While the Americans with Disabilities Act does not specify how access should be provided to the disabled in most situations, proactive companies are finding there are more customer-facing technologies available to meet these needs.
Assistive technology – technology to help the disabled – offers an opportunity to make self-serve kiosks more usable to the disabled population.
The need to incorporate such technologies in self-serve kiosks may not be voluntary in light of court settlements on behalf of disabled individuals.
Accessibility becomes more affordable
Three years ago, an article on meeting ADA requirements noted that it was virtually impossible to design a totally accessible kiosk for a public place that complied with regulatory requirements that was cost-effective.
Interviews with kiosk industry observers indicates this is changing.
"Making a kiosk accessible used to be an extremely expensive and time intensive endeavor," said Laura Boniello Miller, director of marketing at KioWare Kiosk Software Analytical Design Solutions Inc. "As it currently stands, accessible kiosks can actually serve to provide assistive technologies for customers and users that improve the customer experience – making a business more accessible through the addition of a kiosk."
"Kiosks can allow deaf individuals to read instructions rather than waiting for a signing attendant to assist with information gathering," she said. Video conferencing kiosks like the Starbucks signing attendant can allow for communication via ASL (American Sign Language) via the drive in.
The JAWS (Job Access With Speech) screen reader speech and Braille output is among the better known technologies for the visually impaired.
"Kiosks that make use of JAWS technology can service a visually impaired individual," Miller said. "And none of this kiosk integration is extra when done using kiosk system software that supports JAWS, video conferencing and/or other assistive technologies."
"Even the most basic and cost effective options are underutilized," observed Tom McClelland, president of DynaTouch, a self-service kiosk solutions provider.
"There are very few kiosk manufacturers and integrators who make their clients aware of these technologies," said McClelland. "For some, that may be because they simply aren't aware of all the technologies. For others, it probably has more to do with the added cost. To equip a self-service kiosk with complete and comprehensive assistive technologies requires specialized design, software and hardware."
The TIPS (Touch Information Presentation Software) from DynaTouch has a built-in, scriptable text-to-speech engine, as well as user-selectable screen size, contrast and volume settings, said McClelland. The software allows web-enabled content on shared and public access devices, including kiosks, digital displays, multi-user tablets and workstations.
Government and ATMs take the lead
Specifications required for government kiosks and ATMs offer manufacturers guidance to make kiosks more assistive in all use cases.
The U.S. Postal Service Automated Postal Center, for example, features audio prompts and a special keypad to allow users with limited vision, physical limitations and cognitive impairments to use the system without assistance.
"The government leads the way on this both by necessity (they are required by law) and by philosophy," KioWare's Miller said. "According to the law, government agencies must service each and every citizen – and their technologies must do the same. In addition, the government has, in recent years, employed visual and hearing impaired individuals as well as physically handicapped or differently abled individuals in record numbers."
"When you look at the ATM industry, that's to tell us that there is definitely an aspect of ADA that has to do with sound and the actual levels and output of sound," said Ben Wheeler, a kiosk industry consultant. "With ATMs you have an audible output jack."
Most automatic banking machines offer audio guidance when a user plugs a headphone into a headset jack, according to the National Business & Disability Council at the Viscardi Center. By following audio cues to find the correct buttons via Braille labels on the machine, the user can do transactions easily.
Barclay's ATMs offer speech output capability through jacks to allow visually impaired individuals to plug in earphones and have options read to them to carry out transactions.
More enforcement expected
"You're going to see more enforcement for the hard of hearing – sound volume and perhaps sign languages," said Jegil Dugger, vice president of sales at Juke Slot, a provider of kiosk solutions which has been working with the Atlanta Area School for the Deaf to ensure ordering interface meets users' needs.
Juke Slot developed a kiosk that displays a virtual avatar that communicates in sign language after the company learned about a hard of hearing customer who had trouble ordering a meal at a restaurant where Juke Slot was installing self-order kiosks.
"Our sign language software is not just designed for restaurants; it's designed for all industries," Dugger said. "It can be used in banking, it can be used in ATM machines, medical or whatever."
Dugger is not aware of any company being sued over a kiosk not being accessible by a hard of hearing consumer. However, Taco Bell was sued in July by a hard of hearing customer in New Jersey who had trouble placing an order at a drive-thru.
"Additionally, I would argue that the ADA requirements for kiosk accessibility should be considered important, particularly in areas of healthcare, transportation, and banking," KioWare's Miller said. "Yes, there are costs, but they are trivial compared to the impact it has on a differently abled individual who cannot conduct a necessary task."
/ Elliot Maras is the editor of KioskMarketplace.com and FoodTruckOperator.com.