Banks improving accessibility

Jun 27, 2017

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Latest developments from High Street Banks on improving accessibility

This is the 50th anniversary of the “hole in the wall” cash machine. The first ATM was installed outside a Barclays bank in Enfield, North London.

Now there are more than 70,000 in Britain, and they are a lot cleverer than those early cashpoints.

They need to be. 2017 is set to be a record year for bank branch closures. More than 1000 branches have closed in the past two years; 525 more are scheduled to go this year.

In part, this is due to a growth in the popularity of mobile and internet banking. But these apps and online facilities may not be so accessible to disabled customers. A physical bank branch – or at least an accessible cash machine – can still be an essential aspect of the bank’s service.

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How accessible are cash machines today?

Barclays was the first High Street Bank to provide talking cash machines for visually impaired customers, in 2012.

Most high-street banks now provide this facility at most branches, the exceptions being HSBC and RBS/NatWest, which are going to do so in the near future.

To use a talking cash machine, you need a pair of earphones – the sort who come with an MP3 player or mobile phone. Some banks will provide you with a pair, if you don’t have your own.

Each talking ATM has a headphone jack, which is usually on the right hand side. You plug in your earphones, and follow the instructions you hear. For security, it may be a good idea to use only one earphone, so that you are aware of what’s going on around you with the other ear.

Other accessibility features that are increasingly included on ATMs include a raised dot on the number 5; brightly coloured keys for ‘entry’ and ‘error’; a depression in the centre of the keys, making them easier to press.

As new machines are installed, they are generally at a height which is accessible in a wheelchair. There are still many ATMs that can’t easily be accessed from a chair, however.

Barclays are currently rolling out contactless cash machines, which some users may find easier. You can withdraw up to £100 by simply tapping your contactless card or a smart phone on the ATM’s reader.

You still need to remember your pin number though!

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Barclays take a lead on accessibility

Since it was the first British bank with talking cash machines, Barclays has made a number of initiatives to improve the accessibility of their services for disabled customers.

More than 80% of their ATMs now have audio, and they are working towards making it universal. The technology benefits people with dyslexia and learning disabilities, as well as blind and partially sighted customers.

Personalised debit cards have been another step forward for people with visual impairments. Following an idea from a customer, they now offer a range of high visibility backgrounds for debit cards, which can make the card easier to identify in a wallet, and also easier to use.

Contactless payments are a boon for many of us: so much easier to tap a card on the terminal, rather than scrabble about for coins and notes to pay small amounts. Barclays have taken the concept a step further, with their Barclaycard PayTag, which can be attached to a keyring or mobile phone, and has the same contactless payment facility. No need to find the right card anymore.

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Other accessibility developments

HSBC provides instant access to BSL interpreter

HSBC is making it easier for deaf customers who use British Sign Language (BSL) to carry out their day-to-day banking in its branches by providing instant access to a BSL interpreter.

Video Remote Interpretation will be available to both personal and business customers in branches and commercial centres, making it easier for deaf BSL users to communicate with HSBC.

This new service follows on from the bank’s successful launch of the BSL Video Relay service earlier this year. Now deaf customers will have a choice of how to access banking services, ensuring they can select the most convenient option for them.

Jeff MCWhinney, SignVideo Chair and Founder:

“We are delighted that HSBC have taken the opportunity to extend their access for deaf BSL users from their contact centres into their branches. This now means a Deaf BSL user can walk into HSBC off the street and get the same level of service for their banking as a hearing person.”

Customers access the service by simply connecting to the HSBC branch WiFi on their own smartphone, tablet or laptop and selecting the icon on the screen to launch the service. Deaf BSL users will be securely connected to a qualified BSL interpreter by using the camera on their device. The professional interpreter then translates the conversation and relays it to the member of branch staff.
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Apps to the fore

Perhaps reflecting the inexorable rise of internet banking, mobile phone apps have been getting a makeover to enable people with sensory impairments better access.

NatWest’s mobile app has more than 160 changes made

NatWest has made significant updates to its mobile banking app so that blind and partially sighted people can use it more easily. The RNIB (Royal National Institute of Blind People) has been involved in the major redesign, which will be of help to the 10,000 NatWest customers who have a visual impairment.

Before the update, everyday tasks such as transferring money between accounts, making payments or viewing transactions, were extremely difficult or completely impossible for blind and partially sighted people. Now, the banking app makes use of technology already built into iPhone and Android mobiles, which allows text on an app to be read out verbally to the user.

Some of the key improvements in the NatWest app

• Contrast has been improved and the colours for some icons have been made more distinct so that partially sighted users can read text more easily

• Some information, such as sort codes, is now read out as individual digits, rather than whole numbers, which makes the information easier to understand

• The app now reads out the name of the landing page when a customer navigates to it – previously when someone moved to a page they wouldn’t be told what page they were on making it extremely difficult to know what to do next.

• Icons with technical names have been replaced with simpler labels, so that customers now know if it is relevant. For instance, before the redesign, the icon used to select ‘contacts’ in the app was labelled “021 plus active” which probably meant nothing to anyone except the designer!

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New sign language service for RBS customers

Customers of RBS (Royal Bank of Scotland) who are deaf or hard of hearing can now use an instant chat service to talk to the bank through a British Sign Language interpreter.

The free service is available via the Royal Bank of Scotland and NatWest website and the SignVideo mobile app. Deaf and hard of hearing British Sign Language customers will be able to talk to an advisor using their computer, tablet or smartphone via a secure video call which instantly connects to a British Sign Language interpreter, who then phones the RBS contact centre to relay the conversation in real time.

Some 150,000 people in the UK use British Sign Language

There are approximately 150,000 deaf British Sign Language users who will be able to benefit from the new service, which is available on weekdays from 8am until 6pm.

Paul Breckell chief executive at Action on Hearing Loss said:

‘I am delighted to see new technology being used to improve accessibility to banking services for British Sign Language users. The roll out of this new service will allow RBS customers with hearing loss to better communicate their banking needs, something that is already easily available to their hearing peers.”

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Barclays extending their expertise in accessibility to other businesses

Research from the bank’s business banking arm shows that the majority of small and medium-size businesses (SMEs) in Britain are not providing their services in a way that is accessible to disabled people. This is a market worth an estimated £212 billion, with 11 million disabled people in Britain, some 17% of the population.

It is nothing short of a disgrace that all these years after disability equality legislation was first introduced, 80% of SMEs still don’t cater for their disabled customers even in simple ways such as providing ramps, accessible toilets, or information in accessible formats. Three quarters of them say that they would seek advice about making their businesses more inclusive – the rest fear that it is too expensive or “too much hassle”…

Barclays has recently launched a new portal where businesses can get free advice on how to be more inclusive – this is the link (it will open in a new browser window)


This article is part of the Independent Living Focus on aids for sensory impairment. You can sign up for the free monthly email round-up here


Further Resources

There is some helpful information about accessible banking services for blind and partially sighted customers on the Choose website (it will open in a new browser window)

We have an area of Independent Living dedicated to products to assist with sensory impairment

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