Americas Apr 23, 2012
A Beaver County man has filed federal lawsuits against at least seven banks over the past four weeks claiming that they haven’t complied with a law requiring that ATM machines can talk to blind people.
Robert Jahoda, 30, has sued Citizens Bank of Pennsylvania, First Commonwealth Bank, Commercial Bank & Trust of Pennsylvania, Fidelity Bank, Charleroi Federal Savings Bank, 1st National Community Bank and Home Savings and Loan of Youngstown, Ohio. More lawsuits are coming, said his attorney, Bruce Carlson.
Blind people “desire to enjoy the same conveniences that other Americans enjoy,” Mr. Carlson said Wednesday, the day after he filed Mr. Jahoda’s lawsuit against Philadelphia-based Citizens Bank. “Many large banks enacted voice enabling [in their ATMs] well in advance of the formal effective date of the law,” and those that didn’t should be compelled to do so, he said.
The two-decade-old Americans with Disabilities Act requires that public facilities be built to accommodate blind people, among others. Decisions by the Department of Justice, made from 2004 through 2010, led to a March 15, 2012, deadline to equip ATMs with what’s called voice-enabling technology.
“A blind man would plug a set of headphones into the machine, and that would trigger voice prompting which would guide the consumer through the transaction,” said Mr. Carlson. He said banks have to install the technology in at least one ATM at each site that has such machines.
Mr. Carlson said that Mr. Jahoda found non-compliant ATMs controlled by each of the banks he has sued.
East Liverpool-based 1st National Community Bank is being sued over an allegedly non-voice-enabled ATM in Midland. “We are making every effort to make sure that particular ATM is in full compliance,” said Steve Sant, that bank’s president.
Charleroi Federal hired vendors to voice enable its ATMs, but “overwhelming demand” for such services has pushed the completion date to April 30, president Neil D. Bassi wrote in an email response to questions.
Similarly, First Commonwealth has “made substantial progress” toward voice enabling its 120 ATMs, and expects “to complete this process by the end of the current calendar quarter,” said the bank’s communications supervisor, Susie Barbour.
“We have a plan in place,” said Tony Rocco, senior vice president of community banking for Fidelity Bank. “Our newer machines have all been upgraded. There was a little delay in having all of those upgraded because of the availability of parts and our supplier’s schedule.”
Citizens Bank issued a statement saying it believes it is complying with the law.
“PNC has a corporate-wide effort to ensure that ATMs are equipped with voice-enabled systems,” said PNC Bank spokesman Fred Solomon, adding that the company takes “reasonable steps to accommodate our disabled customers.” No lawsuit regarding ATM compliance against PNC had appeared on the federal docket by Wednesday.
Banks and disability advocates have debated how much it really costs to voice enable ATMs, with estimates running from $1,000 to $10,000.
Spero Pipakis, coordinator of the technology center at Blind and Vision Rehabilitation Services of Pittsburgh, said that cost shouldn’t be an issue. “If Apple can do [voice synthesis] on their devices,” he said, “I don’t see that it’s a difficult hardship for a bank.”
He said he’s not a big fan of lawsuits, but added: “It’s unfortunate that sometimes it takes that kind of push to force banks to do something like that.”