In 2002 Martin Stewart, a then 39-year old blind advocate was on his way to work one ordinary day when he stepped into what he thought was an open carriage doorway of a train that had just pulled in to Richmond Station, in Melbourne, Victoria, and fell into the void between carriages and on to the tracks. Despite the desperate attempts of an onlooker to flag down the driver, the train took off and dragged him 200 metres along the tracks. The train tore off his lower right leg, his right arm and the top of his left ear, fractured his cheekbone and ribs, and left him with painful friction burns down the front of his body.
That same year, 2002, the Australian Bankers’ Association (ABA) introduced Industry Standards on Accessibility of Electronic Banking, after blind and other disability advocates around Australia lobbied them to act to remove barriers to their Automated Teller Machines (ATMs), Electronic Funds Transfer at Point of Sale (EFTPOS) devices, Automated Telephone Banking, and Internet Banking (15 years on, the ABA is in the process of reviewing and updating these standards to ensure the ongoing accessibility of banking in a changing world).
Martin continued his advocacy work after his traumatic accident, and he now has a message for the ABA and the four big banks it represents:
“The new standards must include specs for tactile keypads for PIN (Personal Identification Number) entry to be fitted to all touch screen EFTPOS and ATMs and Self-Service kiosks.”
Although Martin lost his dominant right hand in the accident (causing him to no longer be able to read Braille), he makes the most of his remaining limbs and is an avid blind cricket player and a whiz at using his iPhone. But new touchscreen EFTPOS devices such as the Commonwealth Bank’s Albert are preventing him from the basic ability of entering his PIN at checkout, something he was able to manage on tactile keypads.
Albert has been available to Australian merchants since March 2015 and the Commonwealth Bank is marketing it to retailers, cinemas, restaurants, event and festival organisers, in addition to other businesses and government services that use EFTPOS terminals.
The Commonwealth Bank retro-fitted an Accessibility Mode option onto its Albert touchscreen EFTPOS tablet, but it is gesture-based and impractical for many people to use, including those who have low or no vision; limited hand dexterity; cognitive challenges; older people and those not au fait with touchscreen devices.
“Regardless of attempts to familiarise people who are blind or have low vision with tablet gesture-based devices, it must be emphasised that this is neither the preferred, nor the most suitable payment option for the majority of our community.”
“Even though I am able to use my iPhone in a private setting, it is nerve-wracking to be confronted by a touchscreen payment device in the usually busy and noisy environments in which these machines are found, often with impatient customers queuing behind and making exasperated comments and noises. A physical button keypad which is permanently attached to the device is not a backward, out-of-touch request at all. This physical keypad will enable accessible, efficient and inclusive access. In California it’s been law since 2005 that tactile number keypads be attached to all touchscreen POS (Point-of-Sale) devices, so it’s not as if by requesting these in Australia we are asking for anything new. So why should we put up with what blind citizens in other countries have not! We have the absolute right to financially transact with our independence, privacy and security intact. If Albert is left to spread without very major changes to its design, it will be the precursor to other such devices in many other environments, such as taxis and teller machines, creating further marginalisation for us.“
The Digital Gap Initiative, a group advocating for legislation and standards on digital technology, questions how Albert could have been released by the Commonwealth Bank despite the ABA’s Industry Standards on Accessibility of Electronic Banking, and fully backs Martin’s call for the fitting of tactile keypads to payment systems.
Albert highlights the need for national, compliance-based standards on digital accessibility, but updating the voluntary ABA standards is a step in the right direction.
Martin is part of a group of several consumers who are blind or have other impairments and have lodged complaints to the Australian Human Rights Commission under the Disability Discrimination Act 1992.
Please sign Martin’s change.org petition