Why There is Braille on Drive-Thru ATM Machines

braille atmToday I found out why there is Braille on drive-thru ATM machines.

Mainly, it is because it is required by law, thanks to the ADA Accessibility Guidelines for Buildings and Facilities.  There are certain exceptions, in terms of these requirements, when it comes to drive-up ATMs vs. walk up ATMs, such as the differing requirements on the “Reach Ranges” in section 4.34.3.  However, being able to get rid of the Braille is not one of these exceptions, despite initial protests from the American Banker’s Association who argued that any visually impaired person could simply get the driver to help.  The committee in charge of coming up with these standards rejected this argument because it would no longer allow a visually impaired person to use the ATM independently.

Blind people actually do use the drive up ATMs all the time too, contrary to what many people think.  It’s not uncommon at all for them to run errands in a taxi-cab, for instance.  When they do, a drive up ATM is certainly more convenient for a blind person, given someone can drive them right up to the ATM, and they probably wouldn’t want to trust the cab driver with their card and pin number.

Up until somewhat recently though, a more interesting question would have been, “why do even walk up ATMs have Braille when many ATMs don’t have any facility for letting the blind person know what was happening on the screen?”  This situation has since been improved, but for a long time, there were no set way to make the interaction with the ATM, beyond the Braille, accessible to the visually impaired.  Initially, no one was really sure what the best way to handle this aspect of accessibility would be, so the Accessibility Guidelines didn’t address it.

Indeed, in the early days, quite a lot of banks simply provided a Braille instruction manually for a given ATM and the visually impaired user would need to follow the steps exactly to do a certain task and hope nothing went wrong or that the ATM didn’t suddenly get a software update that changed that interaction. These instructions can still be found on many ATMs, but today there also generally is some sort of audible system to let the visually impaired user know what’s happening  the screen (usually through a headphone jack, for privacy).

You’ll also often hear people say that the reason behind this has to do with being “cheaper to make one ATM machine, rather than two different models” or in a similar vein “cheaper to have one set of buttons with Braille, than one with and one without”.  This may or may not be true, but given the American Bankers Association fought to try to remove requirements to make the drive-up ATMs accessible to the visually impaired, it would seem this “cheaper” factor, if it exists, wasn’t a contributing factor.

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Bonus Facts:

  • It is estimated that there are somewhere in the vicinity of 2 million ATMs in the world today, though no single group keeps track of this total.  Given an average ATM fully stocked, with whatever amount the bank thinks is sufficient for that location, will have around $5,000-$20,000, that means there is probably the equivalent of around $20 billion at any given time in all the world’s ATMs.
  • The most northern ATM in the world is in Longyearbyen, Svalbard, Norway, which is about half way between Norway and the North Pole (about 800 miles from the North Pole).
  • The most southern ATM is located in McMurdo Station, Antarctica, which is about 840 miles from the South Pole.
  • The world’s highest ATM is in Nagchu County, Tibet and is about 14,800 above sea level.
  • The world’s lowest ATM is in Ein Bokek, near the Dead Sea in a grocery store that is just shy of 1400 feet below sea level.
  • Most modern ATMs run on Windows XP Pro or Windows XP Embedded.  Most of the remaining modern day ATMs use various operating systems based on the Linux kernel.
  • ATMs provide something of a safety risk in some areas.  One interesting way around some of this problem is for all banks to require people to have an emergency PIN associated with their account.  If someone is trying to get you to withdraw your money and give it to them or you are otherwise being threatened, you can simply enter your emergency pin instead of your normal pin and everything will work like normal, except it will alert the police.  This system is in place in certain locations, such as some ATMs in Kansas, but hasn’t caught on outside of these few locations as of yet.
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  • The rationale for the Braille requirement for Drive Up ATMs is two-fold. First, it was lobbied for includion in the 1991 ADA requirements (now the 2010 final requirements) by New York taxi drivers as a convenience for their many sight impaired fares. The second is why would ATM manufactures make two different keyboards, one for drive up and one for walk up, the extra production and inventory cost is unnecessary.

