Since the 1980s, accessible automatic teller machines (ATMs), which allow customers to withdraw cash from their bank through a ‘hole in the wall’ at any time, have been a staple part of the banking experience for people throughout the world, including in Ireland. Despite the trends and pushes towards a cashless society, the ATM option is still taken for granted by the vast majority of people with accounts in the traditional banks.
In many developed countries of the world, this access has also been extended to visually impaired customers through audio (text-to-speech) feedback via headphones, i.e., through the provision of a working earphone jack on ATMs. However, in Ireland, this right of visually impaired people to access their own money on the same terms as their fully sighted comparitors has been very much the exception, and certainly not the rule.
Today, In the Republic of Ireland, only Ulster Bank has accessible ATMs. However, Ulster Bank is due to leave the Republic’s market in early 2023, leaving the country with no ATMs, whatsoever, accessible to visually impaired customers
Photo (above) of Ulster Bank accessible ATM with headphone jack and text to speech (TTS) – Main Street, Blanchardstown, Dublin 15.
Two-minute audio clip using Ulster Bank accessible ATM
Ulster Bank’s Model Practice in the Republic
Ulster Bank describes its audio functionality on ATMs as follows:
“The ATM talk feature is available on all our ATMs when using the following services: Balance, Cash, Cash with receipt, Mini Statement, Emergency Cash.”Ulster Bank
Information is heard through your own headphones once plugged into the ATM via the headphone jack. The number 5 key on the keypad must be pressed before you insert your card into the ATM to activate the audio function.
The screen will go blank keeping your details secure from others who may try to see your information when using the feature.
Full instructions are voiced to you at each stage of the transaction including how to use the service.
Positions of Other Banks, Recently and Today
In the past twenty years, in the South, other forays were made into the provision of accessible ATMs by other banks.
Danske Bank (Formerly National Irish Bank) had accessible ATMs with a headphone socket with text to speech functionality from 2005 until their closure in 2012. For example, many blind and partially sighted users recall using the atm on Dublin’s O’Connell Street.
Article from September 2005 discussing National Irish Bank’s six-month accessible atm pilot in Baggot Street, Dublin.
Allied Irish Bank (AIB) has a headphone jack on all its ATMs, however, text to speech functionality is not enabled on any of them. The AIB Branch in the Dundrum Shopping Centre (The Lab) had an accessible ATM with headphone jack and text-to-speech from 2012 until 2016.
In a query to AIB, in June 2017, regarding the national rollout of accessible ATMs, AIB said,
“We did have this on trial on the ATMs in the Lab and it worked well, however as this was only a trial it has not been in operation on the Lab ATMs for almost 12 months. At present we are not in a position to roll the solution out to all ATMs, but it is on our development plan. We plan to revisit this later in 2017 at which point we hope to have another upgrade completed that will enable us to progress the Talking ATM solution.”AIB
But nothing happened. In August 2022, AIB stated
“There are no plans to upgrade them to include this on the ATM’s currently. All our ATMs have an adopted keypad that has a raised pip on the number 5 button. They also have new universal raised icons on the function keys for Enter, Clear and Cancel.”AIB
It should be noted that while tactile interfaces are an accessibility prerequisite for visually impaired customers on all bank card machines (including ATMs and contactless payment facilities), without being able to ‘read’ what is on the screen, transactions for any customer would be virtually impossible. As such, without the text-to-speech function being enabled, visually impaired people are expected to be telepathic in order to know what options are being displayed on the screen; or in other words, the ATM, and their own money as cash, is inaccessible to us.
Photo (above) of AIB ATM with headphone jack but no text to speech.
Bank of Ireland, told VVI, in August, 2022,
“At present there are no plans to introduce this service. We “At present there are no plans to introduce this service. We do however keep our service / functionality offering under ongoing review and Text to Speech has been added for consideration”.Bank of Ireland
The Irish League of Credit Unions was contacted by VVI at the same time, and we still await a response.
KBC Bank Ireland told us that,
“KBC do not have any ATMs as we are a cashless bank, so unfortunately would not be able to advise you ATMs with this function”.KBC Bank Ireland
Permanent TSB tell us
“ATM’s do not have a text to speech feature”.Permanent TSB
The Situation in Britain and Northern Ireland
Mirroring AIB operations in the South, we are informed, regarding AIB Northern Ireland, that, “Our ATMs in NI do not provide speech guidance via a Headphone Jack”.
With regard to Barclays Bank, if you pop in your location online or by app, it’ll bring up all the branches and ATM’s in that area. You can then select ‘filter’ and “Internal or External with Audio” and this will narrow down all the accessible ATM’s in that area.
Branch finder link: https://barclays.co.uk/branch-finder/
Accessibility link: https://www.barclays.co.uk/accessibility/sight/
Danske Bank (Northern Ireland) told us that,
“Our ATMs do have an earphone jack with text to speech function to assist our customers with vision restrictions.”Danske Bank (Norther Ireland)
Example locations in Belfast would be Lanyon Place Railway Station and Castlecourt Shopping Centre.
