From airline travel to banking to renting movies, the use of touch-screen technology now is routine for many consumers. But just because this technology is ubiquitous, it doesn’t mean that it’s accessible to all consumers: The visually impaired can’t operate touch screens easily.
LightHouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired filed a class-action lawsuit Jan. 12 against videodisc-rental service Redbox. The lawsuit alleges that Redbox’s touch-screen-based kiosks aren’t accessible to consumers who are visually impaired.
Eric Bridges, who is a director at American Council for the Blind, and Darren Burton, who is a program associate at American Foundation for the Blind, both lament that many of the touch screens at airports, gas stations and kiosks aren’t always easily accessible. Burton points out banks, such as Bank of America and Chase, have added buttons to their touch-screen-based ATMs, which makes the machines easier to use. Tara Burke, who is a spokesperson for Bank of America, confirmed that all of the bank’s ATMs are compliant with American Disabilities Act codes and provide button and Braille options for the visually impaired, but she didn’t go into detail about the specific features.
Bridges (he and Burton are blind) believes that one of the most inconvenient experiences is the lack of easy access to airport kiosks to expedite a flight check-in. He mentions that Department of Transportation is looking into requiring an upgrade of kiosks to improve accessibility through the Air Carrier Access Act. “The challenge is that for quite a long time, the producers of touch-screen technologies have not listened to the blind and visually impaired community,” Bridges says. “Our angle is, ‘Look, we’re consumers just like everyone else.’”
A Southwest Airlines spokesperson says the company doesn’t have kiosks that are accessible to the visually impaired. American Airlines and United Continental didn’t respond to Consumers Digest’s inquiries.
Smartphones, e-book readers and tablet computers have been another sticking point for advocacy groups, because visually impaired consumers often have to purchase expensive assistive technology to make such devices fully accessible. According to the Telecommunications Act of 1996, telecommunications devices, such as smartphones, must be accessible to individuals who have disabilities, as long as their manufacturers can create accessible devices without undue difficulty or expense.
Bridges says it’s possible for manufacturers of kiosks, ATMs and hand-held electronics devices to create accessible touch-screen technology and cites Apple’s development of audio-based features that work in tandem with touch screens, which Apple built into its operating system, as proof. “The myth that touch-screen technology can’t be made accessible to people who are blind or visually impaired has been blown up by Apple,” he says.
Burton collaborates with companies, including Cisco Systems, Lexmark and Marriott, to make their products and services more accessible people who are visually impaired. He believes that companies must adapt touch-screen interfaces that include audio cues, buttons and gesture-based options. “We want to have the same access and the same techniques as everyone else,” he says.
– K. Fanuko