    Regarding the “Final” 2010 ADA requirements as they apply to ATMs. The audio guidance begins at the insertion of the headphone jack. Additionally, there is a blank screen feature by some ATM manufacturers to minimize someone standing over the shoulder of a sight-impaired individual and capturing data. In the 2010 regulations there are also specific font sizes and type on monitors and very specific reach and access detail for the wheelchair bound.

    To respond to two of your above statements. There is NO PIN sequence that will alert the police. The vast majority of ATMs have their security alarm feature wired to the safe (cause that is where the money is), plus the automated network driving the ATM would see nothing but an incorrect PIN for that account. This alarm contact is either open or closed, which means if the contact is open and the alarm is not turned off (usually at a keypad inside the bank), the alarm will be tripped. Any alarm activity is monitored by a monitoring company 24 hours a day. Even in the smallest of towns, the police no longer monitor bank alarm systems. There is no provision in an ATM to route any tripped alarm to anywhere other than the monitoring company, it is all done through a single analog telephone line (not digital). The monitoring company will then make a determination whether to contact law enforcement. Additionally, there is no provision to alarm a keypad. The closest one can come to is wire the safe contact with a keypad and have a PIN which signals the monitoring company there is a higher level of alarm alert (i.e. someone is jumped while filling the ATM with money).

    Next, virtually any ATM that has not made the software migration to a Windows XP-based operating system is still running on OS/2. OS/2 was a great ATM OS, however when IBM quit support no one wrote drivers for the newer more sophisticated hardware. There are virtually NO ATMs running a Linux-based OS.

    Lastly, the next safety step for ATMs will be the requirement of a certain level of candlepower at the ATM use area (Texas began this potential requirement).

  • Apparently (and I can’t say this for sure, not having tested it myself) if you are being robbed at an ATM you can enter your P.I.N. backwards. This will still allow the transaction but will also send a message to authorities alerting them to the crime.

    Incidentally, it is redundant to say “P.I.N. number” since the “N.” in “P.I.N.” stands for the word “number”. You would be saying “Personal Identification Number number”.

    • This is not true. If that was the case, what would happen to people with a PIN that reads the same backwards and forwards, 1221 for example?

  • I wonder when the US will do what other countries such as Japan do and put braille markings on their paper currency?

  • In Mexico the smaller the value of the paper money, the smaller it physically is. And of course, coins in every country I have been in have been different sizes. I think braille would be difficult to maintain on paper money as it would get squashed in billfolds. Or would it entail holes instead of bumps?

  • ok, you might have a blind passenger wanting to use the drive-thru atm, but what good does the braille on an atm on th drivers side, if your blind passenger sits on the passenger side?

    • There is a blind gentleman with a channel on Youtube that discusses the issue of braille on the ATM driver side of the car. He says that blind people often have to take cabs if they are independent, and thus, the cab driver can pull through and allow them to use the ATM.

  • > You’ll also often hear people say that the reason behind this has to do with being “cheaper to make one ATM machine, rather than two different models” or in a similar vein “cheaper to have one set of buttons with Braille, than one with and one without”. This may or may not be true, but given the American Bankers Association fought to try to remove requirements to make the drive-up ATMs accessible to the visually impaired, it would seem this “cheaper” factor, if it exists, wasn’t a contributing factor.

    These two explanations are not incompatible. Once the ADA requirements came into force, it would make sense for the manufacturers of the ATMs to only make one model, with braille keypads. However, it would also make sense for the bankers to only want to replace their walk-up ATMs with the braille models, leaving the existing non-braille models in place for drive-up use.

  • Fewer than 10 percent of the 1.3 million legally blind people in the United States read Braille, and just 10 percent of blind children are learning it, according to a report to be released Thursday by the National Federation of the Blind.Mar 26, 2009.