since banks have some obligation to serve us to the same standard as they serve others, and technology has existed for some time now to make ATMs accessible to us.

I’m pleased to say that in the last couple of years there has been a bit of a “quiet revolution” going on, thanks largely to our Association’s continued advocacy and the favourable response of the banking industry. We must remember that these machines are often upgraded or replaced, and we always hoped that in time the banks would start to buy new machines with the capability of talking to us so we too could use them.

The first talking ATMs to appear were installed in 2005 by the New Zealand Association of Credit Unions. Though not a trading bank, they led the way in making banking more accessible to blind people.

But since then several banks have started to install them, and the numbers are growing. At the time of writing and according to information the Association has recently gained from the banks, ANZ the National Bank should have a massive 400 audio enabled machines installed by the end of May (we believe), Westpac now has 113 installed, ASB Bank has 79, and the Association of Credit Unions has 51. So basically that’s over 600 audio enabled machines in total either installed or coming very soon. That’s a tremendous and positive change.

Other banks are a little slower, but we are in touch with them and we believe they are making progress. We particularly hope that New Zealand’s own KiwiBank will install talking ATMs when their ICT infrastructure upgrades are complete.

The machines vary in detail, but the basic principle is that you plug a standard pair of headphones into the machine. It senses this and automatically starts to talk, giving the blind user full control over their transaction. Some machines even blank the screen during an audio transaction, which we think is a positive move because a blind person cannot always be sure no one is watching.

It is understandable that the banks did not want a lot of publicity during the early installations because even their own staff have had to find out about them.

But now we think it’s time to start telling people about our success. What we need now is publicity so particularly blind people with one of these machines close by can be aware of them. It may take a while for us to start using them because, let’s face it, we have had to get along pretty much without them, and often we can get cash from shops etc when we buy something using EFTPOS. But now that these machines are here, and a good number of us will have at least one machine in our area, I hope we will start using them like sighted people already do.