CONTACT: TOM SNEE
300 Plaza Centre One
Iowa City IA 52242
(319) 384-0010; fax (319) 384-0024
Release: Dec. 20, 2002
UI law students help test downtown ATMs for usability, accessibility
An audit of downtown Iowa City ATMs by students in the
UI College of Law Legal Clinic has shown that many of the machines must be
improved before people with disabilities can fully access and use them.
Student legal interns in the UI Legal Clinic, working with members of the
Johnson County Coalition for Persons with Disabilities, tested nine ATMs
at banks and stores downtown on Nov. 18 to determine how well they met minimum
standards laid out in the Americans with Disabilities Act Accessibility Guidelines.
Mitch Glende, a UI law student and leader of the project supervised by clinical
professor Len Sandler, gave the ATMs generally average scores.
"Most ATMs met the minimum height and reach specifications, but the
audit uncovered many other barriers to use," said Glende. "For
someone using a wheelchair, there is ample room to approach and operate the
machines at most locations, but persons with vision impairments can use only
one machine in downtown independently." That ATM provides audio instructions
through headphones provided by the bank, which enables people who are blind
to use the machine without anyone's help.
The UI students and Johnson County Coalition decided to focus on ATMs because
they've become the primary method people use to get cash from banks at home
or on the road. Unfortunately, many of them are designed in such a way that
people with disabilities find it difficult, if not impossible, to access
their accounts or withdraw or deposit money. Among the difficulties that
showed up in the audit: keypads, screens and money discharge slots that were
too high to be used by people in standard size manual wheelchairs; video
screens that were tilted up, making it impossible for a person in a wheelchair
to see and operate the controls; cluttered areas around the ATM that made
it difficult for people in wheelchairs or mobility aids to get to the machine;
lack of voice output to allow persons who are blind to complete a transaction;
and Braille instructions that were incomplete and often didn't mention that
the bank may charge a fee for use of the ATM.
"One machine had a trash can in front of it and a fire extinguisher
on the wall next to it, making it impossible for a person using a wheelchair
to get close enough to use it," Glende said.
The ATM that got the highest score was at the new Wells Fargo branch on
Dubuque Street, he said. It was the only machine downtown that had headphone
jacks and provided instructions in digital voice audio that can be used by
people who can't see the keypads, easily comprehend written instructions
or read Braille.
"The Coalition members who helped us test the machines had vision,
mobility and physical impairments; they had no problems completing transactions
at Wells Fargo," Glende said.
Glende said the team soon would notify the banks that own the ATMs of the
survey's findings and the clinic's recommendations for improving usability
and accessibility. "Most banks have at least made an effort to make
their ATMs accessible, so we know they're interested in providing services
to disabled persons," he said. "We want them to realize the importance
of making their ATMs more accessible and work with them to improve accessibility
even further. Often, a simple change in design or technology is all it takes."
Glende said the Clinic and Coalition would conduct another audit of ATMs
in downtown Iowa City and other locations this spring and then share their
checklists and other materials with advocacy groups nationwide.
UI law students Todd Prichard and Michael Muilenburg also participated
in the study.
In the past, the Clinic and Coalition have conducted accessibility audits
at Coral Ridge Mall, the New Pioneer Co-op, Carver-Hawkeye Arena, Hickory
Hill Park, and other business and government facilities. It is one of many
disability-related projects offered at the law school.