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ATMs to become blind-friendly in India

11 January 2010

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India’s largest lender State Bank of India plans to introduce 7,000 voice-enabled ATMs across the country for visually challenged customers beginning next month. These will be customised with headphones and braille keypads and will be placed strategically, making it more accessible to persons with disabilities.

Mumbai: With automated teller machines fast turning out to be the primary channel for cash withdrawals, banks are working on ensuring that even handicapped customers have access to these machines.

Image credits: Economic Times/ SBI ATMs to be more accessible to the visually-challenged

For starters, around 7,000 ATMs of State Bank of India are being readied for use by blind customers for most banking transactions.

Amitabh Kumar, general manager, alternate channels at SBI said the bank has completed a pilot project for ATM while the software to internet banking for visually-challenged is in place.

Both the projects will be implemented in a month’s time, he said while speaking at a seminar on banking access for visually-challenged, organised by the Confederation of Indian Industries (CII).

The move to do so follows a dictate from RBI to banks early this year that all its branches and ATMs should be made accessible to persons with disabilities.

RBI had also said banks should make at least one third of new ATMs installed as talking ATMs with braille keypads and place them strategically in consultation with other banks to ensure that at least one talking ATM with Braille keypad is generally available in each locality for catering to needs of visually-impaired persons.

Banks may also bring the locations of such talking ATMs to the notice of their visually-impaired customers.

Speaking on the sidelines of the seminar, Kumar said of its 18,000 ATM, its 7,000 ATMs would be accessible to the visually-disabled.

However, it has not yet activated since the bank has issued special debit card to the visually-impaired to access these ATMs.

However, he could not indicate the number of cards that the bank is likely to issue since the bank does not have the data on the number of visually-impaired banking with them. He indicated that the bank has been in talks with both NCR and Diebold – the two ATM providers to procure the such ATMs.

With regards to internet banking, Kumar said they have also acquired a software called Jaws to enable internet banking for visually-impaired. The key features under internet banking include checking the balance, funds transfer and download account statement.

It will also have a ‘deadman’s switch – wherein the user can enter this key if he fears intrusion to his privacy while he is doing online transactions, following which the page will collapse and the account will not be accessible for three days, or till such a time the account-holder approaches the bank to activate it. Kumar also said banks are looking at putting ramps at some of their ATMs to help the physically challenged access ATMs.

Speaking at the same seminar, ICICI Bank managing director and CEO Chanda Kochhar said banks should be sensitive to the special needs of these people and that it was the responsibility of the banking industry to see to it that they are able to conduct banking activity independently.

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