Citibank Takes Initial Steps Towards Installing “Talking ATMS”

For Immediate Release — July 8, 1999

Saperstein, Goldstein, Demchak & Baller
A Professional Corporation
1300 Clay Street, 11th Floor
Oakland, CA 94612

Elaine B. Feingold
Law Office of Elaine B. Feingold
1524 Scenic Avenue
Berkeley, CA 94708

Susan Weeks

Leni Doyle
Susan Weeks

Oakland, California — Citibank and the California Council of the Blind announced today that Citibank has agreed to pilot test “talking” automated teller machines (“ATMs”) at five Citibank locations in California. This initiative will place Citibank at the forefront of the banking industry by testing ATM machines that can be used more effectively by persons with vision impairments.

During the pilot test, the talking ATMs will provide audible prompts to assist persons, who cannot read information on an ATM screen, in using the machine for basic transactions, such as depositing money, withdrawing cash, transferring funds between accounts, and obtaining account balance information. The Citibank ATMs will guide the user through these transactions by means of a talking screen reader—technology that speaks audibly about what the sighted user sees on the screen. Citibank’s technical staff developed the method for using the screen reader that will be tested on the five California machines.

The pilot program is scheduled to last six months. Citibank will install talking ATMs at three Citibank Bay Area locations and two Citibank financial centers in Los Angeles by October 1, 1999. Based on the results of the pilot testing, Citibank, the California Council and individuals with vision impairments who were involved in the discussions leading to today’s announcement will formally discuss a plan for placing talking ATMs across the country.

The screen reader technology to be piloted at the Citibank financial centers is the same technology Citibank has made available on its internet home banking service —Direct Access. “We develop and implement technology to make the lives of our customers easier and banking more convenient for the communities we serve,” said Ed Horowitz, Senior Corporate Officer of Citigroup and head of the e-Citi unit which developed the innovative technology. “Adapting screen reader technology to ATMs is a logical evolution in our effort to work with our visually impaired customers.”

“We appreciate Citibank’s willingness to work together with the blind community to come up with an innovative way to allow blind and low vision customers to use touch screens,” said Catherine Skivers, the president of the California Council of the Blind, an affiliate of the American Council of the Blind, with 46 chapters statewide. Skivers said she was “optimistic that the pilot test will result in a national agreement to install talking ATMs across the country.” Steven Mendelsohn, one of the participants in the discussions and a technology policy analyst and disability rights advocate, said, “This agreement holds promise as a first step toward making greater access to banking services a reality for people who are blind or vision impaired. We hope that the success of this pilot will lead other institutions to emulate Citibank in making ATMs and other information terminal and transaction machines available to all users.”

The agreement announced today resulted from a collaborative effort that began when members of the blind community approached Citibank to discuss how the company’s ATMs could be programmedtocommunicate audiblywith blind and low vision consumers. Lawyers for the blind community in these discussions were Linda M. Dardarian of the Oakland law firm of Saperstein, Goldstein, Demchak & Baller, Berkeley disability rights lawyer Elaine B. Feingold, and the Berkeley-based Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund.