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How to offer more self-service kiosk accessibility and better experiences for customers with disabilities

Published July 23, 2020

When it comes to convenience, it’s hard to beat interactive kiosks and self-service terminals like self-checkouts. That’s why so many retailers have them in-store: they make it speedy to place orders, get information, scan items and pay for pretty much any kind of product, while keeping customers in control of the experience.

In fact, a kiosk solution offers several advantages for customers and retailers alike:

  • Customers gain easier access to goods and services, with 24/7 access in some cases.
  • They also benefit from faster customer service, less time spent in line and more control over transactions because the kiosk eliminates the need for assistance from an employee.
  • The retailer can address labor shortages while maintaining high service levels and offer customers special offers that are automatically prompted in some cases.
  • The use of kiosks can help build brand affinity and appeal to shoppers looking for a more modern, easy and fast experience.

But what if you have a disability? If you have sight, hearing or mobility limitations, the advantages of self-service terminals (SSTs) such as self-checkouts and interactive kiosks can become a drawback if customers with disabilities can’t enjoy the same access as others.

To ensure accessibility for customers with disabilities, in 1990 the U.S. Congress passed the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in several areas, including public accommodations.

Basically, ADA compliance for kiosks means a business that incorporates them into its operations needs to ensure all customers can use them, regardless of any physical challenges they might have. Europe’s standards, which include accessibility requirements for information and communication technology (ICT), apply to the public sector and can serve as guidelines for the private sector.

"The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that about 19 percent of the country’s population, or about 57 million people, have some form of disability."

 

Kiosk accessibility makes good business sense

For any retailer running a successful business, protecting against financial loss is important. There's a financial penalty for businesses that fail to achieve ADA compliance for operating kiosks. The maximum civil penalty for a first violation of ADA regulations is $75,000 and $150,000 for subsequent violations.

Potentially catastrophic class-action lawsuits are of bigger concern, particularly for large retailers. In recent years, manufacturers and operators of kiosks have been the primary targets in a surge of high-profile class-action lawsuits alleging non-ADA compliance.

For example, in 2012, Lighthouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired, et al sued Redbox Automated Retail LLC for operating more than 3,000 video-rental kiosks in California with touchscreen controls lacking tactile features, preventing use by blind people. The plaintiff was awarded a $1.2 million settlement.

The awarding of significant damages in class-action lawsuits for kiosks that are not ADA compliant, such as in Lighthouse v. Redbox, increases legal exposure for retailers who provide kiosks for customers, making accessibility a priority. But an even bigger consideration is the sheer size of the potential market segment of customers with a disability.

The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that about 19 percent of the country’s population, or about 57 million people, have some form of disability. They include:

  • 8.1 million who have difficulty seeing, including 2 million who are blind
  • 7.6 million with impaired hearing
  • 19.9 million who have challenges lifting and grasping—or pressing buttons on a touchscreen interface

So, making kiosks accessible for this sizeable customer segment isn’t just the right thing to do; it also makes good business sense. Also, aside from missing out on revenue from these customers themselves, failing to give them sufficient kiosk accessibility can create the perception that your business is insensitive to disabled customers’ needs.

 

Challenges in providing accessible kiosk technology

Still, challenges exist in providing interactive kiosk accessibility to customers with disabilities to boost customer satisfaction. For one thing, it’s not clear how many accessible kiosks to provide. Also, retailers might have doubts about what constitutes an acceptable level of access or how to design the appropriate touch screen interface, for example.

It helps to understand some of the most common kiosk accessibility challenges for customers with disabilities when planning ways to accommodate them:

  • Many self-service terminals in the marketplace can be difficult or impossible to use for customers who are blind or have limited mobility.
  • Smooth touch screens displaying virtual keys and information without any tactile assistance are barriers to blind customers.
  • Self-service terminals that sell or rent products that can only be identified by sight, making them unusable by blind customers.
  • Customers who use wheelchairs or scooters are seated in their mobility devices and, typically, cannot reach as high or as low as a standing customer.
  • Also, these customers cannot see display screens that are placed higher than their line of sight and often angled upwards for a standing user.

