The Commonwealth Bank of Australia has settled a discrimination case in the Federal Court over its “Albert” payment terminals, agreeing to update the point of sale device with improved accessibility support for vision impaired customers.

The case was settled before Christmas and the Commonwealth Bank today confirmed to Which-50 the proposed changes would be “brand new” after questions were raised by people with disabilities about the effectiveness of earlier accessibility support and features.

Two blind Australians, Nadia Mattiazzo and former disability discrimination commissioner Graeme Innes, launched a landmark case against the bank last year, claiming the touchscreen terminals were discriminatory because of the challenge they pose to blind and vision impaired users.

There are at least 88,000 Albert terminals in cafes, retail stores and small business around Australia which require users to enter their PIN via a glass touchscreen. Without a fixed PIN pad or guidance it is difficult for blind and vision impaired users to orientate the buttons.

As part of the Federal Court case settlement the CBA has agreed to introduce new training and software updates to enable an audio function to improve accessibility. The update will allow users to receive audio directions on how to use the touchscreen.

In a statement CBA announced the updates would be released “soon” and that it would offer training for both merchants and blind or vision impaired Albert users in “the coming months”. But the bank could not confirm when the updates would begin rolling out.

“CBA acknowledges the difficulty Mr Innes, Ms Mattiazzo and other Australians who are blind or vision impaired have experienced using Albert’s touchscreen technology to enter their PINs,” the statement said.

According to Innes, the result sends a message to other organisations about how they design their products and services.

“One of the benefits of running these sorts of court challenges is that it demonstrates to organisations, in whatever area, that they can’t treat people with disabilities differently to the way that people without disabilities are treated,” Innes told the ABC’s 7:30 program.

A CBA Albert terminal. Source: MediaAccess.org.au

Closing the digital gap

Gisele Mesnage, founder and coordinator of the Digital Gap Initiative, an advocacy group promoting inclusive digital technology, has concerns over the bank’s proposed training and updates.

Mesnage, who is blind, told Which-50 she had difficulty with Albert’s accessibility features including its existing audio features.

“I did the training with Albert and trialled this feature and, for me, it did not resolve the difficulty of entering my pin on the touchpad.

“Even when I finally did enter my pin correctly after more than two failed attempts, the mechanism timed out and so pin entry failed. It takes longer to enter a PIN when you have to listen to prompts so it will not be uncommon for people to get timed out.”

CBA confirmed to Which-50 that the updates will include an easier way of activating Albert’s accessibility mode as well as “brand new enhancements”, meaning some of the issues Mesnage encountered may be addressed in the future.

Even if the Albert terminals can be adequately updated an increasing number of touchscreen systems means the challenge will likely exist elsewhere. Several similar touchscreen payment devices exist but accessibility options are not standardised, according to Mesnage.

“Without a standardised method of PIN entry on these touchpad devices, then something as basic as entering a PIN to make a purchase will pause a challenge for many people with disability and older people,” she said.  

“So will we now have to train to use each of the different payment devices on the market?”

CBA also noted in its response to the settlement that it has endorsed the recent Accessibility Principles for Banking Services. Graeme Innes also helped develop the new principles which were released late last year, replacing the long standing 2002 standards.

Graeme Innes. Source: Graemeinnes.com

“The standards became very out of date to the extent that they were almost irrelevant because of the significant technology change,” Innes told Which-50 last year.

“So the decision was made to have higher level strategic coverage which will provide greater flexibility with the technology and that’s what the principles do.”

While the switch from standards to less prescriptive principles has attracted some criticism, the new guide is based on universal design concepts, meaning products are designed for everyone rather than for people with disabilities.

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