Westpac pilots Aussie talking ATMs

Despite the Australian accent, the talking ATM is pronounced useful by blind customers

Westpac is piloting “talking” automatic teller machines, for the use of blind and partially sighted customers and others, for example those with dyslexia, who may not find it easy to understand flickering figures on a small screen.

The only visible difference from the regular ATM is a small covered jack-plug socket beside the screen. This is designed to take the standard (3.5mm) jack of a small pair of earphones.

The customer can bring his or her own phones or the bank will supply a pair.

A continuous stream of spoken instructions tells the first-time user where to find the crucial parts of the ATM — keyboard, card insert slot, cash and statement delivery slots. This is interrupted when the card is inserted, and the user is talked through the available transactions. Existing raised characters on the keyboard help a blind user navigate.

Westpac has avoided the more complex Braille, often found on push-buttons, that not all blind users can read. The widely used “pip” on the five key is a simple aid to navigating the number pad; that and the spoken reminder that it’s a “calculator-style” pad, with the number one at the bottom left corner.

The technology is imported from Australia, a bank spokesman says, and the ATMs’ features and design have been extensively discussed with blind peoples’ organisations in New Zealand. An official announcement on the facility will be made later this month, but the talking ATMs are already working, for example outside Westpac’s central Wellington branch at the top of Lambton Quay.

The machine’s Australian-accented voice sounds clipped and slightly artificial, but the instructions are clear. One blind user says he finds the ATM easy to work and very useful.

ASB spokesman Clayton Wakefield says that company will start a pilot of talking ATMs next year. There has been some delay in upgrading the hardware, he says.

Wakefield understands at least one other bank is readying talking ATMs, but BNZ and ANZ/National Bank spokespeople had not responded to questions by press-time last week.

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