The Royal National Institute of the Blind (RNIB) recently launched its ‘Make Money Talk’ campaign, which aims to get all major banks to make their ATMs audio enabled, which means talking.
Hugh Huddy, 40, who is originally from Manchester, runs the campaign for the RNIB. He said: “The reason this campaign is so important is getting access to your own money, whenever you want to, is a basic fundamental right. It’s important for leading a normal, financially independent life.”
In America one in four cash machines “talk”. In the UK it is about one in a thousand. A small technological step could make a very big difference in the life of visually impaired. Mr Huddy said: “The UK is way behind on this issue.”
In India there are about 7,000 talking cash machines from Bank of India, and there are many in Australia, Canada and Pakistan as well.
Emma Mercer, 30, Public Relations Officer for the RNIB, said: “Many people don’t even think about this issue. Blind people have to rely on friends and family members to access their own money. This is really frustrating for them.”
Almost two million people in the UK are living with sight loss. The number of blind people registered in Greater London by their council at 31 March 2008 was 21,650.
Ms Mercer said: “It’s really important for the UK to have talking ATMs as soon as possible to make life easier for blind people and enable them to be more independent.”
For 80 per cent of the public using a cash machine is a fast and convenient way to get money. However, only 11 per cent of blind and partially sighted people say they use cash machines unaided. Currently if a blind or partially sighted person wants to access their own money they need to ask a friend or relative for help, or in some cases a passer-by.
Ms Mercer said: “Getting your own money shouldn’t mean making special arrangements and being dependent on other people.”
Mr Huddy said: “I use one cash machine in Britain and I always have to hope that it’s working because I wouldn’t be able to read error messages. I hope the cash machine makes that money counting sound.”
Blind people can tell the difference between the notes by feeling the different sizes of pound notes. Hugh Huddy told us he feels the notes, for example a £10 note is a bit shorter than his middle finger and £20 is slightly longer.
The RNIB’s campaign plans for banks to deploy a speech output on their ATMs through audio jacks so that blind and partially sighted people will be able to plug in their earphones to listen to the options being read out to enable them to carry out their transactions. Talking cash machines will work with any kind of earphones from MP3 players or phones.
Northern Bank, which operates in Northern Ireland and parts of Scotland, has agreed to incorporate audio-enabled ATMs. 85 out of their 200 cash machines are talking. Currently, the RNIB is in talks with other UK banks to get them to deploy a speech output on their ATMs.
Some cash machines have the hardware already installed and most ATMs on high street already have an earphone socket on them, like Barclays and Bank of Ireland. If the campaign is being incorporated, banks will have to install software onto their ATMs to make them ‘talk’.
Mr Huddy said: “The campaign is about making sure that all the banks’ services are accessible to blind people. It is unjust for banks to lock out blind people of a basic human right.”
It is going to take a long time for all the banks to roll out this scheme, at least one year. However, the RNIB is optimistic to make a lot of cash machines accessible to blind people.
Emma Mercer said: “RNIB likes to work with the people and not point fingers at people. We know that this isn’t something that is going to happen overnight. It costs a lot of money and it takes a lot of time. But we just want a commitment from banks to show that they’re moving in the right direction.”