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Banks, make cash machines work for the blind

Using a cash machine is something most of us take for granted. But if you’re blind, using a cashpoint isn’t such a simple task. However, there is a solution to make it easier and it’s time UK banks did something about it.

Cash machines provide an extremely important service that, unfortunately, simply isn’t available to blind and visually-impaired people in Britain. In America there are over 100,000 ‘talking cash machines’ – why shouldn’t this be the case in the UK?

It may surprise you to learn that many of the cash machines you use on a daily basis do actually have the capability to be used by blind and visually-impaired people.

You’ll probably have noticed, especially on newer cashpoints, that there’s a socket to plug headphones into. Amazingly, more often than not, these sockets haven’t been enabled for use!

In fact, only 0.001% of UK cashpoints have enabled this headphone capability, compared to 25% in the US and basically all ATMs in Australia.

Enable headphone sockets on cash machines

Once banks do enable this headphone facility, people who are blind or partially sighted will be able to plug in their earphones and hear what’s displayed on-screen and use the number pad to make selections.

I could attempt to explain why I think implementing this is important, but I’ll leave that job to someone far more qualified than me. Suzie Simons went blind nearly seven years ago and has taken up the reigns of this campaign to make Britain’s cash machines talk:

Getting all banks on board

Barclays and Lloyds have agreed to start bringing in this technology before the end of 2012, but this means there are still many other big banks whose cash machines remain off limits to Suzie and thousands of people like her.

RBS, HSBC, Santander and The Co-operative Bank are still refusing to provide this service and it’s time to apply a little bit of pressure to help them on their way.

I find it very difficult to understand why some the UK’s banks are so behind the times on this issue. Why are they dragging their feet on this? At best, it’s perplexing. At worst, it’s simply outrageous. It’s time to equip these systems and give people like Suzie the service she needs.

Hayley Simons says:
28 March 2012

What every happened to equal opportunities. If the technology already exists, there should be no reason why all the banks can’t implement this.

Steve Jones says:
28 March 2012

I have a blind friend, who has to ask for help to use cash machines. I think this is a scandal! If I had to ask a passer-by to help draw cash from my account, I can imagine that i would feel much less independent and devalued as an individual. The technology is so simple, and the banks have a responsibility to sort this out quickly. I have been loyal to my bank for over 30 years. If a UK bank introduced this, (and I am not visually impaired – yet!), I would move my business to them – this is such an important principle.

Kithy says:
28 March 2012

Well done to Suzie. You are speaking on behalf of the 250,000 maybe more who are either blind or partially sighted. Banks need to start using the profits more efficiently. Good luck.

Claz says:
28 March 2012

We are constantly told to be responsible for security of our financial information as you won’t get any protection from the banks if you aren’t. Yet huge numbers of customers are having to run the risk of sharing their personal information just to get money from the hole in the wall. There is no other option to gain access to your own money if you are visually impaired for the 124 hours a week that banks aren’t open. How long will it be before there is a court case for putting visually impaired people in a vulnerable position. Wonder which bank will truly put its customers first.

It seems incredulous that banks can put in ATMs with headphone accessibility and not see the value of their use. Why wouldn’t they enable them? What reason are they giving for not enabling them?

T Webb says:
28 March 2012

surely anything that can help the visually impaired is a must,put yourself in thier position.

Sue says:
28 March 2012

People with special needs should have the same access as able-bodied people so please push for this on their behalf

Richard says:
29 March 2012

I want to be able to use any cash machine at any time, like everyone else around me does. It worries me that some people think i’m more vulnerable than a sighted person because that view ignores the life skills that i’ve developed and that i use every minute i’m out and about to decide how to manage risk. There’s a lot of vulnerable people out there sighted and not for one reason or another, short term and long term, but this fact has nothing to do with whether a bank enables the headphone jack in their cash machine or not, or for that matter whether a bank should have a wheelchair ramp coming out of it as surely muggers would be queuing up there too! the main thing for me is for the banks just to fix this problem and we can all get on with our lives.

Mop says:
29 March 2012

There are 2 points I’d like to make.

Firstly, the issue of vulnerability. To use this as an excuse for not providing a service is both arrogant and offensive. Every person should be free decide what level of risk they are comfortable with. To make assumptions like this for others is simply wrong.

The 2nd point that amazes me is that some cash machines already have the jacks installed yet are not operational. This implies that this service comes as standard by the ATM provider and someone at the bank has made a conscious decision to switch off this functionality. Why? Furthermore, on these ATMs, since the hardware is already in place, surely it’s a simple software upgrade to enable them. Now that the banks are aware of the issue, why is this not happening?

M and P says:
29 March 2012

Thank you for drawing our attention to this disabling problem. Co-operative Bank where are you with your “banging on about fair trade and ethical products” . Lets have some fair products for blind and partially sighted people at YOUR atm’s. HSBC as you are our bank – I will ask for your official stance on this urgent matter. Perhaps we and the Banks should say “there but for the grace of God”.

Andy Kaye says:
29 March 2012

If we can land man on the moon it really shouldn’t prove beyond the wit of the major high street banks to enable audio for blind and partially sighted customers. Get moving RBS!

c. sammons says:
22 July 2019

I work with visually impaired and blind people. One of my colleagues who is in her 20’s has asked me this morning if I could help her use a cash point. She is perfectly able to live independently, use public transport to travel with her guide dog and using her mobile phone, and do her job using a computer and reading braille. With all the technology available for people with Visual impairment, it seems ridiculous that they are unable to use a cash machine!!