Councils set to leave a bad Taste in the mouth of disabled event-goers across Australia

Hobart City Council is on the verge of signing up to use the Commonwealth Bank’s inaccessible EFTPOS tablet, Albert as the key payment device for their 2015/16 Taste of Tasmania food festival.

The Digital Gap Initiative wrote about this device on 18 September, after its Founder and President met with CommBank to express their concerns.

Digital Gap Initiative Tasmanian member, James Newton, met with Hobart City Council representatives last Friday, 25 September.

Hobart City Council expressed concerns about Albert

Representatives of the Council advised that they were similarly concerned about Albert’s inaccessibility. They said they raised Albert’s issues with CommBank five weeks ago and were assured that the bank were working on a solution.

Solutions CommBank thinks are acceptable

This solution, which is being made available in time for the festival, was recently demonstrated to the Digital Gap Initiative by CommBank. This demonstration raised the following issues, amongst others:

  1. The tutorial for using Albert with its accessibility features switched on is over 10 minutes. Imagine the queues of frustrated people waiting behind a person who needs to listen to this tutorial before using Albert at a festival.
  2. The way to enter your PIN is by touching the screen to activate the #5 key (after the stallholder enables the accessibility mode – if they are adequately trained – and selects the type of account). Then the user is required to make a swipe gesture with their finger in a straight line horizontally, vertically or diagonally to the other numbers of their PIN, touch each number with two fingers or double-tap with one finger to enter that number. Ensuring the swipe gesture maintains a straight line on the glass surface can be extremely difficult for a blind user. Many other people who additionally have manual dexterity issues are likely to face similar challenges.
  3. In a noisy environment, and when in a queue, people will be placed under unreasonable stress when trying to use the Albert device. Not at all practical particularly in a noisy environment like a festival. Also other customers will get impatient waiting and business for stallholders will be lost. In addition CommBank will not be providing festival merchants with headphones to enable people to hear the tutorial for these noisy environments.
  4. In the likely event that you enter your PIN incorrectly 3 times, you get blocked from using your card. So, on top of remembering your PIN, you have to remember what gestures to use, you have to do them correctly, and there is no confirmation of what numbers you are pressing until you select enter and your PIN is accepted or rejected.

The other solutions offered by CommBank are as follows:

  1. Customers obtain a signature-preferred card.  It takes at least a week to get one of these outdated cards, which were phased out for mainstream use on 1 August 2014.
  2. Contactless cards. These can only be used for payments up to $100. In addition, the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) sets no fixed limit on surcharges merchants can add if you use a contactless Debit Card. In the absence of being able to accessibly and securely enter one’s PIN, a blind user is effectively slugged with a “blind tax” for not having an option other than Tap & Pay.
  3. Old paper processing machines. Councils or festival organisers may not have one of these. Usually, if a merchant has one, only people trained to use them can use it.
  4. A tactile screen overlay. A potential solution for the device but for reasons that aren’t clear, CommBank appears to have decided not to go down this path.

Hobart City Council going ahead with Albert regardless

Despite their awareness of the above issues, Hobart City Council will be persevering with their plan to roll out Albert as the primary device for payments at their festival.

The Council will address the fact that the above proposed solutions make the device still unusable for disabled patrons by offering an alternative cash card system whereby festival patrons will be able to use a standard EFTPOS machine. Patrons can load this card with a pre-paid amount which they can use to make purchases at the festival. The Council has now ordered 15,000 of these cards to be used by a range of people including people who do not have a credit card and others who find the Albert inaccessible.

Other councils, festivals and major sporting events using Albert

Hobart City Council representatives fly out to the Sunshine Coast next week to see the Albert “in action” at the Caloundra Music Festival and upon returning to Tasmania will sign the final paperwork for rolling out the device.

James has contacted the Caloundra Music Festival organisers about their intention to use the Albert as their primary device for payments. They have yet to respond.

The City of Gold Coast is also trialling a new self-service payment kiosk at their Elanora and Runaway Bay libraries which uses Albert.

Digital Gap further understands that discussions are currently underway about adopting the Albert for the Commonwealth Games which is being hosted by the Gold Coast in 2018.

This could end up being a replay of another time Australia hosted an international multi-sport event without thinking accessibility through properly in the context of technology. In the lead up to the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games, Bruce Maguire, a highly skilled user of a refreshable Braille display, lodged a complaint with the Human Rights & Equal Opportunities Commission because he could not access the contents of the Olympic Games Program and website and upon informing them of this issue they refused to make the necessary changes to enable access. He won the case, and was subsequently awarded $20,000 dollars in compensation. The Maguire v the Sydney Organising Committee for the Olympic Games (SOCOG) set a worldwide model relating to the requirement for websites to be accessible in countries with similar disability discrimination legislation.

CommBank, like the Sydney Organising Committee for the Olympic Games, risks its obligations under the Disability Discrimination Act 1992 (Cth), and it would appear Councils are willing to take the same risk. It is amazing that after the great step forward Bruce Maguire’s case made fifteen years ago, Albert takes us two large steps back.

Digital Gap Initiative calls for a sustainable solution

While the suggested alternative of pre-paid cash cards for the Taste of Tasmania is a creative workaround, CommBank is the biggest financial services provider to local councils across Australia and Councils are missing a crucial opportunity to send a message that they will not accept a system based on the premise of ‘one way for the mainstream and another for persons with disability’. Councils who agree to use Albert not only stray from their Disability Action Plans but are seemingly endorsing CommBank’s behaviour in leaving accessibility to afterthoughts and band-aid solutions.

The Digital Gap Initiative calls for a serious improvement in decision-making like that of CommBank and the councils. Change is necessary if we are to prevent the gap between 350,000+ people with vision impairment across Australia (not to mention other disabilities) from widening.  In Tasmania alone 25% of the population experience disability, 6.5% above the national average with a significant number of this community likely to be affected by the gap.

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