 

Public accommodation concepts to keep in mind

It would be unrealistic to expect highly prescriptive kiosk design specifications for retailers or the kiosk industry to follow. Here are some general concepts to keep in mind when making capital investments in new kiosks or testing existing units for ADA compliance.

"The advantages of kiosks can turn into drawbacks for both the retailer and customers if customers with sight, hearing or mobility limitations can’t enjoy the same access as others."

 

Physical accessibility

The first step in achieving kiosk accessibility is ensuring that customers with disabilities can get close enough to kiosks to use them. If the approach to the kiosk is too narrow to allow for access, other accessibility features will not be of any use.

  • A good physical accessibility test is ensuring a consumer in a wheelchair has an accessible route and can access all interaction and input devices, touch screens and keypads comfortably straight-on or sideways from their wheelchair.
  • ADA specifies that the forward or side height and reach of a kiosk should be between 15 inches and 48 inches from the ground.
  • Also, make sure that if the kiosk is mounted, the mounting does not present any obstruction. But if an obstruction is unavoidable, the side reach limit is reduced to 46 inches and forward reach to 44 inches. If the reach distances exceed those limits, the kiosk should be equipped with alternative pointing devices or interaction methods.
  • The clear floor or ground space around a kiosk must be at least 30 inches by 48 inches.
  • ADA has several complex restrictions for barriers that surround the physical space around the kiosk that can prevent users from reaching and viewing the kiosk screen. To avoid dealing with those restrictions, it’s best to limit the number of physical barriers.
  • Important ADA for kiosk height and reach considerations are the maximum height or ‘touch point’ for the user interaction and the overall height and reach of each component presented for user access.

"In recent years, manufacturers and operators of kiosks have been the primary targets in a surge of high-profile class-action lawsuits alleging non-ADA compliance."

 

Visual impairment accommodations

  • The American Foundation for the Blind (AFB) has noted that small or ornate fonts are difficult for visually impaired customers to read. Information presented in large text—3/16-inch, according to ADA—and contrasting colors is much easier for them to read.
  • The AFB also points out that low contrast between the foreground and background or glare can make items on the screen difficult to read. High-contrast colors and either light-on-dark or dark-on-light elements can provide sufficient contrast.
  • Kiosks should have screens that allow zoom access for inputs and responses to accommodate the visually impaired. The units also should be equipped with assistive technology such as audio or tactile responses for the customer’s confirmation.
  • Kiosks should have audio feedback systems for customers who are completely blind. The audible prompts can be used in conjunction with Braille keyboards to assist with navigation.
  • According to the Kiosk Manufacturer Association (KMA), a keyboard probably is not required for a kiosk to attain ADA compliance. KMA points out that operable parts must be discernable by touch without activation—not a strong suit for touch screens—so kiosks typically need to provide alternative controls for the blind customer. Those controls could be a keypad.
  • At least one tactilely discernible input control shall be provided for each function on kiosks used by customers who are unable to use a touch screen. The kiosk should be equipped with tactile input controls with speech output.
  • Kiosks that require a great deal of data input must have a keyboard as a core feature. To be ADA compliant, these kiosks must have a physical qwerty keyboard with tactile indicators for finding the F and J keys on the home row.

"Making kiosks accessible for this sizeable customer segment isn’t just the right thing to do. It also makes good business sense."

 

Hearing impairment accommodations

According to KMA, permanently plugged-in headphones, which present a vandalism risk and are hard to keep sanitary, are not an ADA requirement for kiosks. But you can accommodate hearing-impaired customers by providing a headphone jack on the kiosk and allowing users to change the volume or offering visual cues or messages and with audio tones and messages.

Catering to consumers of all segments is key to making them feel welcome and building loyalty. And, aside from providing a positive experience for everyone, making sure your self-checkouts and interactive kiosks are ADA compliant also makes good business sense, ensuring a return on investment while giving all kinds of customers every reason to return.

 

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