Halifax UK tell us that:
“You should be able to select the audio function at most of our ATMs. Just plug in your standard headphones to hear what’s on the screen. Some of our older cash machines don’t offer this yet, and we’re changing these. Ask someone in branch or give us a ring to find your nearest Talking ATM.”Halifax UK
HSBC UK tell us:
“Yes, we have Talking ATMs. Talking ATMs are easy to use. Plug Yes, we have Talking ATMs. Talking ATMs are easy to use. Plug in your headphones and you’ll receive audio prompts rather than having to read the ATM screen.”HSBC UK
How to access it: You just need your bank card, PIN and a standard pair of headphones (3.5mm jack).
Lloyds UK tell us:
“You can select the audio function (Talking ATMs) on our Cashpoints. Just plug in your standard headphones to hear what’s on the screen. Our older machines may not have this service, but we are working to update them.”Lloyds, UK
Natwest UK tell us:
Our own brand ATMs do have the option with an earphone jack and can be used as follows.
- You need to have a set of earphones which you plug into the ATM.
- You will then hear instructions of how to use the machine and what to do to get started.
- You need to activate the audio functionality by pressing the number 5 on the keypad before inserting your card.
- The machine will voice out what you need to do and the options to press on the ATM keypad to make your choices.
- The screen will go blank to provide you with privacy so none of your details are visible
The full details of this can be found on our website under Talking ATMs.
The earphone jack would be below the place to insert the card on the machine, to the right-hand side of the screen.
Santander UK tell us that they are “glad to advise that our machines do indeed have this functionality.”
The Situation in Germany
Commerzbank: Awaiting reply.
Deutsche Bank: Awaiting reply.
DKB tell us, “We do not offer this service”.
DZ Bank: Awaiting reply.
HypoVereinsbank – UniCredit tell us:
“Our ATMs do not have a earphone jack or TTS. But you can ask in the respective branch for a so-called blind foil incl. explanation via audio CD.”HypoVereinsbank
Santander Deutschland: Awaiting reply.
Sparkasse Germany tell us:
“Most of our ATMs are equipped with an earphone jack and a text to speech. The number-pads also have braille.Sparkasse Germany
European Accessibility Act (EAA)
In the Republic of Ireland, regulation and accountability should be on the way, according to the EU Directive known as the European Accessibility Act (DIR (EU) 2019/882), which means that all self-service terminals such as ATMs will have to be accessible to visually impaired people. But given Ireland’s record of doing the minimum required when it comes to transposition of rights-based international law, a worst-case scenario could see Ireland deferring of the compulsory installation of accessible ATMs until after June, 28th, 2025, and for inaccessible ATMs to be kept in operation until June 28th, 2045.
Ireland was obliged to have the EAA transposed to Irish law by June 28th, 2022, but when VVI last asked the Dept. of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth about its progress, on July 7th, this year, we were informed that there were some technical legal difficulties which had delayed its implementation.
As we’ve been doing since July, 2021, We reminded the Department that VVI (as a Disabled Persons Organisation, a.k.a., representative organisation, or “organization of people with disabilities”), needs to be closely consulted and actively involved in the transposition of the EAA (as per Article 29 (b) of the Act, and Article 4 (3) of the UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities.
The Department has an abysmal record regarding its obligations under Article 4 (3) to closely consult with and actively involve VVI in such decision-making processes, let alone discharge its more general functions under the same Article, but we are hopeful that the State will begin to mend its ways and acknowledge VVI’s rights, as a representative collective, under international law.
As visually impaired people, we salute the best practice consistently employed by Ulster Bank, but it is a shameful commentary on attitudes to accessibility in the Republic that with the departure of Ulster Bank from the market, there will be no more accessible ATMs in the country. It can be seen by the above comparisons, in particular with the UK jurisdictions, that the Irish banking sector is a total laggard when it comes to accessible ATMs, and from the lived experience of our members, things do not improve much in other aspects of the banking service in the Republic, either.
Ulster Bank should never have been the odd-one-out in terms of ATM accessibility, in the first place. Light-touch regulation of the banks go back to Thatcherism in Britain and the North, and yet, this has not meant that the rights of visually impaired people have been neglected in terms of ATMs, at least. So, it is not credible that the Republic’s infamous light-touch regulation of the banking sector can be said to be the only reason for its abysmal record on accessible ATMs.
VVI expects its right to be prioritised (as a DPO), in consultations on the pending transposition of the European Accessibility Act, where, among other things, we would advise that the obligation of all operators in the banking services industry to provide accessible ATMs be given a much swifter timetable, especially in recognition of what we’ve had to put up with for the past forty years or so in this regard.